Sunday 4 December 2016

TV reviews: Wrecking the Rising and The Last Man on Earth

11.22.63, FOX
* Wrecking The Rising, TG4
* The Last Man On Earth, Dave

Published 29/04/2016 | 02:30

Goodnight sweetheart: Sarah Hadon and James Franco star in time-travelling caper ‘11.22.63’ on Fox, based on the Stephen King novel of the same name.
Goodnight sweetheart: Sarah Hadon and James Franco star in time-travelling caper ‘11.22.63’ on Fox, based on the Stephen King novel of the same name.

I must admit, I adore Stephen King, but some of his books have left me cold. Under The Dome was a tough one. In fact, it took me so long to dutifully plod my way through what was a fairly shoddy rehash of The Tommyknockers, he had already written a new book by the time I'd finished.

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Similarly, 11.22.63 was a bit of a slog.

Coming in at more than 800 pages and providing a dual use as an emergency doorstep, this was classic King in the sense that it brought him back to his favourite era, the early 1960s, and one of his favourite subjects, the assassination of Kennedy.

Again, it was a bit of a slog, but the news that it had been adapted into an eight-parter for TV was welcomed - with some caution.

Adaptations of the great man's material for the screen has been patchy at best. In fact, the most recent book-to-screen venture was the aforementioned Under The Dome, which was so lacklustre it should have been called 'Under The Weather' - and don't even get me started on the forthcoming Dark Tower movie, which has changed a fundamental plot dynamic in the name of politically correct pandering.

But 11.22.63 comes armed with some serous firepower, produced as it is by JJ Abrams, scripted by Bridget Carpenter (Parenthood, Friday Night Lights) and starring James Franco as Jake Amberson, a lonely English teacher who discovers that his local diner contains a portal which brings you back to 1960. As you do.

Franco is a hard chap to figure out.

Given his academic extra-curricular activities and long-professed love for the great Cormac McCarthy, I'm still not sure if he is a genuine Renaissance man or merely a shrewd operator who realises that in a culture of vapid stupidity, even the mundane act of reading a book deems you part of the intellectual resistance.

Thing is, I'm not sure he really knows, either.

There's no doubt that he's a smart cookie, but he's also an underrated actor, even if he is in possession of one of those knowing smirks which seems to fill people with the urge to thump him.

He's certainly smart enough to know that the days when a big screen star would only ever do TV as an act of financial desperation have long passed, and we should be grateful - because he's quietly marvellous in 11.22.63.

While hanging out in his local diner, where the burgers taste great and are always remarkably cheap (there's a clue in there), the owner, Al, ushers him into a closet and when he emerges on the other side he has gone from 2016 to 1960.

When he returns to the present day, he discovers that time travellers always go back to the exact spot and date and no matter how long you stay in the past, a mere two minutes has elapsed in our time. Before you know it, Al has asked Jake to go back and spend the next few years trying to figure out if Lee Harvey Oswald was really a lone gunman bent on assassinating Kennedy. If he was, kill him to save JFK. If not, then the conspiracy theorists were right all along.

But time is stubborn and doesn't like being changed, so as Jake begins his long task to discern the truth about Oswald and prevent the assassination, the universe begins to kick back against him.

It's all complete hokum, of course, and you could drive a truck through the gaping logic holes (grandfather paradox, anyone?).

In fact, there are times when it all comes across like a mash up between Back To The Future and Goodnight Sweetheart.

But I mean that as a compliment, and King being King, there are plenty of suitably eerie undercurrents.

It's already a few episodes into its eight-episode run, but the joys of Catch Up mean you can watch them all at once if you missed the start. And you could do worse things with your time this weekend...

From one attempt to use time travel to change a pivotal moment in a country's history comes the Irish answer - Wrecking The Rising.

Taking itself rather less seriously than its American peer, Wrecking The Rising is yet another example of the subversive brilliance that is emerging with increasing regularity from TG4.

The excellent Klondike has been picking up awards everywhere it goes and Wrecking The Rising, which sees three thoroughly modern young men somehow transported back to the GPO just in time for the fun, deserves to be mentioned in the same breath.

Peter Coonan, Owen McDonnell and Seán T Ó Meallaigh all do a fine job as the enthusiastic modern day re-enactors who suddenly find themselves getting a little too close to reality for comfort and this is yet another feather in the cap of the little station that could, TG4.

Let's put it this way, if someone had told me that one day I'd happily sit down to enjoy drama and comedy in Irish I would have laughed at them.

Well, I'm not laughing now, as Bob Monkhouse used to say.

You don't get many laughs for your buck when it comes to the end of the world, largely because people tend to get all mawkish in the face of the end of humanity.

The Last Man On Earth makes a good fist of it, but I was moved to tears by one scene this week when the remaining survivors found a karaoke machine and two of them insisted on singing Glen Hansard's dirge-tastic Falling Slowly.

Truly, the living will envy the dead.

Irish Independent

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