The Stand First Reviews: New Take On Stephen King's Viral Apocalypse Is Entertaining, If Uneven

With a handful of standout performances, "exquisite" tension, and ambitious world-building, critics say CBS All Access's take on King's epic novel makes for thrilling, demanding, often uncomfortable, viewing.

by | December 13, 2020 | Comments

After a deadly virus wipes out the majority of the world’s population, two groups of survivors end up picking sides — with 108-year-old prophet Mother Abigail (Whoopi Goldberg) or the demonic Randal Flagg (Alexander Skarsgård) — in a supernatural battle between good and evil to decide the fate of mankind. That, in a nutshell, is the gist of Stephen King’s The Stand.

The author’s iconic novel is considered by many to be one of his best works — it has been updated multiple times by King and was adapted into an Emmy Award-winning mini-series by Mick Garris in 1994. Now, a new version of the story is hitting CBS All Access on Thursday, December 17, in the form of a nine-episode mini-series.

This highly-anticipated series, which was brought to life by Josh Boone, Benjamin Cavell, and Taylor Elmore, features a packed cast, including Goldberg, Skarsgård, James Marsden, Odessa Young, Jovan Adepo, Amber Heard, Owen Teague, Henry Zaga, Brad William Henke, Greg Kinnear, Irene Bedard, Katherine McNamara, and Nat Wolff.

It’s been two-and-a-half decades since we’ve seen Mother Abigail face-off against the Dark Man — that mini-series is Certified Fresh on the Tomatometer with a score of 71%. Will this new adaptation of Stephen King’s novel fare better than its predecessor? Or will it end up dead-on-arrival? Here’s what the critics are saying about CBS All Access’s The Stand.

How Faithful Is It to the Book?

Jovan Adepo and Heather Graham in The Stand
(Photo by © CBS All Access)

“This adaptation – developed by Josh Boone and Benjamin Cavell – takes the unique approach of telling the story in a nonlinear fashion, one that introduces viewers less to the pandemic itself more to the characters, the hearts and souls that the story is ultimately about. It’s a move that may not sit well with some die-hard King fans, but it’s one that injects a new life into the story. Starting with people, not with plague and it immediately sets the series out on a much better foot and almost immediately will hook audiences.” — Nicole Drum,

“If you are familiar with the first mini-series, there are a lot of scenes that looks eerily similar in the new iteration, but there is so much more. Those that have read the novel will find this adaptation does better justice to the massive cast of characters. But, you may not like all of the changes.” — Alex Maidy, Jo Blo’s Movie Network

“This new format also asks a lot of its viewers, particularly those who aren’t Constant Readers. With all of this leaping around, so much of the characterization draws upon an inherent knowledge of the source material. Relationships are formed without much connective tissue, narrative beats are well underway with nary a point of origin, and references are dropped at a brisk pace. Again, all of this will likely make for a disorienting experience for newcomers in King’s Dominion.” — Michael Roffman, Consequence of Sound

How Is the cast?

Alexander Skarsgård as Randall Flagg in THE STAND
(Photo by Robert Falconer/CBS ©2020 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

“Skarsgård does for Randall Flagg what his brother Bill did for Pennywise. This Randall Flagg is the force of evil that Matthew McConaughey failed to evoke in The Dark Tower. This Flagg is more than a monster but a true force of evil. Goldberg was also born to play Abigail Freemantle and brought me to tears during this series.” — Alex Maidy, Jo Blo’s Movie Network

“This version of the story more richly develops some of the key characters from the novel and indeed even the previous live-action adaptation. Frannie Goldsmith (played by Odessa Young), for example, is fleshed out in a more grounded and realistic way while Tom Cullen (Brad William Henke) is given more humanity than perhaps we’ve seen before. It helps that both Young and Henke deliver solid performances that feel less like archetype characters and more like people we can easily identify from our own lives.” — Nicole Drum,

