Wednesday, February 17, 2016

"11.22.63" Episode 1: The Rabbit Hole

I've been onboard for Hulu's miniseries adaptation of 11/22/63 ever since it was announced, and on Monday night, the first episode finally arrived.  I'm going to offer up a thoroughly spoiler-filled review beginning in a few paragraphs, but first, let me explain why this particular adaptation is so welcome inside the offices of The Truth Inside The Lie.
Simple: television is where King adaptations belong.  Maybe not all of them; an occasional novella-length story like The Mist or whatever fits on the big screen just fine.  Most King stories operate at a much more expansive length, however, and those have no dadgum business being in cinemas.  Right now, during what is almost certainly going to be considered a golden age Golden Age of narrative television, King belongs on the small screen.  Which, depending on your home setup, ain't necessarily a particularly small screen.
Our pop culture is practically drowning in outlets that are conducive to top-notch television productions.  HBO, Netflix, AMC, Showtime, USA, Sundance, Amazon, Hulu, the various actual broadcast networks, Syfy, FX, Starz, Cinemax, the BBC, and who knows who else: all creating content that is eminently worth my time and your time alike.  I can't keep up!  Odds are that you can't either.  Critics I follow are practically wailing at the wall in despair over the sheer amount of programming they have to keep up with.
On the one hand, I guess I'm thankful that Hollywood hasn't quite figured out yet how ginormous a cash cow Stephen King could be within that system.  After all, if there were a King show on every channel -- and lord knows that there is enough source material extant to make that a reality -- I would feel the need to watch every second of it.  But so far, Hollywood mostly seems to be focused on turning obviously-tv-ready properties like The Stand and It into big-budget (or, in some cases, slashed-budget) features.  Hollywood loves to prove that it has no actual fucking clue what it is doing, and it keeps doing it with those two novels in particular.
I wonder, though...
I wonder if that might not be about to change.  I suspect 11.22.63 is going to do quite well for Hulu, and if it does, then you've got to figure that they are going to want to stay in the Stephen King business.  Imagine a world in which Hulu pumps one of these puppies out every year or two.  We could get top-notch miniseries based on stuff like The Talisman or Insomnia or Duma Key; or something older, like Firestarter.
If that were to happen, it might be that whoever owns the rights to, say, It might decide that there was an easy two or three seasons of that sucker waiting to bring in the subscribers to a Netflix or an Amazon Prime.
Based on the quality level of the first episode of 11.22.63, that's a possibility to savor, and one to try to influence into being.
Note that the opening credits officially name the series 11.22.63, instead of the novel's title of 11/22/63.  A minor distinction, but a helpful one, as it allows us to clearly delineate between book and series here.
I'd like to establish right up front that 11.22.63 appears to be a much classier and more effective affair than the previous King novel adapted to television, Under the Dome.  CBS took a perfectly good novel and performed lewd acts upon its prostrate form, and their take on Under the Dome is almost certainly one of the very worst King adaptations of them all.  This is taking stuff like Thinner and Graveyard Shift and Children of the Corn into account, too; it's dreadful in almost every way (with only occasional good performances from the mostly-just-fine cast to offer brief moments of respite).

