Wednesday, March 30, 2016

"11.22.63" Episode 7: Soldier Boy

This episode makes two in a row that I didn't particularly like.
You know what else I don't like?  Reviewing a television series on a weekly basis.  It's antithetical to the way I normally watch tv shows (i.e., for the fun of it), and I think it makes me both overly judgmental and aggressively aware.  There's nothing wrong with being aware, of course; awareness is a rather important factor in critical thinking/writing.
However, I've accustomed myself over the past decade or so to watching serialized television shows in a more passive way than this.  That's not to say that I've been accustomed to watching tv shows with my brain turned off; I haven't done that at all.  However, with the best series of the past decade -- Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Lost, Battlestar Galactica, Friday Night Lights, and so forth -- I have never enjoyed speculating about what is going to happen in upcoming episodes.  My mind occasionally went there with some of those shows, but it often recoiled away from that sort of thinking as soon as it had begun.  None of this was a conscious process; it's simply how my brain reflexively wants to ingest serialized storytelling.  
I didn't engage in much speculation as regards The Dark Tower, either (apart from having a vague set of expectations about certain characters showing up to join the ka-tet); same goes for The Green Mile.  Currently, my mind is mostly disinterested in trying to figure out what is going to happen in the next few Star Wars movies, although I can't help but field a few theories about Rey's backstory.  
But generally speaking, I'm not merely willing to sit back and allow a story to be told to me, I'm sort of insistent on it.  If you have to get up and leave in the middle of the story, and you can't make it back for a week, or a year, or seven years, then I'd really kind of prefer to not try and fill in the blanks for you.  
Reviewing 11.22.63 on a weekly basis, though, I find my brain insisting on doing things a different way.  I'm actively trying to figure out the answers to certain questions posed by the series.  I'm watching this series in a completely different mental manner than I am other shows, and I think I've done myself a disservice in that way.
I can't help but wonder if some of what bothered me both last week and this week would have bothered me if I were watching this show in a more passive way, the way I'm watching other shows currently.  I'm working my way through season one of The Wire, for example, and I'm not focused on trying to analyze and critique what I'm seeing.  Some of that happens regardless, but it isn't my focus; my focus is the enjoyment of the dialogue, acting, point of view, etc.  I'm also catching up on the first seasons of several shows that I missed out on recently (Dark Matter, The Expanse, Killjoys, Jessica Jones, The Magicians, FargoColony, Humans, and Mr. Robot), plus getting caught up on the current or most recent seasons of a few existing shows (Haven, Doctor Who, Agents of SHIELD, and Agent Carter), as well as staying current on several show airing right now (The Walking Dead, Better Call Saul, Vinyl, and, believe it or not, Girls).
I'm enjoying all of those to a greater or lesser extent (although The Walking Dead is seriously trying my patience right now, and Killjoys has yet to really hook me in anything other than a trashy I-like-sci-fi-anyway-I-can-get-it way), and a few of those shows are good enough that they are both worthy of analysis and would probably grow in stature as a result of it.  But that's not why I'm watching them; I'm watching them because I enjoy them.
I'd be watching 11.22.63 for the same reason, of course, probably even minus the Stephen King connection, and I think it was a mistake to deprive myself of the process of watching it the same way I've been watching, say, The Expanse.
We're pot-committed at this point, though, so let's trudge -- grimly, determinedly -- through these final two weeks and agree that we're never, ever, ever going to do it this way again.

Because I'm in a surly and uncooperative mood, this week's review is going to mostly consist of notes.  Here they come:

