STAND, THE (2021)

Rating:

You Can Sit Back Down, We Won’t Be Needing Your Services

Main Cast: James Marsden, Alexander Skarsgard

Creator/Executive Producer: Josh Boone

I find it strange that, at the time of this writing, the IMDb page for the 2021 adaptation of Stephen King’s THE STAND, its second as a TV mini-series, has only ONE goof listed, the spelling of Killeen, TX in one scene.  Um, how about the whole friggin’ production was a goof!!!

Let’s look at this logically.  In 1994, THE STAND aired on ABC as a 6-hour miniseries.  The CBS All Access version almost 30 years later runs 2 ½ hours LONGER and somehow manages to tell even LESS of the story.  Is this some weird voodoo magic I don’t understand?

the stand book cover

THE STAND is one of King’s most famous novels, one of his biggest, and in my opinion one of his most complete, best books.  It tells the story of a superflu known as Captain Trips making its way around the world, decimating the human population, and in the aftermath, what’s left of America is seemingly divided into two factions.

On one side you’ve got Mother Abigail (Whoopi Goldberg), a 100+ year old woman in Nebraska, faithful to God and all of His commandments.  Many of the characters corral around her and set up a new society in what’s left of Boulder, Colorado.

On the other side we’ve got Randall Flagg (Alexander Skarsgard, True Blood), mysterious wanderer who collects followers like buttons on his denim jacket.  They set up shop in the remains of Las Vegas and much like the Nazis of old, Flagg makes sure the trains run on time.  He’s got his lackeys to do his bidding and that bidding is the destruction of Mother Abigail and her followers over in Boulder.

Whoopi Goldberg as Mother Abigail

Flagg is a BAD man, and King’s novel shows that through and through.  We see him in many incarnations, gathering his troops and trying to tempt our heroes away from the white.  But our heroes are just that, heroes, and King also wastes no words in showing us these characters too, developing them to their fullest and by the end, we’re not reading characters in a book; we’re spending time with people we know very well, real people whose lives just happen to move forward in words on a page as opposed to real breathing life.  But still, they’re real characters because King has written them so damn well and let us spend so much time with them on this journey.

The 1994 adaptation got this right.  We see Flagg as the true embodiment of evil that he is, and we see our heroes as fully developed PEOPLE.  Stu (Gary Sinise), Franny (Molly Ringwald), Larry (Adam Storke) and Nick (Rob Lowe) with them, from start to finish.  We go through it by their side.

The 2021 adaptation?  Sigh.

First off, this is an “adaptation” only in the LOOSEST of terms.  They have the general idea right, super flu known as Captain Trips tears through the world.  Two camps left, the good guys with Mother Abigail, the bad people following Flagg.  One in Boulder, one in Vegas.  One side wants to smash the other, one side just wants to live.

Odessa Young and James Marsden in The Stand 2021
Odessa Young as Frannie Goldsmith and James Marsden as Stu Redman

Okay, they got the basics.  They had the ball firmly in hand.  James Marsden (Westworld) is Stu Redman, modern day “every man” from east Texas.  You know his face, he’s a charming guy.  Whoopi Goldberg is Mother Abigail.  Anyone who doesn’t recognize her, you’ve not been on planet Earth at all in the last 30 years.  Alexander Skarsgard is Flagg (Well, I would have preferred Matthew McConaughey as was previously planned, but, hey, Skarsgard is good, too.  I didn’t necessarily get that sense of DOOM and carefree destruction I think McConaughey could have brought to the role but I definitely see more menace in Skarsgard’s eyes than I did Jamey Sheridan’s in the ’94 version.  The 1994 aging hippie version just didn’t do it for me).  And then they dropped it.  No, they threw it on the ground.  Forcefully.

One of the things that made THE STAND such a strong, compelling story was watching the events unfold as they happen for the characters.  We see them all in the beginning, living their lives, and then this worldwide tragedy hits and they—Stu, Franny, Harold, Larry, and Nick—must come to grips with the reality and carry on from there.  It’s linear, as it needs to be for the heart of this story to have any impact at all.  But the new adaptation plays VERY loose with the timeline, starting with the Boulder Free Zone already established, and then going back to fill in the gaps through several flashbacks, many of which were embellished or created wholly for this version, having never appeared in either published version of the novel.  And they add absolutely zero to the story.