No sir, 11.22.63 is an all-time classic comparatively.  I'm not yet convinced that it will be an all-time classic in an objective sense, but that's not a requirement for enjoyment, is it?  Nah, of course not.
The setup: Oscar-nominated actor James Franco stars as Jake Epping, a somewhat disillusioned schoolteacher who visits a diner one day and, after awkwardly signing divorce papers brought to him by his wife ex-wife, has an odd encounter with the proprietor.  The man, Al, goes into the back of the restaurant while Jake and his former partner formally end their relationship; once she is gone, Al comes back, but appears to have aged years.  He's grown about a quarter of a beard and even has on different clothes.  As it turns out, this is because Al has a portal to 1960 in the back of his diner, and he's been there for about two years, all during the couple of minutes it took for Jake's marriage to legally end.  Oh yeah, and he's dying of cancer and wants to Jake to take over his self-appointed task of saving the life of President Kennedy.
The episode gets moving very quickly, and it only takes about half an hour (of the first episode's 80-minute runtime) for Jake to accept the mission and to venture into the bright world of 1960 to try and get things done.
There's more to it than that, of course.  Readers of the novel -- and I assume (perhaps foolishly) that most anyone reading this HAS read the novel -- know that things are going to get complicated quick.  They -- we -- are going to get a version of what we expect in this first episode, but almost from the beginning, the Hulu adaptation begins to veer away from distinguish itself from the novel.  I scratched out "veer away from" in the previous sentence because so far as I can tell, the changes that screenwriter Bridget Carpenter has made are in service of condensing the novel and rendering its story a more visual experience.  In other words, she has correctly identified a salient fact: a novel and a television miniseries are not the same thing.  Creatively, they have very different requirements.  So, in writing "The Rabbit Hole," Carpenter seems to have asked herself the following questions:
  • Will the beginning of the novel work as the beginning to a television series?
  • If it won't, how do we adjust the layout of the story so as to successfully retain as much of the story and tone of the novel's beginning as possible?
  • Is there a way to introduce certain elements of the novel's latter half earlier in the story, so as to give viewers who decide to sample the first episode (A) a good taste of what the rest of the series will be and (B) a reason to want to stick around for the next episode?
In other words, even when the series is parting ways with the novel, it's doing so in an attempt to stay on a parallel track, so that the two can get back together again as frequently as possible.
This is good and effective screenwriting, particularly from an adaptation standpoint.  If King had received treatment like this from CBS in the making of Under the Dome, we'd still be thumbs-upping it.  Ah, well; I guess some shows have to be garbage so as to make the flowers smell all the nicer.
So, here's the deal.  Let me talk briefly about how I watched the first episode.  I have an Amazon Fire stick that I plug into my tv, so I streamed the episode via my wireless router and sat in my cat-scratched recliner, with a couple of felines jockeying for position in and around my lap.  This is a good way to watch tv.  When I watch most things that I watch on Netflix, HBO Now, and Amazon Prime, I do it the exact same way.  I could watch on my PC, and my monitor is big enough to make that appealing, but I don't do that very often.
The Amazon Fire stick generally works pretty well, albeit with occasional stutters and buffering issues.  I'd never watched Hulu on it, so I wasn't sure what to expect.  What I got was a relatively unsatisfying viewing experience.  Hulu runs ads during its streaming content unless you pay an extra monthly fee to omit them, which I will NEVER do, because fuck that.  The ads caused the episode to crash a couple of times, which was annoying, but not disastrous; I was able to quit Hulu and go right back to the show, so no harm, no foul.
Then, my Internet service from AT&T decided to crap out a couple of times, necessitating a couple of modem reboots and a thoroughly unhelpful chat session with AT&T's tech support.  This lengthened what should have been about an hour and a half of viewing into nearly two hours, and maybe a bit more.  Not the end of the world, but not ideal, and while this is in no way the fault of the fine people who made 11.22.63, I feel like it's fair game for commentary here.  If Hulu had a large number of new subscribers, here's hoping that few of them experienced similar issues, because it's the sort of thing that might alienate newcomers to the service, particularly those who are merely taking the week-long free trial to decide if Hulu is for them.  The presentation of content is often just as important as the content itself, and it would be a shame if viewership for this content suffered due to technical concerns that impacted the presentation.
In any case, that's how I watched on Monday night.  I watched a second time on Tuesday night, and this time I did so on my PC, via Google Chrome (Firefox seems to have an audio issue with Hulu, or at least Firefox told me that was the case via an error message).  I did this so as to be able to take some screencaps, all of which I will share with you.  I still had the ads, but the show ran like a champ on my PC, and looked terrific.  So all in all, the PC viewing was the superior one, if you take the  reclining-feet and cats-in-lap factors out of the equation.
Now, that said, let's get to those aforementioned screencaps, which I will supplement with commentary on various issues they bring to mind.
Leon Rippy as Harry Dunning
After the nice (if perhaps too brief) opening credits, we begin in a somewhat unexpected fashion: with Harry Dunning telling the story of the night his family got murdered.  The novel does get to Harry's story quite quickly, albeit as a means of giving us a lot of information about who Jake is and what he's all about.  This episode puts the focus squarely on Harry, and takes a few moments before revealing the context.  Essentially, it's a one-man show, and if the man you have for that job is Leon Rippy, you've made a wise choice.
We've talked about Rippy on this blog before, back when he had a role in a handful of first-season Under the Dome episodes.  He was great in that role, and turned what could have been nothing into something.  That's what a gifted actor like Rippy does for a movie or tv show: he spins gold of a sort.  Under the Dome wrote him off the show much too quickly, although in retrospect, I'm kind of glad, because his early departure meant that he got to keep his hands clean of the show's filth in a way that the more long-running cast-members did not.
In any case, Rippy gets a very important scene right here at the outset of 11.22.63.  It is not yet clear yet the extent to which Harry's tale is going to differ from that of the novel, but it seems likely that it's going to essentially be the same.  If so, then we -- and certainly viewers who haven't read the novel -- will have to find ourselves invested enough in Harry's story an episode or two down the line that we support Jake in the extent to which he cares about this poor man.  For my money, Rippy knocks this scene out of the park.  In doing so, he's enabling the series to be effective later on during scenes that he's not even in.
It's the sort of role that bad shows give to actors with no heft to them whatsoever.  This show gave it to Leon Rippy.  That's a point in your column for sure, 11.22.63, and we salute you for it.
