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TV Review: Hulu's '11.22.63' Takes Too Long To Get To The Point


All right, the streaming service Hulu is premiering a miniseries tonight that's adapted from Stephen King's time travel novel "11.22.63." NPR TV critic Eric Deggans has this review.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: At first, Jake Epping doesn't look much like a crusading hero. Played by James Franco, he's a divorced, mediocre high school teacher with a goatee that makes him come off like a failed hipster. He likes handing out in a diner owned by his friend Al. But then Al, played by Chris Cooper, asks him to do something odd.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "11.22.63")

CHRIS COOPER, BYLINE: (As Al Templeton) I need to go in this closet and take a look around. Stay as long as you need.

DEGGANS: And when Jake walks inside that room.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "11.22.63")

JAMES FRANCO, BYLINE: (As Jake Epping, screaming).

DEGGANS: He travels back in time.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "11.22.63")

COOPER: (As Al Templeton) You go through there, and it's 1960.

FRANCO: (As Jake Epping) You're saying this is a time portal?

COOPER: (As Al Templeton) I call it a rabbit hole.

FRANCO: (As Jake Epping) How long's it been there?

COOPER: (As Al Templeton) Since I had the diner.

FRANCO: (As Jake Epping) Who else knows about it?

COOPER: (As Al Templeton) Just you.

DEGGANS: Inexplicably, Jake keeps listening after Al explains what he really wants him to do, stop the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. As Al explains to Jake, the stakes are high.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "11.22.63")

FRANCO: (As Jake Epping) OK. So if you save JFK, then there's no Vietnam.

COOPER: (As Al Templeton) Johnson was the one who escalated everything in 'Nam. If Kennedy had survived, no way does that escalation continue.

DEGGANS: There are rules. When Jake returns to the present, only 2 minutes will have past. And if he goes back to 1960 again, everything resets, and his previous actions in past will vanish. Most ominously, time pushes back. So when Jake tries to call his dad in 1960...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "11.22.63")

FRANCO: (As Jake Epping) Hello?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Jake Epping's Dad) Hello?

FRANCO: (As Jake Epping) What? Dad?

DEGGANS: The call won't go through, and a runaway car eventually destroys the payphone he's using.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "11.22.63")

DEGGANS: Like most Stephen King inventions, this story is a wonderful take on the typical time travel story. It's also a bit of baby boomer fantasy. Jake finds even the food tastes better in 1960 while planning to stop a murder that defined the era. There's even a moment when producers wink at the audience, when Jake talks to a women in 1960 about her favorite book, "From Here To Eternity."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "11.22.63")

FRANCO: (As Jake Epping) "From Here To Eternity," which do you like better, the book or the movie?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) Please, the book's always better. Everybody knows that.

FRANCO: (As Jake Epping) Yeah.

DEGGANS: Still, this story moves very, very slowly. Jake has to spend three years preparing for Lee Harvey Oswald, all while trying to learn if the assassin is acting alone. And he's remarkably clumsy in his efforts to change time, stumbling in ways that sometimes make you want to throw something at your TV or your laptop. "11.22.63" is Hulu's most ambitious original project, an eight-episode miniseries with a well-crafted period look and an engaging leading man in Franco. But that slow pace makes it tough for viewers to stick around long enough to learn if Jake ever becomes the hero he's striving to be. I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.