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Thursday, December 17, 2020

[Review] Stephen King’s “The Stand” Emphasizes Characters Over Stakes in Bold Reimagining

Stephen King‘s sprawling dystopian epic is regarded among his very best work, if not the best. Initially published in 1978, The Stand received an uncut and unabridged release in 1990 that spanned 1,152 pages, edging out It as his most extensive novel. Whichever version, the sheer scope of the story and the volume of central characters make it a daunting task to adapt to the screen. CBS first attempted it with Mick Garris’s well-received miniseries in 1994 and now brings a very different reimagining to CBS All Access for a ten-episode series. Of the six episodes offered for review, this new approach to King’s source material boldly reduces its scale to give riveting emphasis on character building yet struggles to set the stakes.

Opening to a gruesome scene in Boulder, Colorado, where a group of volunteers is clearing out rotting corpses from buildings, the pilot flashes back to five months before introducing our main characters at the start of the viral outbreak that decimated most of humanity. Using a nonlinear format, bouncing around at various points of the timeline, The Stand begins its streamlined build toward the ultimate battle between good and evil. The survivors, immune to the virus, find themselves plagued with nightmares subconsciously enticing them to choose a side; the mystic Mother Abigail (Whoopi Goldberg) or the dangerously enigmatic Randall Flagg (Alexander Skarsgård).

Pictured (l-r): Jovan Adepo as Larry Underwood and Heather Graham as Rita Blakemoor of the CBS All Access series THE STAND. Photo Cr: Best Possible Screengrab/CBS ©2020 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The nonlinear format to the initial episodes allows the characters to converge much sooner, building interpersonal relationships and conflicts much earlier. On the one hand, it’s an ingenious idea by series creators Josh Boone and Benjamin Cavell to engender viewers to their well-cast protagonists from the outset. Condensing character arcs ensures we’ll care as the lethal final battle looms large. On the other hand, however, The Stand presumes its audience already has some working knowledge and familiarity with King’s story.

As such, the initial outbreak is zipped right along to skip ahead to battle lines getting drawn in the sand. Enough is detailed to showcase the personal and societal cost, set up character intros, and tease how gruesome Captain Trips gets for the afflicted, but it’s more eager to peel back the characters’ layers. Considering our current timeline, it’s a wise and much-appreciated decision. We’ve seen that story before, anyway.

“The End” — Ep#101 —Pictured: Owen Teague as Harold Lauder and Odessa Young as Frannie Goldsmith of the CBS All Access series THE STAND. Photo Cr: Robert Falconer/CBS ©2020 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

What’s most interesting about this adaptation is the character storylines it focuses on and which storylines get trimmed. Of course, plucky hero Stu Redman (James Marsden) and Frannie Goldsmith (Odessa Young) remain at the forefront, as does musician Larry Underwood (Jovan Adepo). But this version also gives prominent attention to building Harold Lauder (Owen Teague) and Nadine Cross (Amber Heard) as complicated antagonists. These central stories remove the black and white purity scale of typical good versus evil tales. Morality and virtue can come with a personal cost, and refusing temptation can prove just as tricky. Despite the biblical stakes, it’s refreshing to have protagonists that feel authentically rendered and nuanced. Harold and Nadine make vile choices, but they’re rooted in empathy. Teague and Young make this reimagining worth the watch alone.

Supporting players Greg Kinnear, Henry Zaga, and Nat Wolff are all fantastic but are given far less to do. Brad William Henke is an instant standout as the charming Tom Cullen, his every scene instantly winsome. With the front half of the series spending so much time in Boulder, the showrunners seemed to save expanding upon the denizens of Las Vegas mostly for the latter half.

Pictured: Whoopi Goldberg as Mother Abagail of the CBS All Access series THE STAND. ©2020 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The showrunners forgot the two lynchpins in the valiant effort to give us fully developed characters; Mother Abigail and Randall Flagg. Reduced to dream imagery at first, it takes a little bit for Good and Evil’s embodiments to find their footing in the narrative. Even then, they fail to have the impact intended or set the stakes. This Abigail is less a mystical figure and far more human in temperament, which sounds great on paper, but she feels unimportant to the heroes’ journey. Skarsgård lacks menace, opting to play Flagg with laid back confidence. As of yet, neither sells themselves as figures that would entice the remnants of humanity to follow them, save for a few parlor tricks.

Still, the more the narrative congeals into a cohesive tale and preparations are put in place, the pieces are all there for a promising and thrilling back half. Boone and Cavell put all their love and care in developing the characters, which goes far in keeping you deeply invested despite its unevenness. Keep your eyes peeled for deep cut King Easter eggs, too. Even if you’re familiar with the story, your attachment to these players keeps you on the edge of your seat even if you’re sure you know what happens next. It helps that Boone and Cavell make surprising changes to the story to keep you guessing, too. While it does rely on existing knowledge of the story to fill in some blanks, and the stakes don’t feel as urgent as they should, it’s the characters that sell this as a voyage worth taking. It’s messy, but bold all the same.

The Stand premieres on CBS All Access on December 17, with new episodes releasing every Thursday.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/reviews/3645249/tv-review-stand-emphasizes-characters-stakes-bold-reimagining/

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