The extent to which Jake is affected by Harry's story is toned down greatly from the novel.  In the book, Jake -- who is a first-person narrator -- tells us about how he's an emotionally reserved guy who had not cried in years, even at his own parents' funerals.  However, there was something about Harry's story that touched Jake deeply, and caused the tears to begin flowing.  "[E]verything that followed"..."flowed from those tears," Jake tells us as the capper to the novel's prologue.
Unless Carpenter and her various associates had been willing to devote a LOT more screentime to establishing Jake's emotionally-reserved demeanor, there was/is simply no way for a film adaptation of the story to approach Jake's reaction to Harry's story in the same way.  Would it have been effective for Jake to begin weeping?  From a performance standpoint, maybe.  But it wouldn't communicate anything about his character except that he feels Harry's story deeply; it would reflect that this was a sort of turning point for him.
So, instead, Carpenter and director Kevin Macdonald opted to allow Harry's story to have an impact on us, and to then show that Jake (and Harry's fellow classmates) are affected by his words.  They aren't affected to an alarming or unusual degree; they simply show appropriate human responses.  However, this is enough to get us to believe that Jake would feel a sort of pride in Harry, and would turn himself into something of a champion for the janitor, cheering him at his graduation from his adult-education class and trying to help convince his boss to give Harry a promotion.
All of this works, and because it works, we are able to immediately invest in Jake.
A friend who isn't a massive King fan but who read (and enjoyed) this novel at my urging reported to me that James Franco didn't work for him in these early scenes.  I can see where he's coming from, but Franco's performance did work for me, and it worked for me even better on a second viewing.  I like Franco in general, but I confess to being a wee bit concerned about his having been cast in this role.  Franco has been known to not exactly invest himself fully in some roles.  For example, he was woefully miscast in Oz the Great and Powerful, and in the Spider-Man movies.  You could practically sense his disdain for the material in the latter, and arguably in the former (which is not a bad movie but is a mild misfire in my opinion).
In other roles, though, Franco clearly invests in what he's doing.  I figured that we'd be in for a good ride if THAT James Franco showed up, and based on this first episode I would have to say that he absolutely showed up.  For my friend, that didn't happen until Jake took the plunge into 1960, but for me, it was more or less immediate.
Jake's ex-wife, Christy, shows up here.  That makes sense.  She never appears in the novel except via Jake's thinking about her, but that doesn't work so well in filmmaking.  Perhaps there will be more of her later, but the alcoholism aspects of her character seem to have been jettisoned in favor of a completely vague and nonspecific cause for the dissolution of the marriage.  In fact, Christy might reasonably have been chucked out of the story altogether, although it's too early to say for sure.
It takes the novel less than thirty pages to introduce Jake to the notion of Al having a time-portal in his restaurant's pantry.  The series is similarly quick to get there, and while that's fine by me, I have to confess that it felt a bit rushed here whereas it didn't in the novel.  Not a major sticking point for me, but certainly a minor one.
Franco is very good in these moments, I think.  Al asks him to go into the closet, and Franco reacts as most normal people would in such a situation: with an aggrievedly amused sense of cooperation.  "Better not be any spiders in here," Jake barks at Al in a resignedly what-the-fuck tone of voice.
Oscar-winner Chris Cooper automatically adds credibility to a project, and 11.22.63 is no different.  Al is not exactly my favorite character in the novel.  I don't dislike him, but King uses him as a means of veering into semi-folksy writing, which I often find to be a bit annoying from his pen.  Al isn't a notably severe example of my complaints with that aspect of King's writing, but neither is he totally immune from it.  That's potentially a concern in a film adaptation, but it's one that can be entirely conquered by good casting, as it surely has been here.
Cooper is great as Al.  He's the type of actor who you believe when he says things, because he is a compelling speaker, but also because he sounds like he means what he's saying.  He doesn't sound like an actor delivering lines; that's a problem that even good actors can have on occasion, and that particularly true on a television budget.  I've never heard Cooper sound that way, though, and even if you go back as far as 1989's awesome CBS miniseries Lonesome Dove, you find an actor whose characters sound like real people.
Having Cooper as Al does about half of this miniseries' work, I swear.  You can't believe in a project like this if you don't have a guy like him to help you do it.  It's an aid to Franco, as well, because we don't have to rely on Franco to convince us that he believes in what's going on.  We will have to eventually, but not at the outset: at the outset, we merely have to believe that Jake is convinced enough by Al to do that preposterous thing and walk into his closet.  And then, a few minutes later, to accept his explanations and to at least listen to his requests.  And then, when Al becomes angered by Jake's seeming reluctance, we have to believe that Jake would feel bad enough about angering Al to go back to his house the next day and check in and apologize.  Cooper makes Al's anger seem real, and so it's easy to believe that it impacts Jake.
See what having Chris Cooper onboard does for you?  It's clutch.
Let's briefly touch on something else I liked about this first episode: Hulu lets it be mildly R-rated, and allows the characters to use naughty words like "fuck."  You readers of this blog know that I myself am a potty-mouth.  I like to think that I employ curse-words strategically, rather than use them willy-nilly.  I'd say Stephen King does the same (albeit at a much greater level), and one thing that has disappointed me in some King adaptations in the past is the removal of all the "bad" words.  In my opinion, that hurts a project like ABC's miniseries The Stand, in which humans can die of the flu en masse but must not utter any profanities in doing so.  Fuck that.  That's silly.  It's even siller in the comic-book adaptation from Marvel Comics.
I think King's use of profanity is an integral part of who he is as a writer, and so if you strip it away, I think you're losing something.  Therefore, when Hulu restores it for a project like 11.22.63, it makes the whole endeavor seem more realistic to me.  It also frees the actors up a bit.  At one point, Al is haranguing Jake about the need for him to seize on this time-travel opportunity as a means of shaking up his own complacency.  "Don't you want to do anything that matters?" Al asks, and his question carries the unspoken but heavily implied accusation that Jake's life heretofore has been absent of actions that matter, and that it's likely to continue along that path unless Jake alters course.  It's a good moment regardless, but the screenplay allows Cooper to put a little bit of a spin on the line: he inserts a resignedly-angry "fuckin' " between "any" and "thing."  Maybe not everyone, but real people speak like this, and they are especially prone to doing so when they are angry.
I neither need nor want this to descend to Tarantino-esque levels of swearing, but I appreciate the gloves being taken off so the fingers can be flexed a bit more freely.  It works, and it works especially well with King material.

