Plot: When the “Captain Trips” flu epidemic wipes out more than 99% of the population, the remaining few immune to the disease, including Stu Redman, Frannie Goldsmith, and Harold Lauder, set out in search of other survivors, all the while, experiencing visions of the nurturing Mother Abagail and the menacing figure of The Dark Man.
Review: A new version of The Stand has been in development for almost a decade. From Ben Affleck to Scott Cooper, Paul Greengrass, and eventually Josh Bone, Stephen King’s epic pandemic novel has been bandied as everything from an R-rated feature film to a movie franchise before eventually becoming the CBS All Access event series premiering next week. This new adaptation of The Stand comes with an all-star cast that rivals the 1994 version. In a year ravaged by a far different virus, The Stand carries a different significance as it closes out a year terrifyingly similar to the story on screen. Told over nine episodes, including an all-new ending written by Stephen King and his son Owen, this new version of The Stand is a very uncomfortable story to watch while the world is mired in a real pandemic but still manages to be a faithful adaptation of King’s masterpiece with timely updates that more or less work.
Like Andy Muschietti’s It duology, The Stand has the challenge of not only adapting a thousand-page novel but also distinguishing itself from a successful adaptation from the 1990s. The 1994 version of The Stand starring Gary Sinise, Molly Ringwald, and Rob Lowe was already a critically well-received mini-series that condensed the book into a six-hour series. Josh Boone’s new take covers nine hours and does not need to abide by network television limitations for language or violence. This is definitely the equivalent of an R-rated film with characters dropping the f-bomb in almost every scene. Plus, the make-up effects on the infected will turn your stomach. I highly recommend you don’t eat while you watch this series. These changes all come on a limited budget but they work for the scale of this story. That makes this adaptation closer in tone and style to King’s source material while taking an unconventional approach to the format of the narrative.
Rather than begin when the disease escaped a military facility and then rampaged across the globe, Josh Boone takes a non-linear approach to his adaptation. With a massive cast spread across the United States, the first episode of The Stand opens with the characters already in their final destination before flashing back to how they got there. Each episode gives us time with a couple of the characters and their journey to either Boulder or Las Vegas as they draw their allegiances to either Randall Flagg (Alexander Skarsgard) or Mother Abigail (Whoopi Goldberg). In an interesting choice, our entry to the apocalypse is Harold Lauder (It: Chapter One’s Owen Teague) and Frannie Goldsmith (Odessa Young) before we even meet Stu Redman (James Marsden). Subsequent episodes introduce us to Larry Underwood (Jovan Adepo), Lloyd Henreid (Nat Wolff), Julie Lawry (Katherine McNamara), Nick Andros (Henry Zaga), and many more. Ezra Miller’s appearance as Trashcan Man is one of several cameos and characters who are much better takes than in the mini-series version.
While Mick Garris’ mini-series was written by King himself, this new take feels more faithful to the book even if things are changed up. Here, Nadine Cross (Amber Heard) and Rita Blakemoor (Heather Graham) are two distinct characters whereas the ’94 series combined them. There is significantly more backstory to everyone which informs their present-day decisions and makes the repercussions of their choices far more impactful. Marsden is a highlight here and outshines Gary Sinise’s far more reluctant take on Stu. Ezra Miller and Fiona Dourif improve as Trashcan Man and Rat Woman over Matt Frewer and Rick Aviles before them. But, this version hinges on both Alexander Skarsgard and Whoopi Goldberg. While I love Jamey Sheridan and Ruby Dee in the original series, Skarsgard does for Randall Flagg what his brother Bill did for Pennywise. This Randall Flagg is the force of evil that Matthew McConaughey failed to evoke in The Dark Tower. This Flagg is more than a monster but a true force of evil. Goldberg was also born to play Abigail Freemantle and brought me to tears during this series.
The direction on this series is split amongst several helmers led by Josh Boone (The New Mutants) but also includes Tucker Gates and Vicenzo Natali. The writing is also shared amongst creators Boone and Benjamin Cavell alongside Jill Killington, Knate Lee, as well as Stephen King and his son, Owen. I thoroughly enjoyed their novel Sleeping Beauties and look forward to seeing how they changed the ending of this new series. With only the first six episodes made available for this review, I cannot say for certain if the changes to the coda work or not, but what comes before it certainly feels more epic than it did in 1994. That being said, if you are familiar with the first mini-series, there are a lot of scenes that looks eerily similar in the new iteration, but there is so much more. Those that have read the novel will find this adaptation does better justice to the massive cast of characters. But, you may not like all of the changes.
In regards to COVID-19, many scenes through this series may rub people the wrong way but they are not the focus of this story. The Stand is a massive tale about humanity facing the forces of evil and how they get there. There does feel like something is missing in this new take and that could be due to the unconventional narrative. The flashbacks take some of the cinematic scope out of the story and lend a much more episodic feel. Josh Boone’s plans for a big-screen adaptation are evident here but the final structure left me wondering what could have been. The Stand is certainly an improvement over the original mini-series from a technical standpoint even if it doesn’t quite come together as well as it could have. Still, I am invested enough in the chapters I have seen to wait with bated breath for the apocalyptic conclusion.
The Stand premieres December 17th on CBS All Access with new episodes premiering weekly.