James Franco is Jake Epping/Jake Amberson, a recently divorced high school English teacher turned time traveler and spy in the J.J. Abrams and Stephen King miniseries “11.22.63" on Hulu. His mision is to stop the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.(Hulu)
James Franco, right, and George MacKay in the JJ Abrams and Stephen King miniseries “11.22.63."(Sven Frenzel / Hulu)
Josh Duhamel, left, and James Franco in the miniseries “11.22.63,” which counts J.J. Abrams as a producer and Stephen King as a writer.(Sven Frenzel / Hulu)
James Franco and Sarah Gadon in “11.22.63.”(Alex Dukay / Hulu)
Chris Cooper, right, and James Franco in “11.22.63.”(Hulu)
James Franco, left, and Chris Cooper star in the miniseries “11.22.63.”(Ben Mark Holzberg / Hulu)
Stephen King’s 2011 time-traveling historical romance thriller “11.22.63" has been made into a miniseries by Hulu. James Franco’s in it!
Franco plays Jake Epping, a 21st century high school teacher at loose ends: His wife is divorcing him, his father has died, and his students would rather look at their cellphones than watch him teach, even though he is James Franco.
It’s a long book and a long miniseries, and while the adaptation follows the arc of the novel and maintains its big causes and big effects, it takes its own way from beginning to end, scanting much of what’s good about the novel and adding passages and plot lines that make it more like serial television.
Because Jake has years to wait for Oswald (Daniel Webber) to get busy, for much of its length, the novel takes up other business. Jake becomes a well-regarded small-town high-school teacher, invested in his students and in love with librarian Sadie Dunhill (Sarah Gadon). There is something perfunctory and insubstantial about these scenes, which are laden with leaden dialogue (“I don’t know a lot about you — what’s your middle name?” and “Sometimes people hide things inside because they’re afraid”).
That the miniseries strains to develop a fully rounded character over eight episodes is something of a surprise, given that show runner Bridget Carpenter is a veteran of “Parenthood” and “Friday Night Lights,” two shows that did that especially well.
Franco, whose goal in life seems to be to do one of everything, crosses “novel-adapting miniseries” off his list. (He directed an episode as well.) He’s quite all right, if perhaps a shade too serious for the material.
Though it includes scenes shot on location in Dallas’ Dealey Plaza, the production has the homely feel of an old-fashioned network TV movie rather than the new-fangled “cinematic” cable-style fare the streaming networks have typically aspired to. Still, if it never rises above the artificial, it is not entirely without entertainment value — artificiality itself has its pleasures. It may not be worth the price of the subscription, if you don’t already have one, but that is a decision you will have to make for yourself, viewer.