The Stand - Episode 1: "The End" TV Episode Review
Written by Stuart D. Monroe
Premiered on CBS All Access
Directed by Josh Boone
Written by Josh Boone and Benjamin Cavell, based on the novel by Stephen King
2020, 55 minutes, Not Rated
Premeired on CBS All Access on December 17th, 2020
Alexander Skarsgård as Randall Flagg
Whoopi Goldberg as Mother Abigail
James Marsden as Stu Redman
Odessa Young as Frannie Goldsmith
Owen Teague as Harold Lauder
Henry Zaga as Nick Andros
Brad William Henke as Tom Cullen
Jovan Adepo as Larry Underwood
Greg Kinnear as Glen Bateman
Nat Wolff as Lloyd Henreid
Amber Heard as Nadine Cross
Katherine McNamara as Julie Lawry
Heather Graham as Rita Blakemoor
Troy Mundle as Ralph Hodges
Only a literal handful of tales are as important to me as Stephen King’s 1978 masterpiece, The Stand. I’ve read it once a year since I was ten years old. I embrace both the original and unabridged versions. Simply put, it’s the book that carries me away most purely when I read it; it never takes long, and I only read it when I have long hours to do so. You get the idea.
The 1994 miniseries is also one I’ve revisited a few times, but it doesn’t get the regularity of the source material. It also hasn’t aged very well in many respects. I’m not here to pick apart the original; I love the hell out of that at least partially because it’s such a product of the time and the medium it aired on. However, broadcast television in 1994 cost you some of the grittier and darker stuff (especially in the extinction of 99.4% of the human race portion of the story). The palette is much broader now, and CBS All-Access delivers a version that doesn’t pull any punches.
Do I really need to give you a synopsis? I suppose proper form dictates it (and I know Harold Lauder would damn sure appreciate it).
A globally lethal strain of flu is leaked from a top-security facility and unleashed upon the planet. In less than a summer, over ninety-nine percent of humanity is wiped from the planet, choking to death on their own fluids. The remaining immune survivors are left adrift with dreams of two polar opposites – elderly holy woman Mother Abigail (Whoopi Goldberg; The Color Purple, Ghost) and the demonic, seemingly all-powerful Randall Flagg (Alexander Skarsgård; True Blood). Humanity must decide to follow a path to either light or darkness and make their stand.
The opening episode is extremely strong and wonderfully patient, pulling back the lens on the shattered world slowly. Telling the story over the course of nine episodes will allow an expansion of the story that removes that shallow television feeling of being rushed and glossed over, and the first episodes gives those who are familiar with the original miniseries no less than three changes in how events unfold between Frannie Goldsmith (Odessa Young; Assassination Nation) and Harold Lauder (Owen Teague; Stephen King's IT), as well as the relationship between Stu Redman (James Marsden; Westworld) and Doctor Ellis (Hamish Linklater; Battleship). The biggest deviation is the Redman-Ellis relationship, and it steals every damn scene.
The other biggie? This one isn’t linear, folks. Instead, Josh Boone opts to go the Lost route with regular flashbacks to tell the tale of the outbreak and death of the human race. It’s an immediate game-changer, too. You have to wonder why no one did this in 1994, honestly. Something just feels right about this format, and it pays immediate dividends in the opener (particularly on some of those aforementioned changes). The reveal at the end legitimately had me clapping; I won’t spoil anything more!
Owen Teague is already destroying it right out of the gate as Harold Lauder. He legitimately captures the character of how Stephen King wrote the writer with the bruised ego while making him feel distinctly modern day. And when he goes dark? Oh, boy…his issues have their own issues that have spawned little, inbred baby issues. Teague is turning in what will be a signature role for him, and that’s saying something – Corin Nemec stole the show in the original miniseries.
Odessa Young has a fantastically relatable quality to her that’s going to take that character to some new places. James Marsden is more the Stu Redman of the book – no bullshit but with a generous sense of humor and decency. What little we see of Mother Abigail and Randall Flagg in the first episode is as good as you’d hope (though Whoopi will take a bit of getting used to for me personally; I love Ruby Dee!). No one is mailing it in here, and the writing is damn sharp so far.
Josh Boone and company have what we’ve seen of The Stand so far looking like one of 2020’s best new shows. The attention to detail is front and center. The music is a strong part of the formula, too, and that’s how it should be with this story. Music is important, even critical, in the Stephen King universe. This is not your 1994 time capsule. It’s a new vision of The Stand for everyone (but especially the King fans) created by superfans who intend to see justice done to the TV telling of this essential American story.
Make your stand, indeed.
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