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

"11.22.63" Episode 6: Happy Birthday, Lee Harvey Oswald

I did not like this episode.  I mean, don't get me wrong; I've seen many, many worse things than this in the course of my Stephen King fandom.  For example, it was announced this week that a new Children of the Corn fauxquel was filming, and I'm sure that will be vastly more dookie-ish than this episode of 11.22.63 was.
But still, y'all; I did not like this episode much at all.  In fact, I'm somewhat loath to watch it again for notetaking and screencapping purposes.  I'd feel like a bit of a cheat if I skipped the second viewing, though, so I guess I'd better get to it.  The time it takes me will be imperceptible to your senses; it shall happen between sentences, like magic (or time-travel).
See?  I'm back.  And I guess I liked it a little bit better the second time, but only a little.  There are are a few things here that just don't work for me very well, and they are preventing me from enjoying the aspects that the show handles capably.
First, off, let's talk about Bill Turcotte.  I've enjoyed the way the show has added him as a foil and aide for Jake, but this episode reveals that that has all gone sour in the past four months (which elapse off-screen between episodes).  Bill has now turned into so reckless a guy that he's literally taking part in a surprise birthday party for his new best bud Lee.  He's apparently having an affair of some sort with Marina, too, and if the former plot point weren't a bridge too far then the latter one certainly is.
I can't get with any of this.  I do enjoy aspects of where it goes, though.  I like the mercenary way in which Jake has Bill committed so as to take him off the chess board.  I have to confess, though, that I am a bit befuddled by the fact that the series has taken this turn.  Why go there?  It seems to be a way of getting Bill out of the way of the plot, but is that weird when the only reason Bill was in the way of the plot at all was because the plot needed him there?  
Also, maybe I'm crazy, but it seemed to me that the show was setting up the idea that Bill was the one who was going to get in trouble on account of the gambling.  I fully expected that what would happen was something like this: Jake and Bill are getting ready to go prevent the assassination when Bill is attacked (and maybe killed) by gangsters as retribution for his "stealing" money from them.  Sadie then has to take Bill's place, setting up the rest of the plot.  That would have been a good way to bypass the moderately silly amnesia plotline of the novel, which now seems to fully be back on the table.
To me, a more fleshed-out version of that scenario seems vastly preferable to what they've done here.  My way, you get to keep Bill as a sympathetic figure, one who Jake can feel bad about having led into harm's way.  Bill has been a sympathetic figure for pretty much his entire screen time; having that go in a different direction now not only seems like a poor use of Bill, I think it may retroactively weaken the previous episodes.  I don't want to commit to that idea until the whole series has finished, but for now, I feel like Bill has in one fell swoop gone from secret weapon to crap.
Read in the voice of Eric Cartman.
I also have a major issue with the Yellow Card Man.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

"11.22.63" Episode 5: The Truth

My review of this week's episode is going to be a lot briefer than the other ones have been.  I just don't quite have the time for it this week, y'all; sorry about that!
It was another good episode, and I don't have much of anything negative to say about it.  It came to my attention this week that some fans are upset with the degree to which Jake and Sadie's relationship was been relegated to shorthand and suggestion, rather than to fully-dramatized exploration.
I can sympathize with that.  It hadn't occurred to me while watching the episodes, but it's a fair point.  I wish the miniseries was ten or thirteen episodes instead of eight; that would have created room for a lot more exploration.  But maybe Hulu couldn't afford to be that expansive.  In any case, I think the filmmakers have done a good job of changing the story so that their abbreviations of the plot have maximum impact.  Is it perfect?  No.  But it's very good, and so you won't hear many complaints from me.
I will say, though, that this reinforces my gut feeling that when it comes to episodic television, it's often better to go expansive rather than to go brief.  I've had a few mild disagreements with other fans on the subject of a hypothetical Netflix version of The Stand; their assertion is that you could do the whole thing in a single season, and my assertion is that uh-uh, no you couldn't, not without leaving out all sorts of tasty stuff.  Conventional wisdom says you don't need it all, of course, and 11.22.63 on Hulu proves that.  But it also proves that if you leave out some things, some people will miss it.  If you had the option -- budgetarily, etc. -- to leave ALL the good stuff in, you'd be crazy not to, and to also expand on things where you had the ability to do so.  Why have a snack when you can have a meal, y'all?

Anyways, here's some thoughts of mine on this episode:

Saturday, March 12, 2016

"11.22.63" Episode 4: The Eyes of Texas

Apologies for the tardiness of this week's episode review, y'all!  I attended a wedding in Orlando, so everything else -- quite rightly -- took a backseat for several days.
Here we are now, though, talking about "The Eyes of Texas," the fourth episode the series.  It's another good one, and much of it is focused on deepening the relationship between Jake and Sadie.
The first time we see them in this episode, it is during a moment in which Jake walks into a room at school and observes Sadie playing the piano.
She's playing:

I know of only maybe one or two more beautiful and haunting pieces of music in all of human arts; it's a devastatingly lovely composition, and the way Sadie plays Satie -- tentatively, yearningly -- somehow enhances its appeal.  This slayed me, man.  Music is one of the most powerful tools a filmmaker has for building emotion, and if I was not already a believer in the romance between Jake and Sadie, I certainly would have been after this.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

"11.22.63" Episode 3: Other Voices, Other Rooms

The third episode of 11.22.63 picks up where the second left off: with Bill Turcotte having discovered that Jake was telling the truth about being from the future.  A sizable chunk of the episode is devoted to establishing the notion that Bill becomes Jake's partner/assistant.
This is a massive change from the novel, and I wouldn't be surprised if some fans of King's book throw their hands up in disgust at this alteration.  It didn't bother me in the least, though, and I'll tell you why: it's a great example of the adaptation process.  It's always worth pointing out that what works in a novel will not necessarily work in film-narrative form, and given how much of the novel 11/22/63 is spent with one character -- Jake -- doing things completely by himself, it's really no surprise at all that the miniseries 11.22.63 decided to give him somebody to talk to.
This surprised me, but it shouldn't have; if you think about it, it's really quite an obvious move for the filmmakers to make.