The long-awaited new adaptation of The Stand has arrived. The book is one of Stephen King’s enduring classics, an epic tale that shows the collapse and rise of society and a battle of good versus evil. It’s a sprawling story that many filmmakers have tried to bring to the screen, including Ben Affleck and the co-creator of the new CBS All Access series, Josh Boone.
Boone, known for The Fault in Our Stars, originally worked on a two-part film adaptation for Warner Bros. The project always struggled, though. It’s such an ambitious story that one movie would never fully do the source material justice. There are too many characters and stories for one movie in “The Stand,” although with the right vision, it could work as a movie.
The story is inherently better suited to television. In 1994, King’s story was first adapted for television with a miniseries starring Gary Sinise as Stu Redman, who’s the everyman hero from Texas. The original miniseries has its fans. Most agree it’s dated, and limited that it doesn’t capture the imagination of the original source material. Nonetheless, the King faithful enjoy it.
Fast-forward to today, cable networks and streaming services now have enough resources and bells and whistles to tackle the story. CBS All Access is giving The Stand the event treatment. It’s one of their biggest shows to date. The 10-part miniseries doesn’t lack scope or talent in front of or behind the camera. Based on the first four episodes of the 10-part miniseries, CBS is delivering a quality adaptation of King’s work.
Fun fact: King wrote the final episode, too. Fans are especially curious how that finale will turn out, since the ending of the book has always divided fans.
The series depicts a world destroyed by a deadly virus. Over 99% of humanity is killed, and the good and the bad survive. King’s story follows survivors thrown into a battle for the soul of the country, the soul of the world. Randall Flagg, who’s the big bad of the Stephen King universe and worse than the devil, starts building an army. So does Mother Abigail (Whoopi Goldberg), a wise old woman connected to God. Abigail calls to her followers to create a new society, which Flagg is hellbent on destroying.
Flagg has appeared before in adaptations of King’s books, including the disastrous adaptation of The Dark Tower. Matthew McConaughey hammed it up in that film, while Alexander Skarsgard nails the iconic role. He is the MVP of the show, even though he spends most of his time off-screen in the first four episodes. Skarsgard is a large man, so he’s a looming evil presence in The Stand. Best of all, he gets the voice of Flagg and King’s writing right. Those words crackle coming from Skarsgard, especially during his big introduction when he rescues his right hand man, Lloyd Henried (Nat Wolff). Flagg gives a home to Lloyd and others in the city of sin, Las Vegas.
Mother Abigail, on the other hand, makes a home for her followers in Nebraska. The 108-year-old woman knows a war is coming, and she lets her followers know. As they rebuild society, they live in fear of the man in black. Stu, the morally ambiguous musician Larry Underwood (Jovan Adepo), Frannie Goldsmith (Odessa Young), Nick Andros (Henry Zaga), and others prepare for battle. Eventually, a few of them embark on a journey to Vegas to faceoff with the man in black.
Every fan of The Stand has a favorite character or two. Almost all of them are exceptionally well cast in the CBS miniseries, especially Harold Lauder (Owen Teague). He’s a wimpy but terrifying character, who grows envious over Stu and Frannie’s relationship. Frannie was his childhood crush, they hit the road together, and cross paths with Stu, who Harold despises from the start.
Eventually, Harold and Nadine Cross (Amber Heard), who also finds a home in Abigail’s town, take a call from The Man in Black and change sides. Sadly, Nadine, who’s one of the most tortured characters in King’s book, isn’t given her due time in the CBS series. She’s in the background too much. Then again, maybe she’ll get her chance to shine in the later episodes of The Stand.
The miniseries takes a major gamble with King’s narrative. The show is nonlinear, showing the events before and after the plague. It’ll divide some fans, but for the most part, it works well. Sometimes it creates a lack of momentum and frustration, but it also helps tell a gigantic story in a fairly concise manner.
The Stand gets off to a good start. There’s just enough creepiness, the performances are compelling, and it sure doesn’t look cheap. The production value is high enough to capture some iconic scenes with enough gusto. Fans and nonfans alike should enjoy the series. Best of all, it’s great to see these characters brought to life by strong actors. As far as the characters go, The Stand doesn’t disappoint.
The Stand is now available to stream on CBS All Access.