Chapin City Blues

Writing is writing whether done for duty, profit, or fun.

Let’s talk about The Stand, shall we?

I am not a Stephen King aficionado. And while I love the movies based on his works, I am not even his #1 fan. I have read a few short stories, a couple of his Kindle singles, a novella, and an amazing audiobook narrated by Michael C. Hall.1 In fact, the only novel-length book I’ve read by Stephen King was his post-apocalyptic book, The Stand.

My first encounter with story came from the 1994 miniseries which aired on ABC. It starred Gary Sinise, Molly Ringwald, and a whole bunch of actors that I’d see on TV and movies throughout my adolescent years. While it didn’t have the best production value – it was a made-for-TV miniseries, after all – it still captivated my 11-year-old imagination. It became my gold standard for post-apocalyptic tales, especially those revolving around pandemics that wipe out humanity.

I didn’t read the book until 2009, when I found a copy at a used bookstore. This copy was a 1980, mass-market paperback which mirrored the 1978 hardcover; the only difference between the books – other than the obvious – were the date changes. In the 1978 edition, the apocalypse happed in 1980; in the paperback, the apocalypse was moved to 1985. For those not in-the-know, the 1978 edition was meant to be a much larger work; Doubleday had warned King that a book of such size would be too much for the market to bear. It wasn’t until 1990 that King’s original vision for the book came to fruition.

I have never read the full novel; to this day, the 1980 paperback edition is the only version I have read, though I own both.2 But I think it’s time that I did.

When it was announced that there was an interest to readapt the novel, it excited me. It circulated that Ben Affleck would direct, until he dropped out two years later. And for awhile, all I heard was the rumors. Directors came, and directors left. It came to the point where I just gave up; I didn’t want to read any news about the project. Not until something more concrete came up.

In 2019, it was reported that a 10-episode limited series would air on CBS All Access. This version would star James Marsden, Amber Heard, Whoopi Goldberg and Greg Kinnear, with Alexander Skarsgård playing Randall Flagg. It was also announced that Marilyn Manson would appear in the series, though his character was ultimately cut during the writing process.3 The series was reduced to nine episodes once writing was complete, with a coda written by Stephen King. It debuted on CBS All Access (now Paramount+) on December 17, 2020 – a perfect time to release a supernatural, post-apocalyptic story if you ask me.

I didn’t have CBS All Access at the time, and it took me some time to build up the motivation to get yet another streaming service. And over the course of a weekend, I watched all nine episodes.

I don’t know where to being with describing how disappointed I was with the series.

The story begins with Harold Lauder working as part of the Boulder cleanup crew. Rather than just an introduction to the situation and character, what we get is a narrative that jumps around the timeline. Some moments we’re watching Harold and Frannie’s origin stories, and other times we’re watching what happens at Boulder. While this form of storytelling works for a series like Cruel Summer, it felt out of place here. Especially when the device is used less and less as the series progresses, making viewers wondering why incorporate it in the first place.

Same goes for the gender and ethnic swaps. There are four characters that are altered for this adaptation: Larry Underwood, Judge Farris, Ralph Brentner and Nick Andros. With the exception of Larry Underwood, these characters are served a bad deal in the story. The role of Judge Farris – now a woman – was reduced greatly; there were times I figured they just wrote out the character until they sent their three spies to New Vegas. Her death – which took place offscreen – didn’t even bring a tear to my eye. Ralph Brentner – now Ray Brentner – gets more TV time than Judge Farris. Though her character, for most of the episodes, seems like a footnote (not that Ralph had much of a role either, at least from what I remember).

But Nick Andros is the one that hurt the most. We get glimpse of Nick – we’re told who he is, what his role is, how he met Tom Cullen – but we don’t actually get to become familiar with his character. He’s reduced to nothing more than an important background character.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not the gender/ethnic swaps that upset me. Inclusivity is important, there’s no denying that; as a Latino, trust me – I understand its importance. But don’t tokenize BIPOC characters – there’s no use if they’re interchangeable between their white and male counterparts. And don’t reduce their stories either – what was the point of it when the writers decided to cut their roles?

Now let’s talk about Lloyd Henreid. In the original, he is portrayed by the late Miguel Ferrer. It was Ferrer that made me love the character, despite the fact he was a villain. He was a stone-faced bad guy, serious in the eye. He was petty criminal turned murderer. It made sense why Flagg would choose Lloyd to be his second in command.

So why cast Nat Wolffyes, that Nat Wolff4 – as the character for the new version? Unlike the Lloyd of the book and original miniseries, Nat Wolff’s Lloyd was a mess of a character – a petty criminal turned into a whiny, erectile dysfunctional, flamboyant annoyance. And while Flagg still makes this Lloyd his second command, it just doesn’t feel right.

The ninth episode acts as a epilogue – the what happens after – as the eighth episodes depicts the sacrifices made in order to defeat Randall Flagg. However, Flagg is far from finished. That episode doesn’t add anything to the story. Essentially, it’s a filler episode to “close the circle.” While Flagg and Mother Abagail do make reappearances, its just a reminder that good and evil will continue as usual in this new world.

I wanted to love this series. Just the cast alone promised something magnificent. Except, we didn’t get magnificent. We didn’t even get mediocre.

Want more apocalypse?

1 I am now convinced that Michael C. Hall should narrate all the audiobooks. Seriously, listen to Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Pet Sematary before telling me I am wrong.
2 Yes, the size intimidates me greatly.
3 At some point, I will have to discuss Marilyn Manson.
4 He is also the same Nat Wolff who played Light Turner in the Netflix adaptation of Death Note.

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