The long-awaited new adaptation of Stephen King's The Stand is finally only days away from premiering on CBS All Access to reveal what sets it apart not only from the book, but also from the 1994 miniseries. Reviews for the nine-episode series are in to reveal what critics think about the latest Stephen King adaptation, and there seems to be a consensus on at least one front.
The Stand adapts Stephen King's gargantuan novel of the same name that runs for more than 1000 pages, and it has only nine hours to do so with a stacked cast of characters. The plot reveals a world decimated by a pandemic, but not one quite like the current COVID-19 pandemic. Called "Captain Trips," the virus wipes out most of humanity, and The Stand follows the stories of a group of survivors and the conflict between good and evil as they congregate in Boulder, CO.
Starring Whoopi Goldberg as Mother Abagail and Alexander Skarsgard as Randall Flagg as the representations of good and evil, The Stand's cast is filled out by the likes of James Marsden, Odessa Young, Jovan Adepo, Amber Heard, Owen Teague, and more. Read on to find out what critics think of CBS All Access' The Stand. Vinnie Mancuso of Collider compared the structure of The Stand to the flashbacks of Lost, saying:
While the show's back-and-forth structure never quite collapses, it does become a bit untenable for anyone who isn't already well-versed in the plot of the book. After four episodes, there's still no real sense of how the community in Boulder came together, or what unites them besides a vague, undefined devotion to Mother Abagail. It's hard to really care for this growing cast of characters you barely know, and harder still when almost every conversation or sideways glance launches into another flashback to an apocalypse that is also pretty vague and undefined.
The structure that worked for Lost isn't as successful when it comes to The Stand, according to this reviewer, who raises the point that following the story could be difficult for viewers who haven't read Stephen King's novel. The book is quite long and packs a long list of characters, so readers may be at an advantage going into the CBS All Access series. That said, what isn't evident after four episodes might be more clear by the end of the series. Vinnie Mancuso continued:
Lost's long shadow hangs heavy over The Stand, but where that series at least used its back, forward, and sideways leaps to build a sense of mystery, The Stand primarily builds confusion. You feel unmoored, but not in a fun way; just in the way where you're begging a show to focus on one timeline at a time.
While the structure of The Stand may not be winning universal acclaim from reviewers, the show is also tasked with showing a post-apocalyptic world that isn't the same post-apocalyptic world that has been done time and again on television and in film. TV Guide's Keith Phipps praised The Stand for building a convincing new reality for the few survivors and keeping the story interesting:
The series' generous budget keeps its post-apocalyptic America convincing and its tense moments deliver the scares. If these first four episodes offer little in the way of unforgettable moments, they're always intriguing enough to keep curiosity burning about what will happen next (or, for those who know the book, how the series will stage or reshape it). It's smartly cast, too.
The consensus among critics on the strongest point of The Stand seems to be that the cast shines where the structure isn't always so successful, and The Stand did pack some notable names into the ensemble, including Stephen King adaptation alum Owen Teague from the latest versions of IT. Roxana Hadadi of Variety notes that Alexander Skarsgard is particularly effective as the "standout" of the series, and says of the cast as a whole:
That tentative quality and uneven storytelling is in spite of the cast, the most compelling reason to watch The Stand. The series’ messaging about good and evil might be skimpy, but most every actor is doing good work.
A cast alone can't make a show a hit, but the strong actors may result in a strong focus on character despite the show playing with time in its structure. Nicole Drum of ComicBook.com suggests that the focus on character over plot works for The Stand, although perhaps not for all fans of Stephen King's book. Drum shared:
With that broad and complex narrative to navigate, this adaptation -- developed by Josh Boone and Benjamin Cavell -- takes the unique approach of telling the story in a nonlinear fashion, one that introduces viewers less to the pandemic itself more to the characters, the hearts and souls that the story is ultimately about. It's a move that may not sit well with some die-hard King fans, but it's one that injects a new life into the story. Starting with people, not with plague and it immediately sets the series out on a much better foot and almost immediately will hook audiences.
While a series based on a Stephen King novel may earn itself a reputation as a horror story, and a post-apocalyptic setting may suggest science-fiction, The Stand is actually a fantasy saga with ties to a larger mythology in King's pantheon of works. SFGATE compares the Stand miniseries to Lord of the Rings, with reviewer Joshua Sargent praising the series' sense of hope despite all of the darkness of the premise:
For all the horrific imagery and tragedy (and don’t worry, there’s plenty), there’s a muted optimism. From the opening scenes, we see that life after the pandemic is possible. Communities can be rebuilt. Life goes on, even if it has to trudge. Good is quieter than Evil, but that’s because it’s more patient. Evil thrashes and throws tantrums, but it never thinks too far ahead. This might be an unexpected source of comfort, but there are worse thoughts to have in your head this winter.
The wait to see The Stand for yourself is finally almost at an end, nearly two years after CBS All Access officially ordered the series back in January 2019. The first episode of the new Stand miniseries premieres on CBS All Access on Thursday, December 17. The first season will run for nine episodes and feature episodes written by Stephen King and son Owen King, among others. Stephen King himself wrote the finale, so be sure to check out The Stand if you're a fan of the novel and/or King!
For some additional viewing options in the new year, take a look at our 2021 winter and spring TV premiere schedule for what to watch and when to watch it.