Owen Teague as Harold Lauder in The Stand 2021
Owen Teague as Harold Lauder

We see a lot of Harold Lauder (Owen Teague, Bloodline) scenes pre-crisis and while Harold is one of the antagonists and a pretty important character, he doesn’t make it to the end of the book (spoilers for this 40 year old novel), he’s never a likable character, and we’re sort of glad when he’s betrayed and left for dead.  And that’s just going by the book scenes which were more than adequate in making us not like Harold. The last thing we need is MORE scenes.  Know what we COULD use?  Some scenes with our heroes.

Stu gets shortchanged a lot, much of his development left out of the story.  We’re just supposed to see him as the hero because, well, it’s James Marsden, you know his face and you know the characters we usually plays, he’s the hero, or at least not the villain (Dead to Me notwithstanding), so of course.  He’s the face, love him and be on his side.

Franny gets her proper introduction with her parents dying before she can tell them she’s pregnant but Odessa Young (ASSASSINATION NATION) is given absolutely NOTHING to do after that.  Franny in the novel was an equal member of the Free Zone Committee, not JUST Stu’s girlfriend.  Franny in 2021 is there, sure, she’s onscreen, and she says some things, but overall, I didn’t feel they gave the character any real power.

Jovan Adepo as Larry Underwood in The Stand 2021
Jovan Adepo as Larry Underwood

Larry Underwood (Jovan Adepo, Watchmen) is a man who, in the wake of everything, really wants to be a better person.  He’s the guy who has to step up to the plate once he’s got people relying on him, Nadine and Joe to start, then a small following as they make their way to Mother Abigail.  He even gets a girlfriend, post-rejection by Nadine (Amber Heard, AQUAMAN) who is secretly saving herself for Flagg.  The girlfriend, Lucy, has been completely written out by 2021.  Early on, Larry left New York with Rita Blakemore, but found her dead one morning, one more person he’s failed.  He spends the rest of the novel fighting against his nature to let people down and be the better man.  NONE of this is evident in 2021.  Larry is just another character here, with no apparent motivation and personality outside of Free Zone Committee member.

But the worst casualty of this 2021 adaptation was Nick Andros (Henry Zaga, THE NEW MUTANTS).  Was he even in this?  Who played him?  Where’d he go?  What was his deal, again?

Holy God, I couldn’t believe what they did to poor Nick!

Henry Zaga as Nick Andros
Henry Zaga as Nick Andros

In the novel, and in the 1994 minseries, Nick Andros is just as important and fully developed as Stu, Fran, and Larry.  He’s one of the MAIN characters.  We spend serious time with him, seeing his struggle in Arkansas, his time in jail, and how he wins over the local sheriff to start caring for the town once the sheriff dies.  We see his meeting with Tom Cullen and their bond is strong and evident, then his encounter with Julie Lawry, and in Boulder, Nick is a very important part of the Free Zone Committee.  So why in the holy hell did they give poor Henry Zaga like an hour of screen time, total, over 9 episodes?  He’s barely in this thing.  Sure, he’s on the committee, but you wouldn’t know it.  Why he’s on the committee is NEVER obvious, this Nick is given absolutely zero importance, no arc and no personality.  And then they gave him an eye patch?  Why???  To make him stand out?  Nick Andros is a great character, he stands out on his own, he has personality to spare, but this time around, they’ve just shoved him in the background.  Oh Nick?  Yeah, he’s here, just look for the eyepatch, you can’t miss him.

God, this adaptation.

And I’m still stunned by how in the world they had so much more time to work with and still managed to show so much less of the story and characters.  We never saw Larry following Harold across the country, managing to keep his group alive by asking “What Would Harold Do?” 

Ezra Miller as Trashcan Man
Ezra Miller (?) as Trashcan Man

We never meet Trashcan Man until he shows up in Vegas and Flagg orders him to bring the big fire.  Trash had an entire backstory and journey of his own across the country and every bit of that is just gone.  He’s merely some weird guy who shows up one day in Vegas and we’re never once given any indication why he is the way he is.  I’m not even sure he was ever named, whether by his real name, Donald Merwin Elbert, or by Trashcan Man.  And is that Ezra Miller playing him?  Wow, it sure is.  I’m not saying Miller is a HUGE star, but he’s recognizable, normally.  And they have him playing Trashcan Man in one of the most worthless and inexplicable cameos in history.  Matt Frewer’s version got more time and development in 1994 and it’s MATT FREWER!

