11.22.63: Review – Other Voices, Other Rooms: Slowing Things Down

In episode 3 of 11.22.63; Other Voices, Other Rooms, the Hulu series slows things down, while simultaneously pushing the plot up a notch, in terms of Oswald, Jake’s new helper and the romance between Epping/Amberson and Sadie Dunhill (Sarah Gadon).

Jake and Billy listening in on Oswald

In episode 3 of 11.22.63; Other Voices, Other Rooms, the Hulu series slows things down, while simultaneously pushing the plot up a notch, in terms of Oswald, Jake’s new helper and the romance between Epping/Amberson and Sadie Dunhill (Sarah Gadon). In this installment Bill Turcotte (George MacKay), whose sister was the first woman that Frank Dunning murdered, buys a ticket on Jake’s “man from the future” ride. 

The two team up and head to Jodie, Texas where Jake gets a job and meets Dunhill yet again and the attraction between the two is instantaneous after they get past “From Here to Eternity.”  The two people have a lot in common, both divorced, although Jake’s took place in 2016, and the attractive pair “know where the noses go.”

Sadie’s acceptance of jake’s fumbling and increasingly desperate apology for leaving her with 200 students to chaperone is a brilliant moment of romance that brings back memories of “that perfect” match moment.  Her straight-forward “Don’t ever do that to me again,” signals a woman who will take no guff from a man and sets up Dunhill as a strong female character that is attractive to boot.

Once again, the serendipity of the two meeting in Jodie, Texas where she just happens to be the new librarian at the school where Jake has been taken on as the English teacher, is not a good thing, surely. Placing a love interest so close to the future arena of conflict is the past pushing back, although the series is approaching it rather obliquely at this point.

Oswald (Daniel Webber) is an enigma of almost epic proportions. Controlling, a mommy’s boy, a man desperate for attention and, it seems, one who has mental issues as well. Out of the  two stressful events seen by the viewer Oswald reacts  differently.  Take for example his reaction to hearing  Jake and Billy in his apartment. Lee might have been furious at this invasion to his privacy, but it was a lucid and perfectly spoken rage. No slurring of words and no outbursts of violence. 

At the General Walker speech later on, however,   Oswald is slurring his words, stumbling around and is, at times, almost incoherent. Was the would-be assassin drugged or does he have a mental condition (the real Oswald was said to be very mentally troubled); a hidden ailment, not unlike Jack Ruby (who died of cancer after shooting Oswald in the real world)  that the CIA agent is taking advantage of.

The use of Japanese electronic devices is cute and the reminder of what 1960s Texas, and indeed the entire South, was like in terms of racism evokes anger and sadness in equal measure.  The treatment of Miss Mimi (played by Tonya Pinkins who is on FOX’s Gotham as Ethel Peabody) give two instances where Jake as outsider is first surprised then enraged at the treatment of this lady.

The coffee scene in the high school office where Epping (as Amberson) offers to pour Miss Mimi a cup of coffee is the first instance. The entire room stops in shocked silence at the lapse in 1960s protocol. Later, at the petrol station, the attendant flatly refuses to sell Mimi the fuel she needs, stating that she can go to the station in “N*****town.”

Jake reacts angrily and righteously by grabbing an empty gas can and fills it. He then lets Miss Mimi in his car after throwing money at the attendant.  Both of these incidents mark the time period perfectly for anyone who lived in the South, back in the day.

There is also an event triggered by a neighbor deciding that Billy and Jake are gay, something that comes back bite the duo later on. This incident is also evocative of the time period.

While this episode has slowed down the events, in order to bring things forward in terms of Oswald, it has the distinction of providing nail-biting suspense when the two men are trapped in the apartment while Marina (Lucy Fry) and Lee begin fooling around in the bedroom.  

As Billy and Jake become increasingly, desperate (Jake) and turned-on (Billy) the tension becomes almost unbearable. The moment they find their “way out” things do not diminish, as expected, but become more intense and damned hard to watch.

Jake has not yet realized that Sadie is yet another instance of the past pushing back as events move ahead to “that” day. Kudos on the excellent chemistry between Franco and Dunhill. Their romance feels spot-on, as it is meant to.

11.22.63 may not follow the book exactly (But then what adaption of King’s work has?) and thus far it does not really matter.  This version of King’s time travel tale entertains and keeps the viewer wanting more after each episode.  The series airs on Hulu Mondays, tune in and prepare to do a little white-knuckle viewing of this adaptation.

11.22.63: The Rabbit Hole Review – Stephen King, James Franco, JFK & Time Travel

11.22.63 may be the exception to this, but only because the Stephen King novel about JFK and time travel, with James Franco as Jake Epping, is a deviation from the horror master’s usual fare.