I don't have much to say here, other than to say that I'm assuming that's a genuine Nixonian campaign slogan and "wow."  Also, if you combine that with James Franco delightedly eating corn-on-the-cob while cracking himself up, you win.  Well done, 11.22.63.
I'll use this as a means of getting into another topic, which is the series advancing Jake's arrival in the past from 1958 to 1960.  I suspect this was done primarily as a means of putting some Kennedy-versus-Nixon campaign material into the first few episodes.  I say that's a good change.  Again, it makes this work more credibly as visual storytelling, and it helps keep the Kennedy aspect of the plot alive in the early going.
The episode makes numerous changes along with the leap forward to 1960.  For example, Carpenter has eliminated King's idea of having Jake try to save Harry.  I mean, based on the end of the episode, it looks like Jake IS going to try, but his motivations for doing so have been somewhat skewed.  In the novel, he has Harry in mind all along, and agrees to undertake Al's mission partially so as to also help Harry out.  Here, Jake seems not to consider Harry; instead, he ventures into the mission as a sort of implied wake for the recently-deceased Al.  He heads more or less straight for Dallas, working off of Al's notes, and he encounters immediate resistance and has a spectacular failure that seemingly results in a young man's premature death.  He decides to return to Maine and give this crazy mission up, but along the way he finds himself in Kentucky, where Harry grew up; and as the episode ends, he seems to be deciding to do something to help his friend.
One criticism I have for "The Rabbit Hole" is that it fails to give us any insight into why Jake decides to take this leap prior to returning to Maine and to his own time (which I assume is his plan, and the fact that I have to assume that is a deepening of the problem).  I think the idea is that the young man's death makes Jake want to atone.  I think the screenplay is implying that the young man -- named Henry, by the way, which is close enough to Harry that you rather doubt the coincidence is coincidental -- dies in a fire as the result of the past "pushing back" against Jake for his potential actions against George de Mohrenschildt.  I think that Jake then remembers Harry and decides that if he caused Henry to die, he can go save Harry's family and try to even the scales a bit.
The problem is, I'm doing too much thinking.  It all makes sense, but the screenplay and direction fail to actually explicate any of this.  I think -- think -- that this might be an attempt to surprise viewers (especially, again, those not familiar with the novel) with the direction the story takes.  And I bet that gambit works pretty well: I'd wager that the average viewer who is new to this story will have felt impacted by Harry's story, but won't necessarily expect more of it than what they get right up front, and will therefore be surprised -- and probably gratified -- by Jake's decision to take on this act of mercy.  In my opinion, the editing of the episode dulls the impact a bit; it sort of parcels the revelation out slowly, whereas I think it might have worked better to hit it real quick and real hard at the episode's end.  The way it's done doesn't kill it; I just feel it could have been even more effective than it is.
Sarah Gadon as Sadie Clayton
Another important change comes via the earlier-than-expected introduction of Sadie into the story.  I would not have expected this, but as soon as it happened, I agreed with it.  This is a television series.  A miniseries, granted, but still.  You simply can't have the female lead offscreen until the third or fourth episode or whatever.  Sadie might well not show up again until then, but when she does reappear, the audience will already have some investment in her.  And I think her appearance here makes sense on a story level, too.  I'm going to hold off on saying why I think that is, though.  I'm being spoilery in this review, but I don't want to spoil the entire series (or the novel) for those who might theoretically be new to the story and have found this blog.  Hi, y'all!  Don't know how you got here, but I'm glad you did.  Sorry about all the "fuck"s and whatnot.
In any case, I took to Sarah Gadon's performance right away.  She's preposterously lovely, and not only does she have a convincing Southern accent, she has excellent chemistry with Franco.