And then there was Flagg.

In the novel—and in the 1994 version—Randall Flagg is a BAD DUDE.  He’s the Walkin’ Dude who is shown to be present at several scenes of unrest in US history going back to the 50s at least.  In the wake of Captain Trips, he realizes he can suddenly do magic and he uses these new skills to gather his troops and to try and tempt the strongest away from the White, to the dark side.  Randall Flagg is absolute evil.  He exists only to be worshiped, and to destroy any who refuse to worship him.

Alexander Skarsgard as Randall Flagg
Alexander Skarsgard as Randall Flagg

At least, in theory that’s who Flagg is.  In 2021, Flagg gets Lloyd out of jail in return for Lloyd pledging fealty, and I think we saw a time or two the heroes had dreams of him, but there was no menace.  Flagg was present, sure, but we never once got a glimpse, or even a hint, of just how evil and powerful he was.  Yeah, we saw him float, that was about it.  The people in New Vegas worship him, but we never see what he did, if anything, to earn that worship, nor of what happens if they refuse.  In the novel, Flagg runs a tight ship.  Drugs are forbidden and anyone who uses is crucified in the desert.  THE STAND 2021 Flagg has no such rule and Sin City lives up to its name.

It’s a shame that, in 2021, the best way people know to show “bad people being bad” is still with all-night parties, open public sex, rampant drug use and gladiatorial-style fights.  Yawn.  Seen it.

And as much as I dig Skarsgard, he’s just not got that evil glint in his eye that is so very necessary to pull off Randall Flagg.  He gives it his all, for sure, but the makers of this series seem as if they’re shoving him into the narrative because he’s supposed to be here, but since they did such a piss poor job of establishing the good vs. evil which is the entire crux of the friggin’ book, now they have this villain they ignored, for the most part, for huge chunks of the story and by the time they remember, “Oh yeah, Flagg’s the bad guy,” we just don’t care anymore.

We know, technically, that he is the bad guy, but his plans to get the jets up and running and armed with fliers and missiles heading toward Boulder is never made very clear, and when he tells Trash to “bring me the big fire,” we’re so in the dark, we’re unable to glean what he means.  I know, because I read the book a few times, that Trash is supposed to bring him a nuclear warhead that his pilots will then fly across and drop over Boulder.  That is never once made clear in the series.

sad man
Dennis after watching the entirety of The Stand 2021

What I got from THE STAND 2021 was that the book was being used as the BASIS for the story, but that they weren’t necessarily going to FOLLOW it.  Sure, it’s the flu, people are dead, Mother Abigail, Randall Flagg, yadda yadda yadda, oh crap, we told the entire story and we still have one more episode?  Cool, King will write a final episode and wrap it all up. Right?  Right?  RIGHT???  Please?

After many false starts over the last several years, the series was eventually “developed” by Josh Boone who directed THE FAULT IN OUR STARS and THE NEW MUTANTS and for me that’s just not enough credits to hand someone a 9-episode series of this magnitude.  He’s a good director, I really enjoyed THE NEW MUTANTS, but that was a very small, contained story with one location.  THE STAND is a huge story, covers the entire U.S. from one coast to the other and is a literal battle for the future of humanity.  And you want THE FAULT IN OUR STARS guy to take the reins?  Well, alright, I guess.

God, I had such hopes for this when McConaughey was still attached and it was going to be a theatrical release.  That’s two attempts at making THE STAND and of the two, the one from 27 years ago … God, I can’t believe I’m gonna say this, but … the one directed by Mick Garris, got it more right.  And I HATED that adaptation.

This one was a struggle, both as THE STAND and just as something we watched once a week.  It was always, “What’s tonight?  Oh, damn, The Stand.  Alright, fine.”  I never looked forward to the next episode, and every time I did see it, all I could see was just how incredibly different—unnecessarily different!—it was, and it sort of hurt my heart.  Again, I don’t know what the intention was with this thing, but I can’t believe it was to make an honest, updated adaptation of THE STAND novel.  Maybe tell a similar story using that book as the general outline?  But adapt it?  Nah, that’s okay, they’ll just make it up as they go.

Very much NOT recommended, at all at all. The Stand 2021 is streaming on CBS All Access.

photos by Robert Falconer CBS ©2020 CBS Interactive, Inc.

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