Listen: James Franco has come unstuck in time. In the TV-MA debut (there are many, many excellent F-bombs) of 11.22.63, the Hulu miniseries partly shot in Dallas, James Franco is bouncing back and forth between present day and 11:58 a.m. on October 21, 1960. Chris Cooper is there, coughing. A few women speak! Hulu’s series opener, directed by Kevin Macdonald (Last King of Scotland, State of Play), has some exciting moments, weirdly fun Stephen King-isms, and a discussion-worthy view of Dallas in 1960. Rules are succinctly established about time travel, like any good Stephen King story. Why? Because, as you probably know, Jake Epping (Franco) has jumped through a portal to stop the assassination of JFK.
Here are our observations about the premiere episode, “The Rabbit Hole.” WARNING: MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD.
- The always-superb Chris Cooper plays Al Templeton, the cantankerous, immediately lovable owner of a roadside diner wherein a portal has opened in the closet. Outside the diner, a sign reads “Thanks for 35 wonderful years,” and Templeton says the portal has been open as long as he’s had the joint. He’s been jumping in the portal, back to 1960, to gather intel on the assassination of JFK for years. I found myself wishing I could watch that series instead. Chris Cooper jumping back to 1960, in a handsome suit, to gather intel on Lee Harvey Oswald? Prequel. Sell it.
- James Franco just seems pleased to be here, on my Hulu-streaming device, cursing.
- No one drops an F-bomb like Chris Cooper. No one.
- What is it about watching someone eat good food on screen that makes you crave the food more than anything in your entire life?
- One funny point in the show was Templeton’s motivation for telling Franco's character about the portal and goading him into the mission to stop JFK’s assassination. In the first scene at the diner, Epping’s soon-to-be-ex-wife, Christie, walks into the diner bearing divorce papers. Epping and Christie sit and talk, amicably, and then Epping signs the papers. Templeton watches from behind the scenes. Moments later, in explaining why Templeton decided to tell Epping about the portal, Templeton says, "I saw you sitting there with Christie, and I knew you could do this.” Wait, what? So, the last straw for Templeton to decide “Hey, I need to get my old friend to travel back in time and engage in the highest-levels of espionage to stop one of the most important events that happened in human history” was when he saw his friend signing his divorce papers? Because Epping signing his divorce papers screamed “I can be trusted with the highest levels of espionage”?
- Man, there sure are a lot of men walking around and talking in this show. Alternate title for 11.22.63: Men in Hats Run.
- At one point early in the show, Epping throws his iPhone in a river after using it as a distraction device to avoid getting his ass kicked by a goon. Brilliant way to dispose of a distracting series of questions like: “Can I text my future self?” Like, if you went back in time WITH your phone, would you be able to text yourself? Or call yourself? If you could, when would the text arrive? WHEN? WHEN?!?
- NOnonono. THERE ARE COCKROACHES. THEREARECOCKROACHES EVERYWHERE. Stephen King just had to add a gut-wrenching swarm of bugs.
- At one point Epping follows a lead to a restaurant in Dallas called El Conejo. “All the movers and shakers in Dallas ate there ... Best Tex-Mex in town.” While at the restaurant, a massive chandelier falls from the ceiling, almost crushing Epping (because the past fights back when you try to change it). The owner of the restaurant tells the mariachi band to cue up the music and dinner continues. Gotta love a Dallas restaurant where a chandelier can crash from the ceiling, almost killing several guests, and dinner goes on. Because who cares when you have chips and salsa and margaritas?
- Hang on: Was El Conejo a real place? It’s a two-story Tex-Mex restaurant with a stage and a live band, and they keep serving after a customer almost catches on fire. I want to live at this restaurant.
- I love the idea that Al Templeton, owner of “Diner,” has been serving burgers made from 1960 beef— for under two dollars — to unsuspecting customers for a long, long time. Food blogs would ABSOLUTELY LOSE THEIR MINDS.
- The award for most Stephen King line ever goes to: “Forget the yellow card man.” You don’t even need to know the context to understand that it’s a Stephen King line.
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All-in-all, 11.22.63 is worth the stream. At an hour-plus, you can settle in and enjoy great Stephen King-isms like, “If you do something that really fucks with the past, the past fucks with you.” Aside from a sea of cockroaches advancing toward you (AHHHHH!!), this is good popcorn-TV. We’re looking forward to more from the mini-series. Stream it here.