Having read the novel The Stand by Stephen King many times over the years (it’s my favorite book ever), I know the story that plays out. It’s written sequentially, as in it starts at the very beginning and goes from there.
The new CBS All-Access series The Stand, based on the book is not shown in the sequence of events as they happen. For those who don’t know the story already, I can’t tell you whether it’s hard to follow if you don’t know the story already. I suggest people pick up the book before trying to watch it.
The jumping around is a bit distracting at first. I had to go back and make sure I actually had the first episode – that there hadn’t been earlier episodes that I missed somehow. The story begins in Boulder, Colorado which is a location our survivors don’t get to until midway through the novel. The story then bounces around a bit between Boulder, Ogunquit Maine, Arnett Texas, two CDC facilities, and finally the secret facility in California where it all began.
In the meantime, there is a better depth to the characters (compared to the 1994 mini series), at least for Fran and Harold so far. We really see the depths of Harold the misfit in his home life. At times it seems even deeper than the book. Owen Teague portrays Harold and really conveys him well. At first we see him peeking through the fence at Fran and her father in their garden. He is chased off by local bullies who don’t even have to beat him up; he does such a good job on himself falling from his bicycle as he’s trying to escape them. He arrives home just after his sister’s wedding shower, which was cut short by everyone falling ill, including his sister and his mother. His mother yells at him from her bedroom to clean up the mess, while his sister seems more annoyed that he even exists at all and isn’t feeling sick like they are. Seeing the pent-up feelings inside Harold already, I can’t help feeling sorry for him. All he wants is to be accepted and treated the same as everyone else, but he fails every time he tries. This is true as he realizes that he and Fran are the only two still alive in Ogunquit.
Odessa Young is Fran Goldsmith. She’s very refreshing after Molly Ringwald was so miscast in the 1994 series. She’s also the right age. Fran is supposed to be a young college student. Odessa looks the part, at times seeming as young as a teenager while at others seeming to be much older, especially when placed next to Harold. However, Harold comes to her rescue in a scene that’s new to the story all around, and it puts them more on equal footing. Through these scenes as well as cuts to the future in Boulder, we see that Harold just wants to be the person who is not made fun of; not the misfit; not the joke of the town. He carries the pain of insults long since forgotten by the perpetrators, who are now deceased anyway.
That is, except for Fran and Stu.
The end of Fran and Harold’s story in this first episode has them leaving Ogunquit, ostensibly for Harold’s great idea to go to the CDC in Atlanta. They have not encountered Stu yet, but a flash-forward gives the viewer a glimpse into the future. Those of us who have read the book know what it is foreshadowing; another slight to Harold who now sees Fran as belonging to him, but also as the one connection to the misfit past he had in Ogunquit.
I also felt they gave more depth to Stu’s time in the CDC quarantine as they try to figure out why Stu isn’t affected by the virus and everyone else is. There are a series of great scenes to this in the book that weren’t captured in the 1994 mini-series. By changing a few things, the scenes work better this time around. That’s no slight to Gary Sinise who was wonderful as Stu in that series. James Marsden is Stu this time and he’s given a lot more to work with in quarantine, including a doctor at the facility that he actually likes and respects. This Stu is more cooperative, with his own military background and having the a better understanding of what’s happening and what he’s a part of; he just doesn’t want to be kept in the dark.
I also liked the added scene of Stu’s encounter with the General that shows just how much things have fallen apart by that point. J.K. Simmons makes his brief appearance in the mini-series here. He’s a good character that knows how bad it is and is a balance to Cobb, a military man who sees things in terms of friendlies and adversaries.
At the end of this first episode, we are shown the beginning. The story of the super-flu escaping the facility is shown in full glory, and we get a first look at the character of Randall Flagg and his hand in all of that. This is accompanied by Billy Joel’s The Stranger. I felt that Sympathy for the Devil would have worked better here, but perhaps that would be giving too much away. There were some nice nuances here that weren’t present in the book or the first mini-series. Both of those intimate that Campion, the soldier that escapes the facility and spreads the super-flu, doesn’t transmit the flu to anyone until he ends up in Arnett, Texas. Both Stu and elsewhere in the story piece together that there were many people he encountered prior to Arnett that already started this spreading.
I’ve seen some mixed reviews of this version of the CBS All-Access version. I think the biggest problem is it’s coming out in the midst of our own pandemic, although COVID is not nearly as contagious or fatal as the super-flu depicted here. What I’ve seen so far in this first episode is as good as the story in the novel, with a few adjustments to tell the story in a visual and more concise manner. The acting has been great so far and the characters I’ve seen seem to have actors cast who fit in the roles much better.
Looking forward to the next episode next week!