I don’t know about you, but a virus series is the last thing I want to sit through right now.
Then again, a lot of people flocked to Contagion, Outbreak and The Hot Zone during the pandemic, so whaddo I know? Even #Alive has apparently done well for Netflix.
The Stand is a 9 part adaptation of Stephen King’s 1978 novel (another screened in just 4 parts in 1994) ironically completed filming just before COVID-19 gripped much of the western world. King has written a new coda for his story.
The limited series comes with an impressive cast, including Whoopi Goldberg, Alexander Skarsgård, James Marsden, Greg Kinnear in its ensemble and cameos or supporting roles from J.K. Simmons, Heather Graham, Bryan Cranston and more. Just who is the hero of the series seems to shift, including from teen writer Harold Lauder (Owen Teague) to Stu Redman (James Marsden) and, in episode 2, musician Larry Underwood (Jovan Adepo) …and there is a gravitation towards Mother Abagail (Whoopi Goldberg) whose all-knowing wisdom is a magnet for lost souls.
The influenza-like virus, known as ‘Captain Trips’, wipes out most of the coughing population in next to no time -complete with fat suit necks as a fatal symptom. But there are random members of the community who are inexplicably immune. One is geeky teen Harold (Teague), who just happens to find his former babysitter Fran (Odessa Young) also a survivor and convinces her to join forces in their search for others. Bonus, he also has a crush on her.
Another is hunky smalltown resident Stu Redman (Marsden) who survives the infection of a local army soldier, who just happened to be fleeing an emergency from his job at a bio-weapons facility. Cue conspiracy theories. Stu is kept under lock and key by scientists trying to discover his immunity, but you get the feeling he won’t take this crap for too long.
“A month ago we were all worried bout Ebola,” we learn. Yeah, really?
Musician Larry Underwood (Adepo), who is the target of an aggrieved co-writer on a virus bender, teams up with the attractive Rita Blakemoor (Heather Graham), escaping infected Walking Dead extras (not really) while an inept thief Lloyd Henreid (Nat Wolff), who botched a gas station robbery, finds himself in a Phoenix prison where a lot of coughing is also going on…
Alexander Skarsgård will also enter frame, representing a tug of war, but to say more may be a spoiler.
Throughout these first threads there are King-esque flashbacks / dreams involving cornfields, children, wolves, zones and depictions of faith.
But what does it all mean? Therein lies some frustration in this execution. While a series of this genre is hardly likely to reveal its full hand so early, it’s crucial that we care for its characters. But director directors Josh Boone (who co-wrote with Benjamin Cavell) and Tucker Gates shift the focus so often I struggled to connect. Non-linear timelines add to the difficulties. But I did admire the commitment from the likes of J.K. Simmons to sell some pretty ordinary dialogue.
The Stand also makes little use of humour here, despite some early digs at the expense of one Tom Cruise.
If the sight of bodies being dumped into an open grave by an earthmover doesn’t bother you right now, then go ahead and take a stand. But I’m reminded of an experience when watching The Commons during Australia’s bushfire crisis: the emergency outside my window is far greater than anything concocted by the small screen.
The Stand begins Friday January 15 on Amazon Prime.