Not our PIN, but the show based on the Stephen King book.
Stephen King takes aim at JFK
UK Broadcast Fox, Sundays until 29 May US Broadcast Hulu, finished Episodes Reviewed 1.01-1.08
In 1992 Quantum Leap took a rare turn into serious territory when it featured a two-part episode that had time-traveller Sam Beckett leaping into the body of Lee Harvey Oswald. It was “worthy”, yes, but out of the show’s entire run it was also, paradoxically, one of its least interesting concepts. We knew JFK would still die at the end, so what was the point? And Oswald, for all the endless conspiracy theories about him, isn’t a historical figure you actually empathise with – by all accounts, he was a right grumpy bastard, and hardly someone you’d want to hang out with... particularly when there can never be any concrete answers about what he really did do on that sunny day in Dallas.
With this in mind, you’d think that if you were Stephen King and you came up with the idea of writing a similar tale – sending someone back in time to shadow Oswald and learn the truth about the so-called Day That Shook The World (and maybe save President Kennedy to boot) – you’d try to make Oswald a little more... watchable. Empathetic, perhaps. Innocent. Diabolical. Anything. You’ve already got a time-traveller hero, after all; more reality-tinkering surely wouldn’t go amiss?
Well, phooey to that. This eight-part adaptation of King’s US-dated 11.22.63 spends an extraordinary amount of time focusing on someone we genuinely don’t like, as we see our lead character, Jake, bugging Oswald’s apartment, following him around, tracking people who meet with him and generally boring the tits off us. Watching Lee Harvey Oswald is, at times, almost unforgivably dull, despite a decent
Spends an extraordinary time focusing on someone we dislike
performance from Daniel Webber as the possible patsy.
Thankfully, everything that isn’t Oswald in this miniseries is far more watchable. At first you’re not sure if you’re going to like James Franco’s Jake: sure, he seems amiable enough, but timetravelling alone in a TV show rather than in the pages of a book means that we don’t know what he’s thinking. For a couple of episodes, he’s nothing more than a cypher who moves from place to place without a word; the audience has no idea how he’s feeling, whether he’s freaked out or happy or sad – he’s just there. And so when Jake teams up with a young guy named Bill – a character who wasn’t in the book – and bounces his ideas off him, things massively improve. Just hearing Jake announce, “Let’s save JFK, pardner!” in episode three sends everything clicking into gear.
There are other changes from the novel, too. For example, we’re told that trying to change things in the past results in Time “fucking you up”, but Jake seems able to save lives without so much as a murmur, yet is almost killed – twice – while trying to overhear a conversation about Oswald. Why isn’t this disparity fully explained? And who are the people who pop up and tell Jake he’s not supposed to be there? We get a vague explanation in the novel, but here they could be anything.
Still, the central love story between Jake and Sadie (Sarah Gadon) is pleasing, as is the fact the JFK assassination scenes are shot in the real Dealey Plaza. It’s just a shame that, for so much of this, Jake’s adventures are limited to sitting around in a house and listening to Oswald speaking Russian in the flat downstairs. Just try to stay awake.
James Franco’s Jake: smart but not the President.
Early iPhones: cumbersome.
Sadie and Jake love being in bookstores!