There have been two big books in the back nine of Stephen King's writing career. Under the Dome, his allegory for the sorrows of modern American politics, and 11/22/63, a thousand page trip, via the mysteries of time travel, through America's Camelot years. Both have been adapted for television, but 63 is by far the more successful – at least for now. A large part of the problem with Dome was its initial success, which ramped up the pressure to stretch the series well beyond its natural life. By the start of its second season, it was unrecognisable.
The writers and producers of 63 (King himself is an EP, along with JJ Abrams) have done some major re-engineering of the book's narrative structure to fit it into the more demanding confines of an eight part TV show. I've read the book, written about it here I think, and hugely enjoyed the hundreds of pages King 'wasted' meandering through the early 1960s while his narrator, James Franco's time travelling high school English teacher Jake Amberson, prepares to save JFK in Dallas. There's a great deal of pleasure to be had in viewing America's golden era through Jake's somewhat jaundiced eyes. Even when King's characters aren't in mortal danger, you want to know what happens next. Just fitting into the tail end of the Eisenhower era is an adventure itself for a pomo dude like Jake.
That same effect is felt with great force in the TV series, even though the story is much compressed – yes, even across eight episodes, it is compressed – and even though long arcs of the original storyline were jettisoned to make way for the Jake's TV co-conspirator, or anti-conspirator, Bill; the first 'temp' in whom he confides.
The series is now five episodes down on Stan, or Hulu you your watching in the US or via a VPN, and it's probably safe to assume the structural work to refashion the story isn't just a temporary fix. Unlike the written Jake, Franco's everyman hero won't be making multiple trips back and forth to reset the timeline. He'll likely get one shot at saving Kennedy and then return to his own time to deal with the consequences. From here on in the storyline will probably accelerate into a more kinetic, action-driven affair. A pity in a way, because the production values on 63 are high, and spending an hour or so with Jake is not a thousand miles removed from imagining yourself back there with him. The period details are very well done, although it is noticeable that all the cars – except Bill's at first – are shiny and 'new'. Doubtless sourced by the producers from vintage car clubs.
The central conceit of the book, that history pushes back when you try to change it, is well deployed on the small screen. A couple of early incidents of malign serendipity are warning enough to Jake that saving JFK will itself become a killing affair.
So, worth watching? Not just yes, but hell yes. Of course I say that as a slavering fanboy of da King. There are probably many people for whom this series would be infuriatingly slow, discursive, and oblique. But fuck them in the neck. They wouldn't know a good story from a shit and anchovie pizza.