Jake Epping and Al Templeton in the diner (The Rabbit Hole)

Watching any Stephen King adaptation for the screen is an exercise in frustration, regardless of how well it is done; 11.22.63 may be the exception to this, but only because the King novel about JFK and time travel, with James Franco as Jake Epping,  is a deviation from the horror master’s usual fare. The Rabbit Hole, which is the premiere episode of the eight part mini series on Hulu, proves that changes have been made to the basic plot…like about every single film made from a King book.

For some inexplicable reason the base year, the one that Jake returns to when stepping though the rabbit hole in the back of Al’s diner, is changed from 1958 to 1960. Presumably to keep the amount of time spent waiting for Kennedy to be shot by Oswald down to a more “manageable” three years instead of five.

Other changes from the book includes events changed (or at least their chronological order revised) and some things have been added. Like “King Easter eggs.” For instance; when James Franco (as Jake) goes back on  his first mission,  as he walks down main street a sign can be seen for Farnsworth Drugs.

Richard Farnsworth was the actor who played the sheriff in the 1990 film version of Misery. The film is actually referenced twice in The Rabbit HoleJake gatecrashes a Kennedy fund-raiser and is grabbed by security.  After being questioned,  he tells his main interrogator to let JFK know that he is his “number one fan.”

(There is also the almost obligatory mention of “Castle Rock.”)

Regardless of these “changes” to the original source material this mini series version of 11.22.63  does well in setting up the characters and providing enough exposition to pave  the way for events that will play out in the series. The “yellow-card man” has made it from the book and only time will tell if the character’s significance will be changed from the original story.

Perhaps it helps that the novel was published, and read by this reviewer, back in 2011 allowing a lot of time to pass (See what we did there?) before being put up on the small screen as a mini-series.  Certainly, this adaptation has started out to deliver very well compared to 1990’s It.

(In terms of casting, however,  It easily holds the “Best Choice” award for whoever it was that realized that Tim Curry would be  perfect as Pennywise the Clown.)

Franco, as the English teacher/writer who is in the middle of getting divorced, plays his part well and is easily the perfect choice for Jake Epping. His ability to project the “everyman” quality required for this role is perfect.

Speaking of everyman, Jake is easily the spiritual twin to another King protagonist (one involved in another presidential assassination) John Smith. Smith may have had a special gift, but in essence he was the “everyman” of his tale;  a man who, regardless of his ability, was caught up in events beyond the pale. The question of time travel is also mentioned, only in that story it was a question of going back to kill Adolf Hitler.

In The Rabbit Hole Jake Epping decides to go back to 1960, instead of 1958, and major kudos should go to the set designers who have made the 1960s look alive.  The cars, the buildings, the appearance of everything feels spot on.

Within the version of the onscreen world of 11.22.63 the changes to the novel are minimal to the storyline.  The tale is still moving forward, albeit on what appears to be an expedited timeline, but Jake is following the plot as set out, overall.  The series is showing that “time pushing back” thing very well despite being the first hour and a half of the eight part series.

Like most Stephen King adaptations for either film or television, it is better to forget any specific details of the source. Thus far the series is close enough to keep things interesting so that as this premiere episode  ends, the next one is eagerly awaited.

Scottish director Kevin MacDonald (The Last King of Scotland, Touching the Voiddoes a splendid job on the opening episode. Bridget Carpenter, who is also an executive producer for this project also wrote the screenplay based on the King novel. Carpenter, who also worked on Dead Like Me and Parenthood,  came to the project with pretty immaculate bona fides and it shows.

It is interesting to note that the phrase, “You shouldn’t be here,” is said by several characters, not just the “Yellow-Card Man” and it serves to not only freak out Franco’s Jake but helps the viewer get into that paranoid state of mind. As Al Templeton tells Epping in one of those expository flashbacks, “you never stop feeling like an outsider [sic].” The repetitive warning from YCM and the others helps to reinforce Jake’s status as outsider.

Thus far, this adaptation, in the guise of mini-series (versus the CBS full-blown series version of Under the Dome) manages to keep close enough to Stephen King’s novel that no alarm bells are going off.  11.22.63  airs Mondays on Hulu.

Sidenote: One bone of contention is that hat. Templeton tells Epping to wear a suit and hat, as that is what grownup men wear in that day and age. Epping gets a hat and apart from Jake and “Yellow-Card Man” these two appear to be the few 1960s male denizens to wear them.

This mini-series  looks good enough to keep the interest level high and unlike the CBS “full” series, has not committed any major faux pas. With only a two-year difference between the book and the mini-series (1960 vs 1958)  as the most blaring change to date, Hulu have started off on a relative high note.

Tune in to Hulu on Mondays and see how many changes may still show up and check to see whether the Stephen King Easter eggs continue.