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TV Review: 11.22.63 Episode 1 “The Rabbit Hole”
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11.22.63 James Franco

Episode 1 “The Rabbit Hole”
Directed by Kevin Macdonald
Written by Bridget Carpenter
Based on the novel by Stephen King
Starring James Franco, Sarah Gadon, Cherry Jones, Lucy Fry, George MacKay, Daniel Webber, T.R. Knight, Josh Duhamel, Chris Cooper, Jonny Coyne.
Released Monday, February 15th, 2016

11.22.63 made its debut today on Hulu. This 8-part adaptation of the Stephen King novel of the same name (11/22/63) tells the story of Jake Epping (James Franco), a teacher who is tasked by his dying friend Al (Chris Cooper) to go through a time portal in a closet of Al’s diner, to stop JFK from being assassinated. After an understandable period of disbelief, Jake agrees to go back into the past, to change the future.

Spoilers below.

11.22.63 Episode 1 “The Rabbit Hole” review: Harry Dunning (Leon Rippy) reads his first ever A+ story, of what happened to him and his family on Halloween night, 1960. His dad came home and bludgeoned his mom, brother, and sister to death with a hammer, and left Harry with less than 100% of his faculties. His GED teacher, Jake Epping, is so moved by his story and cheers Harry loudly when he gets his degree.

Jake goes to his friend Al’s diner. This brief scene lets us know they are in Lisbon, Maine, his father is dead, and his wife is divorcing him. Al greets the wife, goes in the back, and busts out from the back a few minutes later looking 10 years older, coughing up blood. Jake is concerned. Al has cancer.

Jake: “Al, you got cancer in 5 minutes?”

Al: “Come over tomorrow and I’ll explain everything.”

The next day Al tells him to go in the closet and look around, before he even attempts to talk about anything. He drops in the dirt in the past, glancing at the sights before the yellow card man tells him he’s not supposed to be here. He freaks out and comes back to the future.

Al tells him, “I need you to go back there to prevent the assassination of John F Kennedy,” going on to reason that the butterfly effect would be that Bobby Kennedy would still be alive, and there would be no Vietnam.

He gives him the rules:

1. It is always 11:58am October 21st, 1960 when you go through the “rabbit hole.”
2. Only 2 minutes pass in the present, no matter how much time goes by in the past.
3. If you come back to the present, then go through the rabbit hole again, time resets. All changes previously made will erase.
4. Time tries to stop you from messing with it.

Jake: “Who makes up these rules?” Al tells him to think about it.

Is there any wonder that this book was not only a best seller, but had to be put on screen? This is fascinating stuff.

Al had been trying to research Lee Harvey Oswald, who was a US Marine who defected to Russia, but then came back. He got him papers and credit cards he needed to live there. Al didn’t kill Oswald because he wasn’t sure he acted alone. Plus, he bought his meat there.

Jake: “I’ve been eating hamburgers from 1960?” Jake doesn’t know what to do, but comes back the next day and Al is dead.

Jake: “See ya in 2 minutes.”

He suits up, and gets a shave. It is really groovy to see how men were supposed to dress. Then goes against all the advice Al gives him. He makes a crazy bet (courtesy of Al’s betting book – “Great Scott, Marty!”), and buys a flashy car. The bet goes sour and he almost doesn’t make it out of 1960 – thanks dancing chicken! You’ll see.

Most of the 2 hour episode is culture shock for Jake, a lot of it joyous (he listens to a JFK speech). But the past doesn’t like to be changed. Al’s voice says, “If you’re doing something that really fucks with the past, the past fucks with you.”

A quick example? He tries to call his dad in 1960, and he experiences the interference – first in the form of flashing lights. Then a car crashes into the phone booth. The dying girl opens her eyes and says, “You shouldn’t be here.” That is definitely a Stephen King moment.

He checks out Texas and follows George de Mohrenschildt. There’s a possibility that he was Oswald’s handler. Al really wants to know if Oswald acted alone. If he did? Kill him.

** A very cool moment was when Jake tells the agents to tell JFK he’s his “Number one fan.” Cockadoodie!

Jake follows George to a restaurant. This is where it gets really cool. jake does not want his coat taken no matter the extraordinary amount of times people ask him too. Al narrates that time stopped him from going any further into the restaurant by setting him on fire, but Jake was ready for that. He drops his coat on the fire. Then a chandelier tries to take him out. He does get far enough to see that the CIA was in on it. But then…

He returns from the restaurant to see that the fire burned down the boarding house and killed the teen. The papers are burned, and it seems as if all is lost.

Jake gives up on 1960, but stops to do one more thing – save Harry Dunning and his family. That’s where he (and we) catch a glimpse of a rough dad who does love his kids, and the tension between husband and wife.

The sets in this story, especially of 1960, are authentic and filled with nostalgia – things I can even remember being a child of the 70s, like 3 kids in the front seat with no seatbelts, cigarette smoking everywhere, and milk bottles.

James Franco does a good job as Jake. There are points that you can see it is Franco trying to be this guy, but mostly he loses himself in the story. The coupe of disconnect parts might not even be Franco’s fault, as we are so used to him being a larger-than-life person. Cooper is absolute perfection as dead friend Al. He narrates Jake’s actions in a future flashback (I love this stuff!).

Two hours passed by too quickly, a good sign for an event series.

11.22.63 Part 2 “The Kill Floor” airs next Monday, February 22nd, 2016 on Hulu.

Hulu’s synopsis:

Hulu Original series 11.22.63 is a thriller in which high school English teacher Jake Epping (James Franco) 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. Also starring Chris Cooper, Josh Duhamel, T.R. Knight, Cherry Jones, Sarah Gadon, Lucy Fry, George MacKay and Daniel Webber. The eight-part event series based upon the New York Times best-selling 2011 novel written by Stephen King premieres Presidents Day, Feb. 15, 2016, on Hulu. J.J. Abrams, Stephen King, Bridget Carpenter and Bryan Burk serve as executive producers. Academy Award®-winning Director Kevin Macdonald (Last King of Scotland, State of Play, Black Sea) directs and executive produces the first two hours.

11.22.63 Video

11.22.63 on Hulu Teaser Trailer (Official)

Watch the official teaser trailer for the Hulu original series 11.22.63, premiering on Presidents Day 2016.

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