“The Stand” infamously remains Stephen King’s longest novel and adapting it is no easy task. Mick Garris valiantly attempted a four part TV miniseries back in 1994, and the for the most part, it was very successful and well made (for its time).
A modern” retelling isn’t a bad idea in theory, but it could very easily go wrong. So how does CBS All Access’ premiere episode fair? Let’s take a deep dive into the first episode, ironically titled “The End”, to find out!
There’s no discussing The Stand (2020) without addressing the coughing elephant in the room. The source novel opens with a flu-like virus named Captain Trips which ravages humanity and causes the death of 99% of the population (which isn’t really a spoiler given it’s how the story begins).
So there is something both surreal and a bit unsettling about this episode focusing primarily on this viral pandemic and how it leaves several key characters as the only ones left alive in their towns. It seems all the more “realistic”, however it doesn’t really play out at all like what we’ve witnessed in our real life pandemic over the last 9 months.
Cast of Characters
Much like the 1994 adaptation, this first episode spends most of its time setting up its main characters like Stu Redman (James Marsden), Frannie Goldsmith (Odessa Young), Harold Lauder (Owen Teague), and briefly introducing the central figures of Mother Abigail (Whoopi Goldberg) and Randall Flagg (Alexander Skarsgård).
We’re still missing a few key people from the novel, but we’re only one episode in and they’re likely to show up in the next one or two. Unfortunately however, while these character studies were the sole focus, we don’t really get to know any of them very well.
Stu is meant to be one of our main protagonists, but we barely get to know him. In a strange way, the minor characters (who will only appear in this episode) seem to have more fleshed out arcs and personalities. Two particular standouts are Dr. Ellis (Hamish Linklater) and General Starkey (J.K. Simmons).
At least not as much as in the 1994 version (which I’m trying very hard not to compare this to and judge it on its own merits). To be fair, we’re only hour long episode in, but I really hope that this nine hour miniseries uses more its time later to develop its characters rather than randomly jump between time periods in a confusing manner.
There’s nothing wrong with playing with timelines or having a non-linear story (hell, Tarantino has made a career of that), but if it doesn’t enhance the story, there’s no reason to do it. And as of now, there doesn’t seem to be a good reason.
Getting the Apocalypse Wrong
I never thought I’d have a real life global pandemic to compare anything to, but sadly that’s where 2020 has left us. One of the challenges to telling this story (which was written in the late 70s) today is updating it for the world of the internet. We’re all the more connected now.
And while characters discuss early on discuss how the internet has gone down, we never really get the full global scale of the event. Not to compare this to the 1994 version (last time, I swear), but that adaptation introduced more characters faster, and kept a momentum of dread as we slowly realized what was happening across the world.
This first episode is titled “The End”, but we don’t ever get the necessary gravitas that goes along with it. Ironically, had the story been told in a linear fashion, we could have had that tension build better. We’ve yet to see if there’s some reason for the time jumps, but hopefully it proves to be worth it.
We’re only one episode in, so The Stand definitely deserves a few more before any hard judgements or ratings are passed. Granted it’s a bit of middling introduction, but there’s plenty of room for it to improve!
The Stand is streaming on CBS All Access with new episodes every Thursday