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Thursday, September 15, 2016

Stephen King's 11.22.63 on Hulu: Three-Part Drama in Eight Episodes

I finally got around this week to streaming Stephen King's 11.22.63 on Hulu, based on his novel of the same name.  Before I say what I liked and didn't about the short TV series, here's a little context:

Although I think King is a masterful writer, the fantasy/horror/science fiction nexus of most of his work never appealed to me, either in print or on screen.  I had hopes for his CBS-TV series, Under the Dome, but they were pretty quickly dashed.

On the other hand, I consider the assassination of John F. Kennedy the defining moment of my life and our age, even given the close contention for that destructive apex by 9/11.   And time travel has been a consuming passion for me, as a reader, viewer, and author.   Indeed, my Loose Ends saga, begun as a novella published in Analog Magazine in 1997, was all about a time traveler in Dallas on November 22, 1963.   So I approached 11.22.63 with great expectations.

These were only partially rewarded, and they all came in the last episode of the series.  But they were impressive, and well worth awaiting.

Although the series consists of eight episodes, I see it as essentially a three-part drama:

The first part was an enjoyable enough, workmanlike presentation of the hero being drawn into time travel - going back for a quick jump to prove to himself that the time travel is real, figuring out how he can have money in the past, those bells and whistles are always fun to hear and see.  But we've seen and heard all of them many times before.

The second part, at its worst, had nothing to do with the JFK assassination, and dramatically brought into the story some of the literal bleeding that I like least about King's tales.  Even when this took place in or near Dallas, it was at best a distraction and at worst an ugly story that I didn't want to see.

But the final act was masterful, and, in and of itself, a masterpiece in time-travel storytelling.  In stories in which the time traveler is trying to stop a momentous event like an assassination, the options are limited and daunting to pull off with originality.  If the traveler doesn't succeed, is that because she or he unknowingly made the bad event happen?  If the traveler does succeed, does the world get better as intended, or does it get even worse due to an unintended consequence?

In a riveting, magical final hour, 11.22.63 keeps you breathless and guessing, and does this not only for the event at hand, but for the personal life of the time traveler, powerfully played by James Franco.  Although seven hours is a long time in preparation, I strongly recommend 11.22.63 for its astonishing, hard-hitting, heart-rending rollercoaster of a finale, which will stay with you for a long time.

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