Warning: This article contains spoilers for the series premiere of Hulu’s 11.22.63.
If you never read Stephen King’s 2011 book, 11/22/63, the first episode of Hulu’s new eight-part adaptation undoubtedly left you with a number of compelling questions. Questions like: “Does James Franco really think he’ll be able to save John F. Kennedy?” And “What’s the story with that blonde girl who was really into The Manchurian Candidate?” (Don’t worry: we’ll see her again.) But even if you have read the blockbuster novel, the J.J. Abrams-produced series premiere, which debuted Feb. 15, raises a number of interesting queries about how the creative team — including Bridget Carpenter and Bryan Burk — chose to adapt it. We pitched some of those questions to the author himself, who previously told us that he considers the series, “Remarkable.”
1) In the book, Al’s time portal leads to 1958. Why is it 1960 in the series?
In King’s version of events, when Al Templeton introduces Jake Epping to the time portal in the backroom of Al’s Diner, he specifies that the trip will always deposit a traveler in the same place on the same date and time: Sept. 9, 1958 at 11:58 a.m. But when Chris Cooper’s Al gives Franco’s Jake a crash course in time traveling, the date is Oct. 21, 1960. So what’s with the one month, two-year time shave? “They wanted to streamline the story, and that meant speeding up the time-frame a little,” King told us via e-mail. “Cutting the section of the book set in Derry was the best way to do that.” He’s referring, of course, to the seven weeks that Jake spends hanging around Derry, Maine — a popular King haunt, appearing in such books as It and Bag of Bones — waiting for Halloween night, when a man named Frank Dunning murders his entire family, save one: Harry, the janitor at the school where Jake teaches in the present day. But that incident still happens in 1958 in the book. Re-locating it in 1960 helps speed up the time-frame of JFK’s campaign and election, which is a more central part of Jake’s mission. In fact, the series shuffles events even further, having him go to Texas to see Kennedy from afar and then doubling back to deal with Frank (Josh Duhamel).
2) Why eliminate Al’s suicide?
In order to ensure that Jake goes through with this foolhardy plan to prevent JFK from meeting his end in Dallas in 1963, Al kills himself before his cancer does it for him. “Sorry, buddy, couldn’t wait,” his final, pleading letter to Epping reads. In the series, Al doesn’t get the chance to manipulate Jake; cancer claims his life first. It’s a subtle change, but one that definitely impacts the way we view the character. After all, in the novel, Al suddenly seems less “friendly old guy with a time portal” and more “desperate manipulator with a time portal.” As Jake himself thinks in the novel, “You knew I might have second thoughts, and this is how you took care of them, right?” But King, for one, believes it’s a relatively small alteration: “He’s dead, either way, so it doesn’t really make any difference,” says the author. “What’s genius is the way his advice to Jake is parceled out over the course of the eight episodes. Chris Cooper rocked it.” On that point, we totally agree.
3) How many Easter Eggs should fans be on the lookout for?
Like us, you’re Stephen-sense was probably tingling when Jake told that Kennedy security aide to inform the presidential hopeful that he’s his “number one fan.” Obviously, that’s a little tip of the hat to Annie Wilkes, the romance-reading recluse who keeps her favorite author, Paul Sheldon, under lock and key following a bad car accident. “That was either in the screenplay or James ad-libbed it,” King says, promising that there are other references to his many, many volumes of scary stories that only the most eagle-eyed viewers will notice. That’s definitely keeping in the spirit of the book, which features shout-outs to It and The Dark Tower series, among others. “There are plenty of Easter Eggs [in the series], but I’m not giving them away,” continues King, adding, “One hint: 900 points for the first viewer to spot REDRUM.”
4) Did J.J. Abrams really write the main title theme?
Not content with just writing, directing and producing some of the most beloved TV shows of the past two decades, Abrams also regularly wields a composer’s pen, scoring the title sequence for such series as Felicity, Alias and Lost. And he’s at it again with 11.22.63, though he apparently didn’t clear the assignment with King first. “This is the only version I heard, and it was rather late in the game,” he says. Fortunately for Abrams, the musically-inclined author — who has played in his own supergroup, the Rock Bottom Reminders, alongside such writers as Amy Tan and Dave Barry — gives his composition a thumbs up: “J.J. is a multi-talented multi-tasker. Next year, in his spare time, he’s playing shortstop for the Cubs and touring with a Riverdance troupe.”
11.22.63 is streaming on Hulu, with new episodes weekly.