Also changed: in the tv version, the past's resistance against Jake's tampering seems greatly beefed up.  His trouble with bookies is introduced much sooner, but also, a few scenes are added in which the past "pushes back."  King's pet phrase -- "the obdurate past" -- unfortunately makes no appearances, but the concept is there in heavy effect.  The above-depicted scene, in which Jake is very nearly rubbed out of existence by a car that comes crashing out of nowhere, is marvelously executed in every way.  I kind of can't even tell if it's stuntwork or CGI work, but whatever it is, it works.
And, again, it makes sense.  In this version of the story, Jake has MUCH more quickly launched into his efforts to save Kennedy, and it therefore makes sense that the past would take more active steps to thwart him.  You can even hypothesize that the degree to which the past seems to be working against Jake is a piece of evidence pointing toward the idea that if Jake had opted to snuff out de Mohrenschildt at this stage of things, it might have saved Kennedy.  The series is giving you room to make up your own mind, but that's what I make of this set of plot points.
Other things worth mentioning:
  • I was very fond of a scene in which Jake gets the drop on an attacker by having his iPhone sitting on a bed playing "I Love It" by Icona Pop, as edited into a funny-animal YouTube video.  The song appeared earlier in the episode when a slacker in Jake's high-school English class was watching it instead of paying attention to the lesson.  Used there, it was a way of showing how little impact Jake is having on the present; and it also served as a punchline when the student obliviously offers to send Jake the video (which Jake sarcastically agrees to).  If the video/song had no further role in the story, that works just fine.  Later, though, we find out that Jake actually still has the video, and in a moment in which he needs to think very fast, he puts it to use to confuse and slow down a thug in 1960.  Would that work?  You're damn right it would.  It might still work in 2016.  Here, though, it's genius, and what worked well enough in its original function in the earlier scene in compounded by how well it works in a surprise return.  Also, it helps hammer home how alien Jake's culture is to 1960; it does so gracefully, or at least as gracefully as anything containing a song as vapid (though admittedly catchy) as "I Love It" can.

