Adapting one of Stephen King's stories is not an easy task. Indeed, countless writers failed to capture what made his books so special - CBS's Under The Dome is a blatant example of it. However, it is the big challenge Hulu tried to tackle, by entrusting Bridget Carpenter the task to adapt one of King's best seller 11.22.63 into a mini-series.
This particular story involves time-travel and saving a president and was reputed impossible to adapt, yet the show managed to tell a profoundly moving story. Here's the synopsis:
High school teacher Jake Epping travels back in time to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy - but his mission is threatened by Lee Harvey Oswald, falling in love, and the past itself, which doesn't want to be changed and shouldn't be changed."
As I said, 11.22.63 succeeds in telling a captivating and thrilling story. A story that is surprisingly more about its characters than uncovering a conspiracy against the president. James Franco didn't always made the best career choices but he interprets Jake with just the right amount of gravitas, doubt and amazement of a man trying to fit in in an era to which he doesn't belong.
What is more striking in the mini-series is the splendid depiction of the 60's. The scenery, the clothes are an impeccable reproduction of this period and the attention to details is quite enjoyable. Jake will laugh at the cheap price of a brand new car or be amazed by the taste of a pie in a dinner. I found myself completely invested in Jake's story and the show clearly made the best of its eight-episodes format.
Also, racism, sexism are thematic discussed in the series and while it could be coarsely represented, the show manages to do so in a subtile, organic way that make it seems like an integral part of the story. It makes it all even more authentic.
The supporting cast is solid and include some notable guest-stars - Josh Duhamel or T.R Knight to mention just a few. But the real MVP of the series is Sarah Gadon, whose character Sadie turns out to be more than a simple love interest. She's a real depiction of women's condition during the 60's and perfectly translate the difficulty of being a divorced women in a men's world. Sadie is Jake's moral compass, not just a distraction in his quest but rather the person that gives him the strength to stop Lee Harvey Oswald.
On the other hand Bill (George MacKay), Jake's sidekick, appears more of a liability than anything else from the moment he is introduced in the story. He's reckless, unstable and messes up everything he does. Sadly, his arc reveals itself to be a real waste of time. MacKay did the best he could with the material given to him but the way Bill was written condemned his character.
The show is great but can sometimes be convoluted if you don't follow the plot closely. It also sometimes looses its momentum with some odd time-jumps but hell, the show is fun and we're not asking more.
11.22.63 braces the common "What if...?" scenario but finds a fun way to toy with it. Jake's actions are not unnoticed and time itself pushes back and try to prevent him from changing the natural course of events. Whether it be accidents, flat tires or hallucinations, Jake's mission is strewn with pitfalls and asks him to make tough choices.
Can we change the past, given that no matter what we do, time always finds a way to correct itself? This uncertainty on how nature is supposed to work makes us even wonder the validity of Jake's mission. Does he actually have the power to change things? And even if he succeeds, will it truly be for the better?
All those legitimate interrogations are answered in a pretty satisfying way. The way the story is resolved doesn't leave a bitter taste in the mouth but ties up everything pretty nicely. And without spoiling anything, the last scene is purely magic.
By the end, 11.22.63 is more than a story about saving a president, but rather an emotional ride that will leave, even the most unemotional person, speechless.