Worth Watching: A New Version of King's 'Stand,' a Surge of Cases on 'Grey's,' 'Homeschool Musical,' Georgiou's 'Discovery'
A selective critical checklist of notable Thursday TV:
The Stand (streaming on CBS All Access): It's either the worst or best of times for an expansive new limited-series “event” version of Stephen King's apocalyptic epic, which opens on a global plague that makes the current devastation of COVID-19 (300,000 and counting) seem almost bearable. With 7 billion dead, and visions of corrupted bodies and mass graves, many may not be willing to stand watching this. But fans of the mammoth 1978 novel — which King has updated over the years, and who contributes a new coda in the final episode of this adaptation — know that this story is more about the survivors. They're split between those drawn to 108-year-old sage Mother Abagail (Whoopi Goldberg), rebuilding civilization in Boulder, Colorado, and those in thrall to the demonic "Dark Man" Randall Flagg (Alexander Skarsgård), who sets up his debauched kingdom in Las Vegas, more a Sin City than ever. In the first chapters (airing weekly), the narrative jumps back and forth from the beginning of the outbreak five months earlier, when every cough is ominous, to the aftermath and gathering of characters who'll be forced to take a stand for the future of humanity.
Grey's Anatomy (9/8c, ABC): Last week's episode may have been the most powerful of any ongoing drama in dealing with the effects of the pandemic on the medical community, and the situation doesn't ease up in the winter finale. (Grey's is scheduled to return with new episodes on March 4.) In a crossover with spinoff Station 19 (8/7c), the Grey Sloan Memorial staff gears up for the now-common dilemma of surge capacity protocol when neighboring hospital Seattle Pres is overwhelmed, and our frontline heroes must step up for the overflow.
Homeschool Musical: Class of 2020 (streaming on HBO Max): Need a little joy after all of that? Give credit to that fabulous Broadway and TV shining star Laura Benanti (Gypsy, Younger, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert), who started the #SunshineSongs movement during the pandemic to give voice to high school students across the country whose spring musicals were canceled after everything shut down. These young stage hopefuls sang their hearts out online, and Homeschool Musical captures some of the performances and stories in a self-shot documentary format.
Also on HBO Max: the finale of the frenetic caper The Flight Attendant, in which the excellent Kaley Cuoco works everyone's nerves as the ultra-annoying title character, Cassie, who moves the action to Rome for a final showdown. "Seriously, how are you not dead yet?" wondered the mysterious assassin Miranda (Michelle Gomez) recently, and it's true that while Cassie boozily tries to unravel the mystery of why financier Alex (Michiel Huisman, appearing frequently as a ghost) ended up dead alongside her in a Bangkok hotel, many of the allies she’s used end up either dead or injured. And sure enough, in Rome she puts another adoring friend in harm’s way. Bad, selfish Cassie! (And doesn't she know it.) Meanwhile, the subplot involving co-worker Megan (Rosie Perez), whose amateur spy intrigues with the North Koreans has imploded, seems to be from another series entirely.
Star Trek: Discovery (streaming on CBS All Access): Continuing last week's through-the-portal adventure, the majority of this pivotal episode is set in the alternate and violent Terran mirror universe, which proves to be a reckoning for the fearsome Emperor Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh). Back in the world she once ruled, she’s faced with insurrection by the unrelenting Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green making the most of her snarling villainy), who sees her mother Georgiou's newfound empathy as weakness. "I have seen another way to live and to rule," Georgiou says, making her case. And where will this encounter lead? Perhaps to her long-awaited spinoff. Trek has done worse.
Mom (9/8c, CBS): One of the best moves by this ever-evolving sitcom was to pair the irrepressible Bonnie (Allison Janney) with the mellower Adam (William Fichtner), who adores but also kind of fears his loose-cannon soulmate. Now married, they're the focus of an episode in which Bonnie unexpectedly holds her tongue, at least in front of Adam, when he decides to try adaptive skiing, a first since the snowboarding accident that put him in a wheelchair. Bonnie's anxiety manifests in a dream involving her late ex, Alvin (Kevin Pollack), and we all hope Adam returns safe and sound.
Inside Thursday TV: For the last time in 2020, all of CBS's and ABC's lineup of original series presents new episodes. On CBS, Young Sheldon (8/7c), aka the boy genius (Iain Armitage), invites twin sister Missy (Raegan Revord), Meemaw (Annie Potts) and Dale (Craig T. Nelson) to join him in a game of Dungeons and Dragons; on B Positive (8:30/7:30c), Drew (Thomas Middleditch) activates a tracking app to keep tabs on Gina (Annaleigh Ashford); and comedian Rob Riggle guests on The Unicorn (9:30/8:30c) as a land developer who hires Wade (Walton Goggins) and Ben (Omar Miller) to work on the same project… ABC's A Million Little Things (10/9c) wraps its fall run with recovering addict Eddie (David Giuntoli) struggling to manage his pain, which also tests his marriage… Six Feet Under's Rachel Griffiths stars in and co-created the six-part Australian political drama Total Control (episodes stream weekly on Sundance Now). She plays a prime minister who enlists an indigenous woman (Deborah Mallman) into the Senate after she becomes a national folk hero for publicly facing down a domestic abuser.