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The Stand Review 2020 Tv Show Series Season Cast Crew Online
Creators: Josh Boone, Benjamin Cavell
Stars: James Marsden, Jovan Adepo, Whoopi Goldberg
Stephen King’s slab of a novel, “The Stand” (originally 800-plus pages, later expanded to 1,100-plus), begins with a manufactured viral epidemic that wipes out most of the human race. That would seem to make it pretty relevant, or at least timely, in the year of Covid-19.
The pandemic that King imagined in 1978 wasn’t like the one we’re experiencing now, though, and in the new mini-series “The Stand,” premiering Thursday on CBS All Access, the depiction of it doesn’t resonate in any strong way with our nerve-racking experiences of the last 10 months. It’s a Hollywood-style outbreak, racing past quarantines and leaving bodies dramatically splayed around the landscape. (Filming on the nine-episode series began in September 2019.) If there’s an incidental lesson, it’s that Covid-19 has changed the narrative when it comes to plagues, in ways that will show up onscreen in due course.
It’s also true that while descriptions of “The Stand” always start with “virus wipes out billions,” the plague is really just a plot device — a way for King to distill the story into a confrontation between American good and American evil, represented by bands of survivors in a city on a hill (Boulder, Colo.) and a latter-day Sodom (Las Vegas).
That also sounds pretty relevant to our current situation — red versus blue in a divided America, your choice which side is which. (King’s feelings are clear — the forces of good in Boulder are pretty snowflakey.) Here too, though, the mini-series doesn’t set off the vibrations that it might — not because the material isn’t engaging, but because the treatment of it is serviceable, workmanlike, maybe just good enough to keep you on the couch for nine hours.
And isn’t that just about always the case with Stephen King adaptations, particularly on TV? Maybe creators assume that what the King audience wants isn’t adaptation but transcription. Or maybe, with rare exceptions — Brian De Palma and “Carrie,” Stanley Kubrick and “The Shining” — filmmakers with their own distinctive styles avoid the books because they don’t want to make what will most likely be called a Stephen King movie.
This new version of “The Stand” (a four-episode mini-series written by King came out on ABC in 1994) was spearheaded by Josh Boone, who directed “The New Mutants,” one of the few big-studio popcorn movies to open in theaters during the pandemic. It’s a reasonably skilled and unobjectionable job of transcription and compression, stutter-stepping among time lines to keep track of King’s manifold plot strands and characters.
The cast is large, evocative of a golden age of mini-series when you never knew who might show up in one. In the early episodes (six were available for review) we get the luxury of five minutes of J.K. Simmons, as a general presiding over the bioweapons facility from which the virus escapes. Lasting slightly longer are Heather Graham as a wealthy, suddenly widowed New Yorker and Hamish Linklater as a government epidemiologist, reprising his harried-company-man role from “Legion.”
The main cast is led, capably, by James Marsden (“Dead to Me”) and Jovan Adepo as Stu and Larry, leaders of the peaceful camp in Boulder; Whoopi Goldberg plays the centenarian Mother Abagail, who drew them there by infiltrating their dreams. On the other side of the moral equation, Alexander Skarsgard is an insufficiently menacing Randall Flagg, the Vegas-based demon determined to destroy the Boulder group. (He isn’t helped by the cheesiness of the sets the production devised for Flagg’s own sessions of dream-walking.)
If you’re looking for American-roots mythology on a large scale, there are other options available — Starz’s “American Gods,” for instance, and in the post-apocalyptic category, AMC’s “Walking Dead.” Both have their drawbacks, but “American Gods” gives you wild things to look at, and “The Walking Dead,” for all the aimlessness of its recent seasons, can still throw a good scare into you. “The Stand” doesn’t accomplish either of those through six episodes.
The faithful may want to hang around until the finale, which King wrote, but as Stu tells himself as he heads to Las Vegas to confront Flagg in the novel, it might be a fool’s errand.
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