Finally Stephen King has had a book adaptation that I can get behind. I am a huge fan of Stephen King and have been for a little over fifteen years. However, his movie and TV adaptations are usually lacking. I remember being so mad that I wasted my money to see 1408 in the theatre. The premiere of 11.22.63 definitely has me excited and simultaneously bummed that there will only be eight episodes. And just a heads up — this article is going to have a lot of spoilers.
Here’s a quick little synopsis for those who have not read the book: The main character is Jake Epping, a high school English teacher who is recently divorced. The owner of the local diner, Al Templeton, is dying from cancer and asks Jake to come visit him at the diner so he can show him some important things before he dies. The important thing Al needs to show Jake is a “rabbit hole” that leads to the past. The portal always comes out at the same time of the same day in the same year. Al wants Jake to go back in time and prevent the John F Kennedy assassination, and that is exactly what Jake tries to do.
Now, the first episode of 11.22.63 kept to the book pretty closely, and the details that varied didn’t affect the storyline for the most part. One of the big differences is that in the book the portal goes back in time to 1958 and in the show it goes back to 1960. In an interview, Stephen King advised that the reason for this is to have the show’s timeline mesh better. There’s a lot of time that would need to be filled in those two years for the show that aren’t necessary for the JFK plot line. This means that Epping’s trial run to save Carolyn Poulin from the wheelchair, which is an interesting story in the book but doesn’t really add much to the overall theme of saving JFK, has been entirely left out.
The other big difference are the times when the past tries to fight back. At one point, Epping tries to call his own father from a phone booth (which is not in the book) and because the past will always try and fix itself a car comes out of nowhere and hits the phone booth as Epping is walking back to try the call again. The scene is very weird because when Epping goes to check on the driver, the girl has been ejected and she stares at him creepily and says “You don’t belong here.” implying that he does not belong in the past. In the book, the past trying to preserve itself is shown in a much more subtle (and WAY less creepy way) that makes much more sense.
Overall, I think the episode showed a lot of promise and kept me interested for the entire 90 minutes. We got a little introduction to Sadie Dunhill — just enough to be intrigued. James Franco does an excellent job at playing Jake Epping and his good looks and clean cut help make him look like he belongs in the 60s with the dapper suits and fedoras. Chris Cooper as Al Templeton was fantastic; he was just the right amount of vulgar to get the point across and to keep the viewer interested in the concept of saving JFK. The scenery is very authentic from the antique cars to the clothing and hair styles. And the one story line I am most excited about — possibly more than the JFK story line — is that of Harry the janitor who survived an attack from his father. I am very excited about where this show is headed and I think Stephen King and JJ Abram are a great team.