Martin Carr reviews the first episode of The Stand…
This post pandemic Sunday night thriller adapted from the Stephen King tome pulls no punches. Jumping back and forth in time to establish character its pedestrian pacing might put some people off. Individuals are dying in their homes or being used for landfill, while quiet desperation infiltrates every frame. Necessary narrative digressions throughout episode one might be essential, but distract from dramatic build up. There is a lot of story, a lot of ground to cover and even with nine hours of television limited time.
James Marsden’s Stu Redman, Owen Teague’s Harold Lauder and Odessa Young’s Frannie Goldsmith work hard to ground everything. Either incarcerated, infatuated or incapacitated each actor inhabits their own personal trauma. Social disintegration and individual resignation go hand in hand, while the one percent with immunity are left powerless. Either trapped like lab rats or left to fend for themselves in a hostile environment, this bleak and unremitting depiction of a society facing mass extinction never feels less than authentic.
In terms of production design, The Stand straddles the chasm between cinematic opulence and small screen sacrifice existing in limbo between both. Monolithic military installations exist hand in hand with picket fenced perfection, where supposed serenity masks something far more sinister. What production designer Aaron Haye has achieved in this opening episode is a normality which is intentionally drab. Everyday life lacks gloss, is devoid of sheen and trades on the typical, a trick that few programmes pull off convincingly. Here however the conventional has been elevated to an artform, as the mundane is mastered without feeling conspicuous.
Beyond that what concerns fans most is author involvement and few constant readers are more ardent than those who follow Stephen King. In the past adaptations of his work have been a little hit and miss if everyone was being honest, which is where fanbase trepidation always comes into play. However, for many The Stand is almost biblical in terms of the reverence lavished upon it by literary disciplines. This is an ancient story of good and evil which employs a global pandemic as the backbone to a more traditional fable.
With mythical beings, ethereal flashbacks and visionary interventions it mixes the traditional and fantastical into a heady brew. Whether audiences will find The Stand entertaining or be prepared to watch something so close to home so soon remains to be seen. There is no faulting the ambition of this CBS adaptation or the cast involved, but nonetheless bad timing might yet be its undoing.