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11/22/63. Streaming on Stan

Posted March 16, 2016 into Telly by John Birmingham

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.

24 Responses to ‘11/22/63. Streaming on Stan’

Murphy_of_Missouri has opinions thus...

Posted March 16, 2016
I'm still trying to figure out how saving Saint Kennedy actually changes anything.
Avoiding Vietnam? It was Kennedy that founded the U.S. Army Special Forces, and had a hand in pushing forward with Air Mobile Helicopter Forces. He certainly had Vietnam in mind.
Bumping off South Vietnam's leadership in a CIA backed coup? Again, Kennedy.
Advancing Civil Rights? If anything, Kennedy's survival would have sorely degraded the progress of Civil Rights due to the Democratic Party's fear of the same Dixiecrats who gave Truman so much grief.
Then you've got that clown McNamara. If I wanted to change history for the better, I'd make sure that guy had an accident, preferably one that left him six feet under.

Blarkon ducks in to say...

Posted March 16, 2016
Just as Republicans don't look at Reagan's policies in putting him up on a pedestal, Democrats don't look too hard at Kennedy.

It's more about how they felt about the person and themselves rather than any real feeling about the impact on the country.

DarrenBloomfield mutters...

Posted March 16, 2016
I agree almost completely Murph, although I'm a little more positive about McNamara than you. But maybe I just swallowed the mea culpa in the excellent "the Fog of War"
But, in the same vein of the great Vulcan axiom "Only Nixon could have gone to China", I suspect only LBJ could bring the Democrats to civil rights.

Lulu swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted March 16, 2016
An alternative discussion could be - what if the Kennedy saved was Bobby, not Jack?

John Birmingham would have you know...

Posted March 16, 2016
Murph, King asks the same questions.

Murphy_of_Missouri mumbles...

Posted March 17, 2016
John, that tells me I should probably read the book then at some point.

Darren, I agree completely per LBJ and Civil Rights. Of course, in popular culture he gets very little credit for it. It did help to have Kennedy's bloody toga to wave about, so to speak.

Blarkon, true dat.

How does saving Bobby change anything?

I'm asking an honest question because frankly, I don't know much about Bobby other than, well, he got shot too.

John Birmingham mutters...

Posted March 17, 2016
Hey, had to delete Lulu's entry because it was full of garbage HTML. But she said:

Murphy_of_Missouri mumbles...

Posted March 17, 2016
Yes?

Lulu is gonna tell you...

Posted March 17, 2016
Oh god, I blame Outlook: I typed it in Outlook & then copy/pasted here.

Murph, as you pointed out, Jack's presidency gives an idea of what was lost by his assassination, and saving him might not have changed much.

Saving Bobby would mean a high chance that he became president in 1968, which means no Nixon for 1968-72 (or possibly ever). Also, from my admittedly limited knowledge, I think Bobby was much more interested in civil rights than Jack had been in 1963: whether just because of differing personalities etc, or whether the 5 years between 1963 & 1968 made the difference.

(SO not worth the wait)

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trib has opinions thus...

Posted March 16, 2016
Agreed that 11.22.63 is both kicking storytelling arse and diverging wildly from the source material in ways both excellent and disappointing.
I only read the book over Christmas, and dug it hard.

On a side note, Sarah Gadon as Sadie is luminous. Utterly different from the book Sadie, but so awesome as to make the otherwise often dull Franco look good.

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Barnesm has opinions thus...

Posted March 16, 2016

Its in my to be watched list on Stan, I want to wait until the wholes series is out and binge watch.

got Stan for Bruce Campbell and iZombie, (both of which I really like)staying for stuff like this.

Schweaty puts forth...

Posted March 16, 2016

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WarDog ducks in to say...

Posted March 16, 2016

Thanks John. 63 and Insomnia are my 2 King favs. Would love to see someone pull together Insomnia in a similar fashion.

I'm really digging this upsurge in fantastic video driven story telling. Bigger than life books brought to full colour life with all the depth and breadth they had on the page. I hope to see AoT get the same treatment one day.

John Birmingham is gonna tell you...

Posted March 16, 2016
Ha, we all do, mate.

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Rob asserts...

Posted March 16, 2016

I must watch Maximum Overdrive again. That to me is King's magnum opus , whether he likes it or not. Damn I loved that movie when I was 16.

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NBlob has opinions thus...

Posted March 16, 2016
What a remarkable 'force for good' streaming providers have become. When HBO got up their brand of envelope pushing there was a polite round of applause "Finally programming that isn't hamstrung by the punishers & straighteners." (TM JB 2001)
But what Netflix & Hulu & friends have bought is well beyond that. A global audience of people with an appetite for such things makes it a viable business decision. Of course they knock off some of the thinker edges of the original texts, both for 'as broad as possible' appeal & format constraints. But I still think it marvellous. If repeat If the rights holders & production crew are paid appropriately.

John Birmingham puts forth...

Posted March 16, 2016
Cue Orin in three, two, one... To tell us why it's all doomed.

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Sparty mutters...

Posted March 16, 2016
agree its a good attempt- wish we'd had one "reset" though - to prove that he can meaningfully change the present (kid who gets bludgeoned etc).
The middle part of King is always the best- just being in the company of characters, not wanting it to end or even move along the plot very much.
Lets just hope the "Dead Zone" and Greg Trump Stillson remains on the fiction shelves and not History.
<!--[if gte mso 9]><xml>
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</xml><![endif]-->"shit from anchovie pizza" - nice channelling of the King there...

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Dave W mumbles...

Posted March 17, 2016
Seriously good book. Up there with The Stand. There, I've said it.

GhostSwirv puts forth...

Posted March 17, 2016
Did anyone else catch that news the Idris Elba is gonna be The Gunslinger and that his nemesis of the Man in Black is gonna be played by Dirk Pitt, errr I meant that Lincoln Dude Matthew McConaughey?


Murph you so gotta read 11 - 22 - 63 King hasn't sugar-coated anything.

Dave W puts forth...

Posted March 18, 2016
See, this is where I howl.
How can the Gunslinger be adapted? So much of it exists in the mind.
Does King need a gold-plated hovercraft more than a certain other author?

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Slippy asserts...

Posted March 18, 2016
King acknowledges in his intro to 11.22.63 a debt to Time and Again by Jack Finney. It is a little slow but is also a great read by someone who must have done an amazing amount of research about NY 100 years before he was writing. Recommended.

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