Roush Review: Is ‘The Stand’ the Right Parable for These Times?

Owen Teague Odessa Young The Stand Premiere Harold Frannie
Robert Falconer/CBS

It all begins with an ominous cough that, over time (and there’s a lot of it), strangely develops into a protracted yawn.

Is this the worst or best of times to remake Stephen King’s apocalyptic epic The Stand? As fans of the mammoth 1978 novel know, it begins with the end times for much of humanity, as a worldwide plague wipes out most of the population. And while it’s undeniably unnerving after the events of 2020 to be assaulted with images of mass graves and afflicted victims struggling for breath, this second filmed version feels more like a crawl than a stand.

Handsomely and dutifully produced over nine episodes, airing weekly — six were available for preview — The Stand spends much of its first hours jumping back and forth in time, depicting the onset and spread of the devastating outbreak while also assembling the sprawling cast of characters, a random handful of survivors who split into two camps.

On the side of good is a regrettably bland crew of underdeveloped heroes including blue-collar Texan, and former soldier, Stu Redman (Dead to Me‘s appealing James Marsden), who like his fellow travelers is led to Boulder, CO, by mystical visions of the 108-year-old sage, Mother Abagail (Whoopi Goldberg, who could play this sort of thing in her sleep — and appears to be doing just that). Escaping from a military facility where the killer virus may have been developed, Stu hooks up on the road with Maine refugee Frannie Goldsmith (Odessa Young), whose pregnancy could herald a rebirth of the species; and her creepy hometown companion, Harold Lauder (Owen Teague), a jealous sociopath who hides his mania under an awkward geeky facade. Though for how long?

Stu and Frannie are among five handpicked by Abagail — including druggie musician Larry Underwood (Watchmen‘s Jovan Adepo), wry academic Glen Bateman (an underused Greg Kinnear), empathetic Nick (Henry Zaga), who’s deaf — to lead the rebuilding of civilization in Boulder. If there’s much more to them than these thumbnail descriptions, it must have been left on King’s pages. (The author did pen a special original coda for the series finale, which could be worth the wait.)

But beyond the mountains, in a hellish Las Vegas of Thunderdome-level debauchery, reside their opposites, a more colorful but tiresomely hammy group of psychos under the thrall of supernatural “Dark Man” Randall Flagg (the naturally charismatic Alexander Skarsgård), whose eyes glow and who often appears to mere mortals in the form of a snarling wolf.

In intermittently suspenseful fashion, Flagg’s forces hidden within the Boulder camp plot to subvert Mother Abagail’s spiritual crusade, while against her wishes the heroes send agents (including developmentally disabled gentle giant Tom Cullen, boisterously played by Brad William Henke) into Vegas, although what they hope to accomplish against an all-seeing demon isn’t exactly clear.

Alexander Skarsgard Nat Wolff The Stand Episode 2 Flagg Lloyd

(Robert Falconer/CBS)

Besides, if Flagg is so powerful, why is he just biding his time? Just one of many mysteries to ponder in this ponderous and bloated parable of good vs. evil.

The Stand, Thursdays, CBS All Access