  • Jake's name has been changed for the tv series, sort of.  In the novel, his psudonym in the past is George Amberson.  Here, it's been changed to James "Jake" Amberson, so that Jake can still be Jake.  And also, possibly, so that nobody gets confused by there being two Georges (Amberson and de Mohrenschildt).  This seems highly logical to me.
  • "I've been eating hamburgers from 1960?!?" Jake hollers at Al in one of the episode's better moments.
  • I loved the brief scenes involving the character Alice.  We first meet her at Harry's graduation.  She's sitting by Jake, and she's being a bit of a cunt, to be honest.  She clearly has no interest in any of these adult students, and it's heavily implied that she probably doesn't care much about her juvenile ones, either.  This is a woman who is cynical and seemingly burned out on life.  But in the past, Jake almost immediately meets Alice as a teenager, a recent high-school graduate who is a waitress in her mother's restaurant.  She couldn't be more different from herself: she's vibrant, fresh-faced, and enthusiastic.  She's downright adorable, but in a non-treacly manner that avoids cliche a bit better than the somewhat unconvincingly cynical adult Alice's portrayal does.  Jake is touched to meet her at this stage in her development, and tells her to "stay sweet," even though he must know that that isn't in the cards.
  • The awesome Bo Diddley song "Road Runner" gets a massive showcase during a mid-episode montage.  It's been a pretty good week for ol' Bo Diddley: he also had a massive presence in the premiere episode of Vinyl (a new HBO series from producers Martin Scorsese, Mick Jagger, and Terence Winter starring Bobby Cannavale), which landed in the world a day prior to the first episode of 11.22.63.  The soundtrack to 11.22.63 in general is quite good, "I Love It" notwithstanding.  This includes the score by Alex Heffes, which I will go ahead and start hoping to see represented via a soundtrack release.
  • "Tread lightly; don't get too close to anyone," Al tells Jake.  "It never ends well."  Hmm.
  • The sound design on this episode was fantastic.  I'm not a sound buff, and often fail to actively notice the sound when doing reviews (or even when not).  It made an impression on me numerous times in this episode, though, nowhere moreso than in the scene where Jake is in the Tex-Mex restaurant straining to hear what George de Mohrenschildt and his unknown companions are saying at a nearby table.  That seems likely to win somebody an Emmy, assuming Emmys are given for sound.
  • The Yellow Card Man seems to be shaping up to be more prominent in the tv version.  His card bears the sigil of an ouroboros, which is interesting.  I'll be curious to see where that's leading.  I've been rewatching the first season of Millennium, so I'll have to force myself to not think of Peter Watts and his cronies.  If you don't get that reference, that's on you, pal.
  • I like Franco throughout, but I would have to say that he is not particularly distinguished in the realm of fake vomiting.  I've seen worse, but not many.
  • One of the biggest changes: while we're clearly still going to deal with Harry's past, the subplot in Derry, Maine has been tossed overboard.  This is not a surprise.  For one thing, I wouldn't be surprised if rights issues prevented the use of characters and concepts from It.  For another thing, while I think that stretch of the novel is genius and that it probably (more or less) works even if you don't know It or other Derry-centric King works, I think that it would be heavy lifting to get all of that to really pay off in an adaptation.  So I'm fine with it being removed, provided that the story is adjusted accordingly.  Thus far, the operation seems to have been a success.
And that's about all I have to say.  I absolutely liked the episode, and I think I'm close to being able to say I loved it.  Lord knows that ain't always the case with King adaptations (which have been mostly crap for well over a decade now), so this is a very welcome development indeed.
Some fans --including that friend of mine I mentioned earlier -- have bemoaned the fact that the whole series wasn't put up all at once for binge watching.  Personally, I'm glad.  I'm old school, and I like weekly television.  Fuck, dude, I've taken to watching Netflix originals that way; I watched all of Bloodline an episode per week, and enjoyed it greatly that way; currently I'm enjoying Jessica Jones on a weekly basis.  I might have felt tempted to accelerate with 11.22.63 simply to keep up with King fandom, though, which makes me glad Hulu is putting it out piecemeal.  Gives me more time to write these reviews, too.
With that in mind, see you back next week, I hope.  I'm planning to make this an every-Tuesday thing, and hopefully I can stick to that plan.
And now, leftover screencaps:
I applaud the Lovecraft reference, but could have lived without Derleth being there with him.

