Hey, I know the world is bleak right now, and you need some distraction from the viral pandemic raging outside. So CBS All Access is here with… a post-apocalyptic tale about a viral pandemic… Crap. Ok scrap the “distraction” bit and lets go for poignancy instead. And there’s plenty of that in The Stand, one of celebrated author Stephen King’s most acclaimed novels, which is being brought to life in star-studded fashion by the streaming service. And now we have our first look at it!
Vanity Fair revealed an extensive spread of pics and details last night, digging into the upcoming production. Still no official release date yet, but CBS has confirmed that production wrapped just days before the COVID-19 lockdown took effect so this show is pretty much good to go. And that’s great because it looks fantastic and I don’t think that fans want to be waiting around.
First published in 1978, The Stand tells of a weaponized influenza strain which is accidentally released into the public. Nicknamed “Captain Trips”, this virus kills off over 99% of the global population, leaving the survivors – who have genetic immunity – to scrabble for survival in the ensuing chaos. But in this wasteland, battle lines are drawn up as some survivors flock to benevolent spiritual leaders like the wise centenarian Mother Abigail while others are drawn to Randall Flagg, the supernaturally-gifted “dark man” who is trying to bring about a prophesied apocalypse.
We’ve already seen King’s ghastly tale brought to life on-screen in a popular but rather straightforward miniseries adaptation in 1994. As showrunners Benjamin Cavell and Taylor Elmore revealed though, the upcoming miniseries will change things up by not telling this story in a strictly linear fashion. By the time it starts, we’re well into the apocalypse with subsequent flashbacks being used to fill in the backstory of the various characters we meet as they themselves try to piece together what happened.
King does this great thing that we made the conscious decision not to do, which is to go to the 10,000-foot view of what’s going on. That’s not a luxury that our people have. What does the apocalypse look like from the ground where you can’t see what’s happening other places, you can’t see what’s happening to other people, you can only see your subjective experience?
While Cavell and Elmore are quick to point out that there will be no mention of COVID-19 in The Stand, with King’s creation also being man-made and far more deadly, they won’t deny the timely comparisons that will inevitably be made due to King’s use of universal themes.
It was very surreal, obviously, to start to realize that there was a creeping pandemic the way there was at the beginning of our show.
It’s about the fundamental questions of what society owes the individual and what we owe to each other. Over the last however-many years, we have sort of taken for granted the structure of democracy. Now, so much of that is being ripped down to the studs. It’s interesting to see a story about people who are rebuilding it from the ground up.
Those people include Greg Kinnear’s Glen Bateman, a widowed professor who knew darkness long before the apocalypse hit; Jovan Adepo’s Larry Underwood, a musician who got his first break right as the world fell apart; and Heather Graham’s Rita Blakemoor, a fancy New York socialite struggling to cope in the grime. There’s also Henry Zaga’s Nick Andros, an empathetic deaf man who struggles to communicate his feelings; and Amber Heard’s Nadine Cross, who finds her inner light and dark sides in turmoil as she takes in a lost young boy.
Embodying parental concern and teenage angst is Odessa Young’s Frannie Goldsmith, a young pregnant mother who doesn’t know if her unborn child will have the same viral immunity she does. Even worse, the caring attention of her odd neighbour, Owen Teague’s Harold Lauder, may be harbouring darker intentions, but luck Frannie also has a more trustworthy companion in James Marsden’s Stu Redman.
It’s through Stu that we learn a lot about how this apocalypse began as he was there at the very beginning of the outbreak, being the only person who came into contact with Patient Zero – a worker at an American bioweapon lab – and survived. Stu’s been poked and prodded by government scientists ever since, but somehow never lost his Texas good ol’ boy charm.
The same can’t be said for Nat Wolff’s Lloyd Henreid, a convicted murderer who survived the Captain Trips outbreak from within his jail cell, but then found himself trapped there alone as the rest of the prison either died or escaped. Lloyd is offered a way out of his starvation and isolation though thanks to Randall Flagg, brought to life by Alexander Skarsgård. Flagg has been a constant through many of King’s books, a dark warlock travelling from world to world spreading chaos. In this version of The Stand he’s described as a “denim-clad fringe-dweller practicing minor league acts of malfeasance and magic before the end of the world summons him to the majors”. Skarsgård’s “charismatic rockabilly demon” take on the iconic character was something that Elmore and co loved, especially since you could read so much into it.
He’s so charming and he’s so handsome, and so powerful—I mean genuinely powerful, able to perform these sort of miracles where he could levitate himself and he has these actual powers. And yet he needs this adulation and this kind of worship from these people whom he’s summoned to him. He needs to have them make a show all the time of how grateful they are to him.
And there’s something fundamentally weak about that. Does it remind you of someone you know?
Why yes, that does remind me of somebody. Elmore continued though, explaining that “There are stark differences between Flagg and certain other people we could allude to”.
Flagg is so beautiful, he is absolutely a lion-like God figure. With perfect hair and… and also, there’s a softness to Alex’s performance that I think is fascinating. Alex just plays it where you feel not only sympathy for this character, but you hopefully understand why it’s so easy for people to gravitate toward him. He’s just magnetic, he’s just absolutely fascinating to watch. He’s galvanizing as a leader.
And the leader who stands in opposition to him is Whoopi Goldberg’s Mother Abigail, a matriarch who has lived through much in her 108 years of age. It’s a role that Goldberg wanted to play in that 1994 adaptation but never got the part. Now she finally gets the chance to play this layered character who may have become a beacon of light to many as she is seemingly guided by visions from a higher power, but who still has her own issues.
She is very, very righteous and very good. But really flawed I feel. I’ve been fighting with not making her the Magic Negro because she’s complicated.
She doesn’t listen when God is talking to her. And she tends to go her own way because she’s been like this her whole life. It takes her a little while to figure out that there’s something bigger than her.
It’s that sense of there being a bigger cause than just the struggle for bare survival that King was aiming for when he first wrote The Stand. Even the title itself is a message about doing the right thing in the face of adversity instead of devolving to baser instincts.
I wanted to write about bravery. At some point, people do have to make a stand.
But will audiences be receptive to this tale now, following what is currently happening in the world? Is there still a market for King’s epic tale or are people burnt out on even the very idea of a plague-ravaged world or will that age-old attraction to whatever scares us win out in the end? That’s something that is definitely on the writer’s mind.
Whether or not anybody will want to watch it in the aftermath of coronavirus, I don’t know. The book is selling—The Stand, the novel, is selling—so…
That’s a discussion for a whole college course.
And I’m sure we’ll be doing some discussing when The Stand gets released sometime later this year.
Last Updated: May 21, 2020