Not long ago I would have scoffed at the sight of a mini-series. Which I guess isn’t saying a lot? It isn’t a format that had been used too often in recent years, with channels and streaming networks opting for full-length television series that have ‘staying power’ instead of a small series that give a boost in viewers only for a limited time. And to make matters worse, my experiences with mini-series’ in the past had all left a bad taste in my mouth. Many fail to have a strong ending, if they have one at all! And even if they had a solid ending, many would leave out huge chunks of story or dialogue because…well… they didn’t have a lot of time to pack all of their content into 6-9 episodes.
The change, for me, didn’t even come from any really well done mini-series’ but, instead, from anime. Many anime are one-shot 12 episode seasons that are able to pack a lot of content and style and even have a solid ending to boot. After watching many well done smaller anime series in this way, I have grown to like the ‘mini-series’ format. Not only does it allow you to watch a show that isn’t overly time-consuming, but in some special cased we get to see an interesting form of storytelling that a full-length series would drag out and make boring. Seriously… as much as I love watching television, there are many shows out there that I haven’t watch precisely because they were long running shows that would take me forever to catch up on. So Hulu’s new original mini-series titled, 11.22.63, derived from a Stephen King work of a….similar title…, got me on board with it being a series where, even if I fall behind on, I could easily watch with my smaller and smaller schedule. Adding in J.J. Abrams and James Franco and you have me thoroughly excited for pretty much ANY show that these two would work together on.
Synopsis (From Collider):
11.22.63 follows the story of Jake Epping (James Franco), a teacher who is shown a portal from the present day to the 1960s — specifically, October 21st, 1960. His guide to this other realm is his friend and diner owner Al Templeton (Chris Cooper), who has been using the portal to try to stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy three years later. Now, he’s passing that torch on to Jake, who is galvanized into action by that collective dream that maybe he can enact real change.
Hulu’s 11.22.63 is a mini-series that is set to have a total of eight episodes. The first episode recently aired and…man… it was extremely well done. To start, the show appears to be one in which the narrative will unfold as we continue the series. It doesn’t make the mistake of laying all of their cards on the table right out of the gate. By the end of the episode you are far more versed as to THIS world’s rules, how time travel works as well as what the over all goals are for the main protagonist of the story. But there are still many unanswered questions that you, the audience, are dying to know! But while we are on the subject of rules, here are the basic rules for time travel in the 11.22.63-verse:
- Every journey through the portal transports the traveler to October 21st, 1960.
- No matter how long someone stays in the past—hours, days, weeks, or years—only two minutes elapse in the present.
- Past events can be changed; however, subsequent use of the portal “resets” the timeline and nullifies all changes made on the previous excursion.
- The universe or ‘world’ pushes back. The past doesn’t like to be changed– so when you are close to making an actual change, it will push back.
The first two rules are simple enough, what interested me most however, were the third and fourth rules. When dealing with time travel, what would worry me most about going back and forth all the time is not only running into yourself, but also running into yourself that is ALSO time traveling. And as you go back again and again, having 10 or 100 of yourself running around in the past could get…well.. messy… so the third rule helps that greatly. If you go back to 1960, come back and then use the portal again to go back to 1960, then you reset EVERYTHING you have changed. No need to worry about your doubles in this world! So that helps clean up time travel in this universe greatly and make the viewing experience far less nauseating and dense for the average viewer.
But it is the fourth rule, above all others, that I believe will act as the enemy for the entire series. Which, if you think about it– can be quite frightening. You wont have an enemy with a face– your fight is with the laws of the universe. And to make matters worse, based on what I saw in the first episode, the harder the protagonist pushes, the harder the universe pushes back. As if it acts in accordance to what the main character does– as a sort of checks and balances. That, to me, is frightening as fuck! You have no idea if what you are doing will actually change anything– and you wont really know if you HAVE changed something until you go back to the future. There is no way of knowing when the past will push back and how harshly it will as well. I look forward to this dynamic and how it will play out as the series continues…
While I like James Franco as an actor, I feel like he tends to phone it in during a lot of his performances. Particularly those performances in which he co-stars with one Seth Rogen. So I was worried as to whether or not he would be able pull of a fairly dramatic and thrilling role that 11.22.63 will undoubtedly demand. But my fears were quickly cast aside by the end of episode one as Franco does a marvelous job being both the voice of reason as well as the ‘everyman’. it is easy to simply be the person who thinks changing the past is ‘wrong’ and shouldn’t happen. But it is harder to be the character that pushes for change after he sees what is right– and still remains likable while doing so. I feel like that thought was a bit clunky? What I mean to say is that I feel as though many other actors, if given a similar role, would portray the character as an annoying hypocrite. Franco remains so likable even when he makes mistakes and you still root for him after he gets people killed. You get the feeling that his character wont follow the rules set forth by his predecessor, but that is okay– you want him to test the limits of this world!
I also love that this series doesn’t but the 50’s and 60’s on a pedestal. Many shows and movies do that– make it as if the entire world is hunky-dory even though history says otherwise. Instead, you get an extremely rough view of 1960 in which some people prosper while others live in squaller. Racism is rampant and harsh and laws were, often, broken. Whether the main protagonist is running away from bookies or walking in on two people having sex in public, there is no doubt that THIS version of 1960 wont be clean-cut and make to look shiny, it will be realistic and gritty.
So I look forward to seeing the rest of the series unfold and cannot wait (but also wait happily) to have all of my questions answered. The set-up for this world is unique, the format of the mini-series gives it hope and promise as well. The main character seems to be at his best as a modern-man turned 60’s business man and the antagonist…aka the universe… seems to be a compelling and omniscient villain that will be tough to defeat. Bravo James Franco, J.J. Abrams and Hulu to pushing out a stellar show that is truly unique and interesting!