I want one of Al's Fatburgers.  Maybe two.

Man, I love everything with Harry.

Biff Tannen was better at this.

Is that a Plymouth Fury?  I assume it is.

One of the better moments in the novel came via Jake stumbling suddenly across evidence of segregation via a poorly-placed "colored" outhouse.  The scene in the novel works almost entirely because of King's strong prose and the fact that Jake's status as narrator allows him to deliver occasional asides like that.  This, again, is an area where a film is very different from prose.  You can get stuff like that into the mix, but unless you are using voiceover narration -- which this miniseries isn't, blessedly -- you are stuck trying to find a way to do so via the narrative.  Here, the screenplay and direction change the restroom's location a bit, and put the moment in the midst of the otherwise-happy "Road Runner" sequence.  From there, James Franco gets to do the heavy lifting, and he does so very well.

It's hard for me not to think about the fact that this is scored by a Bo Diddley song.  Diddley, obviously, was a black man, and if it doesn't bum you out to think that EVEN BO FUKCING DIDDLEY was having to put with with bullshit liked "colored-only" restrooms, then you must be very tough to bum out.

Anybody else get a Kim-Novak-in-Vertigo vibe off of Sadie in this scene?  A Googling of images from that movie reminds me that Novak's grey suit was sans gloves, but still, it's a maybe.  Vertigo, by the way, came out in 1958, the date of Jake's arrival in the past in the novel.

I wish the camera had stayed this far away for the entirety of this scene.  It gets closer on Kennedy from behind, and the doubling is not credible.  But I like this scene overall; it's nice for Jake to go and see a Kennedy rally, and become even that much more invested.

I see what you did there, show.

See you in the future, fellow time-travelers!


  1. I have to say overall that I liked this first episode.

    It took me a moment at the very beginning to find my footing, but I got there quick enough, and from there things ran smoothly.

    The biggest change that the miniseries is going with is introducing the possibility of an actual conspiracy, as opposed to the novel's Lone Gunman centered storyline.

    I'm okay with this because it does introduce the possibility of more drama if Jake beings to realize he's up against much bigger forces than he realized. Also, yes, I'm one of those who thinks there was a second spitter and all that.

    One of the things I was sort of amused by is that, in my mind, I always saw Jake as one of those ancient billboard models for Oldsmobile and the like, and that's more or less the look they gave Franco here. Not important, just amusing.

    I'm hoping they keep up this level excitement for the next episode.


    1. Two other thoughts about two characters.

      Alice I didn't expect to see again. So when I did it was a surprise, yet I liked the sting they delivered in the end. It's true she acts sweet, yet I got the vibe that already she was interested only in herself to a degree that deepens over time. The basic message I took away from this character was, once conceited, always conceited.

      For Al Templeton they did something interesting. Without having to go into any detail. They show that he is a Vietnam vet. The implication here (I don't know if it's intentional or not) seems to be that like a lot of Nam vets, Al carries a lot of bad vibes, regrets and memories around with him.

      From that perspective, discovering the Rabbit Hole gradually built in Al the idea that if he could change JFK's past, he could change his to one where he never has to endure the nightmare of Nam. Related to this, it could be implied that his cancer was always lying around dormant in his system, a little present from Agent Orange, and the Obdurate Past simply triggered it full on.

      Interesting way to go there, if any of it was intentional.


    2. I didn't necessarily get the feeling that the series is going down the conspiracy-theory route. My memory of the novel (which could well be faulty) is that it hinted at the involvement of de Mohrenschildt and the CIA, but that Jake found no evidence of it. From what I could tell, this first episode did basically the same thing.

      Nice Seinfeld reference there -- that JFK sendup episode is one of the all-time sitcom greats. (I say that as not even vaguely an expert on sitcoms.)

