{Television Review} CBS All Access The Stand

He smiles a lot. But I think there might be worms inside him making him smile.

Leo Rockway speaking about Harold Lauder

The first and most remarkable observation about this new take on The Stand from show runners Josh Boone and Benjamin Cavell is that this version of this horror classic is more concerned on telling the story of the characters who do not entirely fit into the classic mold of good and evil. At its core King’s novel The Stand is a classic good vs. evil tale of what a post apocalyptic America might look like. The world is more complex than that and CBS All Access seems to lean into that discussion.

What makes the novel so interesting, and this adaptation so fresh is that it recenters the entire story around one of the characters that could go either way. Harold Lauder (played with impeccable smarminess by Owen Teague) is the first main character we meet in episode one. Boone and Cavell make a bold statement with that opening scene (which takes place in a Church that feels distinctly not like a place for salvation). First the series is going to be told out of sequence (more on that later). Two, that the series wants us to connect with more of the fringe characters and is less concerned about how the audience will connect with its main characters. It is a bold choice, and ultimately one I believe pays off by the fourth and final preview episode.

The Characters

Ostensibly the story focuses on a dozen or so converging characters as they survive a pandemic and head for the safe community of Boulder centered around Mother Abigail (Whoopi Goldberg), or the promise of a darker and more dangerous community offered by Randall Flagg (Alexander Skarsgård). If the story has a main character it might be Stu Redman (James Marsden) the east Texan who acts as one of Boulders leaders and as Frannie’s (Odessa Young) new boyfriend. Frannie and Harold have history and as a result the relationship between all three becomes the fulcrum the entire series turns.

Others including Nadine (Amber Heard) and drugged out rocker Larry (Jovan Adepo) eventually join the group in Boulder. Greg Kinnear who plays pothead professor Glen Bateman plays the resident gadfly with a much needed comedy. Of this group Larry and Nadine remain complex and multidimensional. Stu is a good guy, Frannie a good woman. Certainly they have their own trials and tribulations but they are at their cores, good people. We never doubt they will end up in Boulder. It makes their arcs way less interesting.

Perhaps the most surprising and loveliest performances comes from Brad William Henke‘s Tom Cullen. We meet Tom as part of one half of a battery with Nick (Henry Zaga).. Nick is Mother Abigail’s first disciple and tends to embrace an almost ethereal presence in most scenes. Henke is not given a ton of screen time, but he brings a pathos to every scene. I was immediately drawn in. Henke’s performance also handles the complex and often problematic original character quite well, offering a discussion of his disability but never in an reductive or dismissive fashion.

Boulder or Las Vegas

Back to the storytelling. The first few episodes flip back in time giving us the backstory of how our main characters ended up in Boulder or Las Vegas. In that way the series feels closer to the storytelling told in the original Stephen King Series It. The miniseries IT forged both parts of the novel to create one cohesive plot. For audiences that are not familiar with the story this creative approach could be a a bit disorienting. As a fan of the book and original series I found it a creative way to deal with the overwhelming amount of backstory.

Pictured: Owen Teague as Harold Lauder and Odessa Young as Frannie Goldsmith of the the CBS All Access series THE STAND. Photo Cr: James Minchin/CBS ©2020 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

This version makes great use of its large budget in creating a post pandemic world that is entirely believable. Its use of snot, mucus, and other gore early in the series will keep many horror lovers satiated . Non horror lovers can rest assured its only gross early on. Overwhelmingly the cast and crew argued that the series was not about a pandemic but rather what happens after the pandemic is over.

At its core this version of the story is about Harold Lauder, and other people like Harold Lauder. Folks largely dismissed by society. Those that have large grievances with society. Those grievances often come about from self aggrandized world views. This new world offers them a clean slate and a larger role. With this clean slate comes the ability to choose the type of person they want to be. Ironically the electoral college meets on Monday and the series premiere is Thursday December 17 on CBS All Access. It is going to be an interesting week.

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