By the time you read this, I will be dead. No wait, I mean, CBS All Access will have released the final episode ofThe Stand, their new miniseries based on Stephen King's epic pot-apocalyptic novel of good versus evil. And to mangle T.S. Eliot, rather than with a bang, this regrettable adaptation has gone out like a wet fart.
Expectations were high for a more King-friendly product after the 1994 miniseries was forced to pull punches for network TV. CBS and series developers Josh Boone and Ben Cavell promised a more faithful (read: R-rated) treatment for the material. Good news for everyone who felt all that was missing from the '94 show was f-bombs and simulated intercourse
Unfortunately, in spite of a sizable and occasionally impressive cast (including James Marsden, Odessa Young, Alexander Skarsgård, Whoopi Goldberg, Jovan Adepo, and Greg Kinnear) and what was presumably a fat ViacomCBS budget, this latest series has only garnered a tepid response. Among the flaws cited: playing the events of the story out of chronological order, cheap-looking sets, and truncated (or nonexistent) character development.
All of which unfortunately continues the recent stretch of uneven King adaptations. For every critical/commercial success like the It movies,The Outsider, or Mr. Mercedes, there's a Dark Tower, Cell, or Pet Sematary. Bad enough that this version of The Stand is going to get lumped in with the latter, but it's probably also the last time anyone tries to bring the story to a big or small screen. Like the coronavirus or Captain Trips itself, things didn't have to be this way.
M-O-O-N, That Spells Tom Cullen
There are some bright spots among the cast. Brad William Henke is doing the best of any of them as Tom Cullen, even with the special needs disclaimer speech he repeatedly delivers. Adepo also brings welcome skepticism to his portrayal of troubled musician Larry Underwood. Marsden (Stu Redman) and Kinnear (Glen Bateman) are fine, but Young is given little to do as Frannie Goldsmith, squandering the promise we saw in last year's Shirley.
Aaaand that's pretty much it. Some of the "tube neck" effects of the superflu were decent, but none of this outweighs the heft negatives, to wit:
Flagg's Supposed To Be Scary, Right?
Maybe they should've gotten that other Skarsgård ... you know, the guy from the It movies, because Alexander was more terrifying in Big Little Lies. His Walkin' Dude shuffles between camp and boredom, neither of which do a lot of justice to the character that's long been Stephen King's ultimate embodiment of evil.
This inept characterization carries over to the New Vegas, where Flagg's followers position themselves opposite Mother Abagail's Boulder contingent. In the book, Glen makes the case that Flagg drew people seeking order and discipline, and this is borne out by Flagg getting utilities and weapons online (and crucifying drug users). In this version, however, New Vegas is just a nonstop debauch. Boring, in other words, except for the unintentionally hilarious Kentucky Fried Movie homage in the casino's glass elevator.
- First, there's Lloyd Henreid (Nat Wolff), Flagg's right-hand man, In the book, he's a dim but steadfastly loyal henchman. Here, he's a flamboyant asshole who'd be more at home on a local news morning show.
- Ralph Brentner, one of the four sent by Mother Abigail to Vegas, is now "Ray" Brentner (Irene Bedard). And as refreshing as it is to see a Native American character, maybe adding some history so we actually give a shit when she's brought before Flagg would've helped.
- Speaking of, the Trashcan Man (Ezra Miller) — a pivotal character in the novel — doesn't show up until the 6th episode (masturbating furiously to a fuel tank explosion, as one does), then disappears until two eps later, when he delivers the Deus ex Minuteman.
It couldn't have been worse. He was originally set to be played by Marilyn Manson.
- Finally, deaf-mute Nick Andros (Henry Zaga) is one of the main characters of the novel, which you'd barely get from the series, where he's relegated to offering chorus-like sign language observations before being unceremoniously blown up by Harold's bomb. Which brings us to ...
The Murderous Man-Child Is The Main Character Now
Series runner Boone made the ... interesting decision to focus the series on Harold Lauder (Teague), the proto-incel who goes from sad nerd to spurned suitor to murderer. Problem is, neither Boone nor Cavell bothered to write him in a way to make us give a shit. Oh, he was picked on when he was a teenager? I guess if Flagg hadn't gotten his claws in him, it would've been QAnon.
You Can't Spell "Non-Linear" Without [checks notes] Uh, "No, Liar"
The new Stand starts off several months into the story, with Harold and a crew of dudes clearing bodies out of a Boulder church. It's a disquieting scene, at least to those with an idea what's going on. And while it's not hard to put the pieces together, arguably the most compelling part of King's story was the collapse of society leading up to the separation of the two factions.
Sure, we get flashbacks, but similar to what befell Fear the Walking Dead, Boone and company seem to forget that one of the thrills of post-apocalyptic stories is seeing how we got there. The approach also conveniently eliminates any tension about which main characters make it to Boulder (e.g. the whole unintentionally tension-free sequence with Larry attempting to escape Manhattan through the sewers).
Or this: when Larry meets Harold in Boulder, having arduously followed his trail of messages across the country, he gives him a gift bag of sorts which includes Payday candy bars. He mentions this in a throwaway line that implies we should know of Harold's affinity for them, except it's never introduced.
In the grand scheme of things, a disappointing miniseries isn't world-ending. And in 2021, when there's more content out there than any but the shut-in or chronically unemployed can hope to consume, being ignored — as The Stand deserves to be — is perhaps the unkindest fate of all.
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