      You make an interesting point about Franco's Oldsmobile-ad looks. Some people just look like they came from a slightly different era, and he's one of them. That hadn't occurred to me until you mentioned it. He first came to prominence playing James Dean, so clearly, there's something to it.

      You saw young Alice as being conceited? Interesting. I didn't get that at all, and I don't think Jake did either. I liked that scene either way; it was a good replacement for the root-beer scene in the novel. That's another good example of effective changes made by the screenplay.

      I considered writing something about the Vietnam angle, but I couldn't remember if that aspect of Al's past was in the novel, and was too lazy to research it. If it's a change, it's a great one, and one that actually makes the series more in line with King's work (given his antipathy toward that war). That Agent Orange idea is an interesting one, too.

      Glad you enjoyed the episode!

  2. Can't wait to see this.

    We've had one of those Fire sticks for the longest time and have just never played around with the damn thing. I'm glad you reminded me. After I finally figured out I was putting it in the wrong port (ahem) I then couldn't get it to recognize my wireless router. So I tabled it until I had some time to fiddle with it. Now that 11.22.63 is out, I have the right motivation, I think.

    Biff Tannen lives!!

    1. I've seen some very negative reviews of the Fire stick, but it's mostly worked just fine for me; I can deal with a small amount of buffering here and there. I might eventually buy a Chromecast or something just to see if it works better, but so far, the Fire is okay by me.

      I think you'll probably enjoy this episode. Update us when you get to it!

  3. I try to comment on your King-related posts but as I have yet to read this or watch it (and reading WILL come first), I think I'll avoid these posts for now. Sorry about that!

    1. I don't blame you! I'd do the same thing (and have on many occasions with some of the blogs I follow).

  4. I just recently read this one for the first time and was delighted to hear that my discovery of it coincided with an adaptation of it (the same thing happened with A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones for me), and am even more delighted to hear that it's off to a strong start despite my initial misgivings at Franco's casting. Will definitely be checking this one out!

    1. Nice timing on your part! I hope you enjoy the show when you get to it.

  5. I watched, and I loved. Felt perfect to me. I'm excited to see the 2nd episode.

    I too was charmed by the Alice as a pretty young thing scene in the diner. As well as the getting-the-drop-on-the-bookie-guy-with-his-phone. Great little moment.

    Franco really felt right for me in this part. I'm curious whether the series will squander or pay good dividends on the goodwill engendered by his performance in this first episode. I'm vested in everything he's doing.

    Everyone else - particularly Leon Rippy and Chris "Clutch" Cooper - likewise.

    1. I'm on board the Franco train through two episodes. I've always liked him, except in cases of severe miscasting (Oz, Spider-Man); I was afraid this could be that, but no sign of it so far.

  6. Like many other frustrated Stephen King fans, I do not have Hulu or the Fire Stick, and not being able to watch it is killing me. Any chance this will end up on a different media, like Netflix?

    1. I'd say there's zero chance of it ending up on Netflix, since Hulu and Netflix are competitors.

      I'd be shocked (and infuriated) if it didn't get released on Blu-ray and DVD.

      You could invest in both a Fire Stick and Hulu for roughly what the Blu-rays would cost you, though. A Fire Stick is only about $40, and then you could sign up for a free one-week Hulu trial and watch all eight episodes for free (once the eighth has aired). Depending on your type of television and internet service, of course.

      Sorry you're missing it, and yes, I'm sure there are LOTS of King fans feeling very vexed by all of this.

  7. 100% on the Millennium reference. Good catch.

  8. I read the book when it first came out but I just found the series on DVD at the local library and am thrilled about it. However, this midwestern gal immediately noticed the eating-corn-by-the-side-of-the-road scene, and wondered, where in the world did he get that sweet corn? That stuff that grows all over Illinois and Iowa is GRAIN corn and is fed to cattle and made into corn syrup, cereal, etc. If you tried to eat it, you'd break your teeth. But I am enjoying the series. :)

    1. That nugget of info about the corn is a great example of things most people would never imagine, but which must drive residents of the area being depicted nuts. Either way, I love that scene; Franco is just having so much fun.

      I hope you enjoy the rest of the series. I was a big fan of the first few episodes, but it lost me big-time about halfway through. I seem to be very much in the minority with that, though.