The Stand review: Alexander Skarsgard in a still from the CBS All Access show, based on Stephen King’s novel.
The Stand review: Alexander Skarsgard in a still from the CBS All Access show, based on Stephen King’s novel.

The Stand review: Sprawling Stephen King adaptation collapses under its own weight

The Stand review: Featuring a stellar cast and high production values, the new Stephen King adaptation goes off-book, and ends up resembling a Walking Dead spin-off that never made it to the air.
Hindustan Times | By Rohan Naahar
UPDATED ON DEC 17, 2020 07:30 PM IST

The Stand
Creators - Josh Boone, Benjamin Cavell
Cast - James Marsden, Amber Heard, Jovan Adepo, Alexander Skarsgard, Whoopi Goldberg, Greg Kinnear

It’s difficult to gauge a show’s quality based on just four episodes — it’s like trying to understand a song after listening to just one verse, or a book on the basis of a couple of chapters. But only four episodes of The Stand were provided for this review, and that’s what we’ll have to work with.

On most occasions, this isn’t even a problem. Often, studios, for one reason or another, hold back on providing entire seasons to the press. Sometimes, especially if it’s a weekly drop, it’s because the later episodes are still being shot, or are in post-production. Other times, it’s because they know that they have a clunker on their hands, and that revealing the whole thing might paint a negative picture.

Watch The Stand trailer here

 

The Stand completed filming before the industry went into lockdown earlier this year, so option A is probably out of the question. Which leaves me to wonder if we’ll see a dip in quality as the nine-episode season unfolds. From where we currently stand, it’s difficult to predict how things will pan out.

And this is because, despite four hours of runtime, the plot doesn’t seem to progress all that much — it’s stuck, deliberately, in first gear. Certainly, there’s a tremendous amount of groundwork to be done before the story can truly begin — dozens of characters to introduce and a rich mythology to explain. But creators Josh Boone and Ben Cavell take an unconventional approach to tackling Stephen King’s mammoth source novel.

I haven’t read it, but it is being said that the show restructures the narrative in a non-linear format, which is unfortunate, because it heightens that annoying feeling of having arrived late for a movie. Instead of luring you in with half-information and partial reveals, the show has an oddly alienating effect. It’s the opposite of what director Andy Muschietti did with the It movies, when he took the non-linear book and smoothened it into a straightforward couple of films.

Like It, The Stand can feel frighteningly real — especially considering its post-pandemic premise — but also mystifyingly fantastical. It’s a tough tonal tightrope to walk, and while director Josh Boone does a solid job in the first episode, subsequent chapters, which employ the same template, leave you with the impression that you’re going around in circles. For instance, Amber Heard’s character is first seen only in episode three, and if I hadn’t glanced through Wikipedia, I’d never have known that Ezra Miller is even in the show — he’s nowhere to be seen in the first four episodes.

The Stand takes the Lost approach to navigating its sprawling universe — it appoints certain characters as the ‘heroes’ of entire episodes, while parallel plot lines involving the rest of the troupe unfold on the side.

Whoopi Goldberg in a still from The Stand.
Whoopi Goldberg in a still from The Stand.

So while you’re getting to know about the incel Harold Lauder and the one-sided love that he has for his old babysitter Frannie Goldsmith, the show’s also taking you months into the future, where in a post-apocalyptic society of survivors, Harold has found himself a job disposing of dead bodies and Frannie awaits the birth of her baby, from another man. Meanwhile, Whoopi Goldberg does her best to avoid stereotypes in her portrayal of the magical Mother Abagail — the woman who summons survivors of the pandemic to Boulder, Colorado — and Alexander Skarsgard appears as the devilish Randall Flagg, who is putting together apostles of his own. How curious for another Skarsgard brother to be the best thing about a King adaptation.

It’s supposed to be an old-fashioned yarn about good vs evil, and humanity’s propensity for self-destruction and survival. But -- and there is a big but -- The Stand can never live up to the very high expectations you’re likely to have of a show of such fine pedigree. A major reason for this is that it insists on being very serious about its (admittedly) Biblical story. Consider the scene in which Oscar-winner JK Simmons appears in a cameo, and recites WB Yeats while opera music plays in the background. This happens without a hint of irony.

Also read: It movie review: One of the best horror films of year. You’ll be haunted for days

King acolytes might justifiably be upset by the changes that Boone and Cavell have introduced, and casual viewers might find themselves wondering what all the fuss is about. There’s reason to continue watching, though. The show will end with a coda, conceived by King himself, which imagines what happened to the characters after the book’s conclusion. The Stand will air weekly in India on Voot Select.

Follow @htshowbiz for more
The author tweets @RohanNaahar

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