11.22.63: Review: Series 1 Episode 1: The Rabbit Hole

112263 logoGo back through a time portal at the back of a diner and prevent JFK’s assassination? It sounds crazy – but teacher Jake Epping decides to give it a shot…

This double-length opener for the latest Stephen King TV series gets off to a strong start, not wasting time on lengthy debates about the hows and wherefores of the time portal that somehow magically is linked to October 1960 (two years later than in King’s original novel – one of a few changes that, so far at least, neatly streamline elements of the doorstop of a book). James Franco’s Jake is quite quickly persuaded that it’s real, and decides to aid Chris Cooper’s Al Templeton in his quest to change the course of history. A good portion of the first half of the episode is used to set up threads that are clearly going to resonate through the whole series, with Jake having personal reasons for wanting to see Time change to help those he loves, which means that while we get to see a number of guest stars, none of them – bar Cooper and Leon Rippy as an elderly Harry – get much chance to make their mark. However, the biggest “guest star” of the lot is the 1960s themselves, painstakingly recreated for the show… and watch out for some King universe references along the way!

The time travel rules are set out early on and we also get vivid indications of how Time might push back; in particular, watch for the appearances of the Yellow Card Man each time Jake goes back – unlike every other aspect of that core day, he’s never in the same place twice…

We get a cameo from JFK and sight of Lee Harvey Oswald, as well as hints about the line the series will take over the latter’s involvement in the assassination – having researched it for my book on conspiracy theories a few years back, I know that there are more variants on what happened than grains of sand on the beach (and I wish that was hyperbole!). But at this point, the events on the titular date are almost a McGuffin – the opener is all about Jake (Franco is in pretty near every scene), and emphasises that this series won’t be purely a time-travel version of Rogue Male.

Verdict: An enjoyable opener that should keep audiences returning. 8/10

Paul Simpson

 

 

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