The Stand premiere is disappointing but still has potential

Pictured: Owen Teague as Harold Lauder of the the CBS All Access series THE STAND. Photo Cr: Robert Falconer/CBS ©2020 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Pictured: Owen Teague as Harold Lauder of the the CBS All Access series THE STAND. Photo Cr: Robert Falconer/CBS ©2020 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved. /

The first episode of CBS All Access’ new adaptation of Stephen King’s The Stand plays with timelines for no good reason, but the cast and story are solid.

CBS All Access is giving us yet another Stephen King adaptation with The Stand, based on King’s 1978 post-apocalyptic book — his longest to date — about a virus that wipes out most of humanity. But the star-studded cast can’t make up for a few glaring issues with the first episode, “The End.”

While it goes without saying that the world certainly doesn’t need a whole TV show about a pandemic right now, The Stand as a power it’s hard to ignore. Unfortunately, based on the premiere, the show isn’t adapting King’s work seamlessly. But I can’t say it doesn’t try.

The show surprisingly opens up after the pandemic has already rolled through the world, taking out nearly the whole population. Right off the bat, the stakes are way lower than they are in the book, since we know which central characters are safe. The survivors have taken to Boulder, Colorado, where they attempt to restart society. Some of the pacing and dialogue is a bit awkward, and the tone is lighter than I was expecting.

Like I said, it’s tough to release a show about a pandemic in 2020, and it would be even harder to also have it be extremely dark and depressing. Yet at the same time, “The End” presents many serious elements as if they aren’t a big deal, making it difficult to determine how the characters are truly feeling. I get they might be in denial that basically the entire planet is dead, but if they’re coming together to start up the world again, they could probably show more emotion from time to time.

Considering the series begins nearly halfway through the story, flashbacks are inevitable. In one of the first, we get to know Harold Lauder (Owen Teague), a tormented outcast who takes a liking to Frannie Goldsmith (Odessa Young). After everyone in their little town in Maine dies because of the disease, known as Captain Trips, they decide to go to the CDC in Atlanta, figuring they’ll know how to fight this thing.

Pictured (l-r): Owen Teague as Harold Lauder and Odessa Young as Frannie Goldsmith of the the CBS All Access series THE STAND. Photo Cr: Robert Falconer/CBS ©2020 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

In another flashback, we see what Stu Redman (James Marsden) was up to in Texas before the plague hit. After waking up in some type of government facility, he’s told by a doctor that the group of people he was taken in with all died because of the virus going around, and that for some reason he’s immune. He’s eventually able to escape and is on the road, later meeting Harold and Fran.

Teague, who played Patrick Hockstetter in the 2017 King adaptation It Chapter One and gave an impressive performance in the 2019 film I See You, is a strong point in this episode, but none of the other cast members really stand out. Marsden is a talented actor, but his role as the hero figure doesn’t seem like anything special. He’s far too one-dimensional right now. We get a minor appearance from Academy Award winner J.K. Simmons as the doomed General Starkey, but it’s over before you know it.

Throughout the episode, characters have mysterious dreams, either of the kindly Mother Abagail (Whoopi Goldberg) or the demonic Randall Flagg (Alexander Skarsgard). The premiere does a good job at teasing their significance.

Finally, towards the end of the episode, we get to see how the pandemic all started. I suppose the show may have decided to leave it for the conclusion to keep viewers guessing, but it still would’ve been stronger to start with this like the book, as well as the 1994 ABC adaptation.

Charles Campion (Curtiss Cook Jr.) is working at a military base in California when all of a sudden a strain of a deadly, man-made disease gets loose. He quickly decides to get out of there to go be with his family, but the damage is already done. Campion is carrying the virus and proceeds to spread it across the country.

The scene is an extremely strong way to open the book, and it would’ve been awesome to see the show follow suit. While I understand wanting to take risks with adaptations, the use of flashbacks for such important scenes is just confusing, especially for people who haven’t read the source material.

If the show really wanted to start off after the pandemic is over and immediately get to the survivors and their story, it would’ve been smarter to take a Lost approach: spend some time fleshing out the characters before getting into their backstory. However, for a miniseries that would probably be impossible.

There are strong parts of the episode, and the story as a whole is so good that “The End” definitely isn’t a failure. But the choice to tell the tale this way really hampers the series.

We have a handful of more characters and storylines to be introduced in the coming weeks, so while I’m fearful the series might’ve already bitten off more than it can chew, there’s still the potential for it to be great.

New episodes of The Stand premiere every Thursday on CBS All Access.

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