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‘11.22.63’ review: James Franco in Stephen King tale about saving JFK

James Franco, right, and George MacKay in a

James Franco, right, and George MacKay in a scene from the eight-part Hulu series, "11.22.63." Credit: Hulu / Sven Frenzel

THE SERIES “11.22.63”

WHEN | WHERE Starts streaming Monday on Hulu.


WHAT IT’S ABOUT Diner owner Al Templeton (Chris Cooper) is dying and enlists his friend, high school teacher Jake Epping (James Franco), to finish an important job he started — and it’s not flipping the pancakes. He has to go back in time to kill Lee Harvey Oswald. This nine-hour mini — produced by J.J. Abrams — is based on the Stephen King bestseller “11/22/63.”

MY SAY Like “Under the Dome,” “11.22.63” was a youthful obsession that King returned to long after literary fame and fortune were secured. Both have the same simple “what if” premise. What if a dome covered a small town? Don’t ask “why” — just accept the “what if” and go on from there. What if a guy running a diner in a small town in Maine found a wormhole back to the late 1950s in the broom closet? Don’t ask “why,” just accept the “what if” and go on from there.

King’s a great storyteller, so blind faith is often rewarded — a big reason why so many of his books have been made into satisfying TV (and movie) adaptations. But the best ones start off simple and stay that way. Complexities, twists, even disjunctions will arrive — but you’re so far down the wormhole of the story by that point that there’s no point in turning back, no reward in questioning them, either. You’re all in. King and his adaptation have you in their grip.

And that is “11.22.63.” As Jake Epping, James Franco is just another in a long line of King alter-egos: a failed writer (of course), also a decent person puzzled by the world and his circumstances. He’s a loner, too — an apparent ladies’ man who just can’t quite get the ladies. He’s also pursuing something, or someone — or is he the one being pursued? Alfred Hitchcock created a whole set of heroes from this mold, and there is something Hitchcockian about Jake Epping, too.

The ’60s world he finds himself in is bright and cheerful, with wide-open skies, and wide-open smiles. Even the apple pie tastes better. But that’s all deceptive. Jim Crow laws are enforced. Behind those smiles are fears. Cold War paranoia is out there. So is the would-be assassin of JFK and his apparent abettors. Dead leaves rattle across empty streets in small, desiccated towns. “11.22.63” is not a nostalgic road trip.

Will Jake find the conspirators? Will he stop Oswald? Will he save the world from itself? Will he ever get back the pretty girl who stole his heart? Big questions! And from what I’ve seen of “11.22.63,” the pursuit of answers feels both rewarding and enjoyable.

BOTTOM LINE A Hulu winner.

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