James Franco and Sarah Gadon in "11.22.63." (Alex Dukay/Hulu)

James Franco and Sarah Gadon in "11.22.63." (Alex Dukay/Hulu)

It's been said that 11.22.63, both the Stephen King best-seller and its eight-hour made-for-Hulu counterpart premiering Monday, play like the longest episode of The Twilight Zone ever made. Only because, well, that's just what it is.

Thirty years ago come March, CBS, which briefly revived Rod Serling's most famous creation, aired the J. Neil Schulman-penned episode "Profile in Silver," in which a history professor time-travels 200 years into the past and eventually lands in Dealey Plaza on Nov. 22, 1963, where he stops the killing of John F. Kennedy -- only to discover his actions could lead to the end of the planet.

Which is more or less the same plot of 11.22.63, the traffic-jam-causing flashback starring James Franco as a high-school English teacher from Maine named Jake Epping who time-travels 56 years into the past and eventually lands in Dealey Plaza to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from killing John Kennedy -- only to discover his actions could lead to the end of the ... well, perhaps you've not yet read the book.

There are, of course, significant differences between the two. The Hulu production, which was filmed mostly in Canada, is much more expensive, far more elaborate and comes with a far fancier pedigree. It's based on the King novel, stars Franco and other familiar faces, and was produced by J.J. Abrams (who, come to think of it, time-traveled in Star Trek a few years back ... and destroyed Vulcan in the process, heywaitaminute).

It's also much longer than the Twilight Zone episode (or the similarly themed Quantum Leap two-parter), with detours involving small (fictional) Texas towns, sidekicks and love interests. 11.22.63 is about many things -- killing a killer, most of all, but also killing time while Jake waits for Lee Harvey Oswald (Daniel Webber, the series' no-brainer highlight) to return from Russia and make his way to Dallas. And in a massive book providing ample room to roam, that's the point -- details as signposts, diversions as narrative, do. Dive in, get lost in those internal monologues and do-overs as Jake tries and tries and tries again to get it right.

But the eight-ish-hour "limited series" is trapped as a tweener: It's not long enough to focus on tangents, and not short enough to get to the point. Watch the whole thing, and you'll feel like the poor guy who breaks his time-stopping stopwatch in the classic October 1963 episode of The Twilight Zone.

Critics were given a luxury not afforded audiences who will have to wait a week between episodes; Hulu was kind enough to make all eight available at once. Episodes 1 (a darkly tragicomic setup directed by The King of Scotland's Kevin Macdonald) and 8 (the punch line at long last) are necessary viewing. The rest are here-and-there pages lifted from King's novel scraped to the bone to get you from 1960, the year in which Jake first finds himself, to Dallas in 1963.

It's not an entirely unpleasant affair, mind you. Anything with Chris Cooper (as diner owner Al Templeton, whose walk-in closet happens to be a time portal) and Cherry Jones (as Marguerite Oswald turned up to 11) is going to be a fun watch. The rest is just ... fine, a moving-pictures Cliff's Notes version of a novel whose audiobook runs 30 hours, 44 minutes.

How much you dig it depends in large part on your tolerance for prolonged exposure to James Franco, whose casting feels a bit off, somehow, like an in-joke -- turning Freaks and Geeks' high-school burnout student into a high-school teacher, haha, then having him derisively refer to accomplice Bill Turcotte (George MacKay) as "James Dean," a role Franco played in the better-than-average made-for-TNT biopic 15 years back. But Franco always feels like he's acting between quotation marks; severed limbs feel less detached.

The first episode's the best -- down to the attention to detail given the sequence featuring Kennedy's speech at Memorial Auditorium in downtown Dallas, filmed on location and seemingly lifted from history. Dallas residents should watch solely for that and the other landmarks included by filmmakers who at least bothered to come here and strive for a semblance of accuracy. Then again, there's no Hertz sign on the School Book Depository in the series; and, somehow, Reunion Tower exists in 1963. Welcome to the Twilight Zone.

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