Last week, I rewatched 11.22.63 (on Amazon Prime in the UK), the TV series based on the Stephen King novel. Spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen it. I actually enjoyed it more this time, since I wasn’t impatient to get to the denouement, and could enjoy all the parts of the show that didn’t relate directly to the assassination of JFK. Because, actually, it turns out that the aspects of the plot and the characters to do with JFK are the least interesting thing about the series. For example – SHOCKER – JFK is still assassinated, so we know that going back in time didn’t change our universe.
What 11.22.63 becomes, when you don’t focus on the Kennedy stuff, is a surprisingly moving story about a doomed romance. As our protagonist meets and falls in love with Sadie – separated from her weirdo husband and trying to make her way as a small town librarian – you kind of know it can never be and yet you become invested nevertheless. James Franco is (as always) a slightly off leading man, but the supporting cast, including Sarah Gadon as Sadie, Nick Searcy as the surprisingly liberal Texas high school principal and Tonya Pinkins as the school administrator, make up for Franco’s failings.
It’s the properly Stephen King-y bits that work best: a small town in Maine, a horrific murder, our protagonist’s attempts to prevent it. And what moves you in the end is the fact that our hero ends up shrugging his shoulders re JFK and instead focuses on making sure Sadie has the life she deserves — without him.
Something about this era, though, right? Because so much recent television and film seems to centre around 1962, 1963. Last year, we had Ridley Road, and I feel like there was something else I watched recently that was set in that era*. The cusp. Everything is about to change. Some 60-year-old intelligence files were released this week relating to the Profumo scandal, which was a big moment in the ongoing diminution of this country’s status and the end of deference.
Another period piece of course is Stranger Things (on Netflix), the fourth season of which I’ve not bothered with up to now, because I surely lost interest way back in the second season. It too is set on the cusp, harder to articulate, but certainly involving something to do with computers. But there being not much else on right now (I await The Peripheral with impatience), I watched a few episodes. It is, as many critics noted, a mess. Side plots that go on and on to nowhere (the whole Hopper in Russia thing); overlong episodes; Scrappy Doo type new characters who seem pointless; noisy scenes of people screeching and shouting which do nothing except irritate. There’s one sequence (its whole vibe stolen from Silence of the Lambs) which has a huge build up to the kind of insight that the characters might have thought of for themselves—if they did any thinking. Which leads us to the sequence (I assume its this sequence) that put Kate Bush back in the charts. Music aside, the sequence itself was particularly poor, featuring a lone character running in an unconvincing CGI environment where the threat and danger was both over the top and underwhelming.
And in the end you wonder about that period setting — it no longer seems to supply the joy of bittersweet nostalgia — and where they think they’re going with it.
Really, they lost me in the opening shot of the opening episode of the season, which featured that rusty old cliché, a paperboy riding down a suburban street tossing newspapers onto porches and front lawns. I just thought: lazy, lazy, lazy. We’ve seen that particular scene before, so many times, that it’s mere wallpaper.
*Oh yes, it was the completely pointless and forgettable film, The Two Faces of January (BBC iPlayer), which was indeed set in 1962, but was so forgettable that the 1962 setting was all I could remember about it.