After a man-made plague takes out most of the population, a group of survivors, who share visions of prophet Mother Abagail (Whoopi Goldberg), lead a community to Colorado. Yet they also dream of Randall Flagg (Alexander Skarsgård), a supernatural force with plans for destruction.

Episodes Viewed: 4 of 9

When he wrote The Stand in 1978, Stephen King envisaged a novel that played like The Lord Of The Rings set in modern-day America, with Las Vegas playing the role of Mordor (one does simply not walk into playing slot machines). The resulting 823-page doorstop — in 1990 a special edition inflated it to 1,152 pages — about the after effects of a weaponised influenza (99.4 per cent deadly) that practically wipes out the entire world is amongst King’s most complex, politically alive, if not popular, works. Too dense to be adapted for cinema — it has previously been serialised for comics and a flawed 1994 TV miniseries — it seems a prime candidate for reupping in the age of Prestige TV. So, adapted by Josh Boone (The New Mutants) and Benjamin Cavell (Homeland), The Stand is ridiculously timely, but still struggles to overcome the problems set by visualising a breezeblock of a novel.

The Stand

Although it was ordered to series in 2019, The Stand couldn’t be more 2020. From its story of a killer superflu (and the attendant conspiracy theories) to the scene work (watch the suspicions created by a simple cough), from the themes (how much should leaders tell the truth to the public about a deadly virus) to the imagery (streets of New York, truckloads of bodies turned into landfill), the story perfectly taps into the zeitgeist. The first four episodes mostly outline the characters chosen by 108-year-old Mother Abagail (Whoopi Goldberg, crossing Mother Theresa with Yoda) to become the leaders of a new social system post-pandemic. So, we get potted backstories for Stu Redman (James Marsden), the first person discovered to be immune to the plague; Fran Goldsmith (Odessa Young), a pregnant college student; Larry Underwood (Jovan Adepo), a New York singer; Glen Bateman (Greg Kinnear), a sociology professor who has painted pictures of the group before even meeting them; and Nick Andros (Henry Zaga), a deaf-mute drifter.

As the show begins to deal with building a society and confronting Flagg, momentum starts to grow.

As you’d expect from an 800-page plus novel, The Stand is teeming with characters — cop killer Lloyd Henreid (Nat Wolff) and teacher Nadine Cross (Amber Heard) are playing for the dark side, led by Randall Flagg aka The Dark Man (Alexander Skarsgård) — and many of the characters lack subtleties (Owen Teague’s Harold Lauder is creepy teen 101). It means these early stretches have the feeling of treading water before the story proper can begin.

Yet within these bog-standard character introductions there are absorbing sequences — such as Larry’s chase through New York with a wealthy Manhattanite (Heather Graham), a tense set-piece that sees Fran held hostage — and, as the show begins to deal with building a society and confronting Flagg, momentum starts to grow. It’s a decent adaptation in terms of scale and scares, but really bites off more that it can chew in delivering the ambition contained within King’s (823) pages.

Stephen King’s magnum opus is possibly too big in narrative scope and thematic aspirations to find a proper home in visual storytelling. But it is a perfect fit for the times, and this current adaptation gets off to a solid, if not spectacular, start.

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