’Tis the season for traveling through time and killing very bad men. One month after The CW launched the quantum-leaping superhero fantasy DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Hulu gives us 11.22.63, a miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s book. James Franco is Jake, a teacher who learns that his diner-owning pal Al (Chris Cooper) has a wormhole in his pantry. Okay. With ridiculous speed, Jake agrees to take on Al’s great heroic project, one steeped in baby-boomer grief for a what-could-have-been past: preventing JFK’s assassination by murdering Lee Harvey Oswald (Daniel Webber). Some teachers make a difference by inspiring a love of learning; others become lone nuts to stop other lone nuts.
Like King did in his book, exec producer Bridget Carpenter establishes clear rules for time travel and creates emotional and conceptual stakes by rigorously following them. Time itself tries to thwart Jake’s quest with its own assassination attempts—a random fire here, a runaway car there. Jake’s odyssey is all side missions and epic prep, most of it made interesting by well-played supporting characters, including Josh Duhamel (Battle Creek) as Jake’s first target, Canadian actress Sarah Gadon as Jake’s love interest, and Cherry Jones (Transparent) as Oswald’s mom. Carpenter never makes Jake’s motives credible (like: Why is he so certain saving JFK will make everything better?), but the weakest link is Franco’s often low-watt, seemingly disinterested performance. 11.22.63 reaches some thoughtful, moving conclusions, but oh, what coulda been with a more engaged star. If only there were a time machine to fix that mistake. C+