“The cast mostly doesn’t rise much above the level of competence – nor, to be fair, drop much below it. The notable exceptions are Brad William Henke (Orange Is the New Black) making his mentally challenged character Tom Cullen impossible not to love; Alexander Skarsgård (True Blood) projecting a palpable sense of evil as Randall Flagg, the baddest of the bad guys; and Henry Zaga, who pulls off a nearly impossible assignment in portraying Nick Andros, a man who can’t hear or speak and can barely see.” — Glenn Garvin, Reason Online

“If there’s a standout here it’s Teague, who plays Harold as an incel sociopath who can just pass as an ordinary, happy citizen. In one of his best moments he fakes his way through the rebuilding utopia with a smile that tries to look winning but mostly looks like Jim Carrey in full manic mode.” — Keith Phipps, TV Guide

Is the World-Building Epic Enough?

The Stand
(Photo by James Minchin/CBS)

“Because things are moving at such a rapid clip, it’s hard to really get a grasp on what’s at stake, and that feeling extends towards much of the world building. At times, it’s a very claustrophobic experience with so much of what’s happening in this world being told rather than shown. And while some of this exposition is wisely left to our own imaginations, most of these comments feel like tossed in signposts, leaving the narrative feeling often hollow.” — Michael Roffman, Consequence of Sound

“The series’ first couple of hours, premiere “The End” and second episode “Pocket Savior,” build an exquisite amount of tension: The shifting locations capture the permeation of the outbreak; each cough and sniffle portends upcoming doom; and the series’ makeup department should be commended for making the physical effects of “Captain Trips” very, very gross. But after those initial world-building episodes, The Stand never feels dirty enough — neither in its presentation of the physical and emotional impact of all this sickness, loss, and death, nor in its consideration of the lure of Flagg’s totalitarianism-as-hedonism rule in his New Vegas bacchanalia.” — Roxana Hadadi, Variety

“The series’ generous budget keeps its post-apocalyptic America convincing and its tense moments deliver the scares. If these first four episodes offer little in the way of unforgettable moments, they’re always intriguing enough to keep curiosity burning about what will happen next (or, for those who know the book, how the series will stage or reshape it).” — Keith Phipps, TV Guide

Is Now the Right Time for Another Apocalyptic TV Series?

(Photo by Photo Cr: Robert Falconer/CBS ©2020 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

“Whether the world needed another TV adaptation of The Stand (there was a 1994 version with Gary Sinise and Molly Ringwald) is a fair question, particularly when the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage around us. If it was just a reminder of the world around us, the answer might be no. But approached as an intriguing diversion, it works.” — Bill Goodykontz, Arizona Republic

“The apocalypse isn’t the point – it’s simply the backdrop for what is unabashedly an epic modern fantasy.” — Joshua Sargent, San Francisco Chronicle

“In a year ravaged by a far different virus, The Stand carries a different significance as it closes out a year terrifyingly similar to the story on screen. Told over nine episodes, including an all-new ending written by Stephen King and his son Owen, this new version of The Stand is a very uncomfortable story to watch while the world is mired in a real pandemic but still manages to be a faithful adaptation of King’s masterpiece with timely updates that more or less work.” — Alex Maidy, Jo Blo’s Movie Network

Any Final Thoughts?

(Photo by Robert Falconer/CBS ©2020 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

“This adaptation of one of Stephen King’s most dense, sprawling works never quite reaches the epic scope illustrated so clearly in the 1978 novel.” — Roxana Hadadi, Variety

“It’s a sometimes overstuffed, sometimes overly simple book, but also one whose vision of a fantastic America whose potential for greatness and moral clarity is always at war with its self-destructive impulses. Even if many missed it at the time, King found a way to express an underlying truth about the place he calls home. The best parts of this adaptation channel that well.” — Keith Phipps, TV Guide

“The performances are strong, the set pieces are cinematic, and, most importantly, the commitment to King’s prose is stonier than a man’s heart.” — Michael Roffman, Consequence of Sound

The Stand premieres on Thursday, December 17 to CBS All Access.

On an Apple device? Follow Rotten Tomatoes on Apple News.

Tag Cloud

Pirates book Turner 2019 Comedy Central diversity sequels Animation dc rotten movies we love social media TCA 2017 First Look PBS scorecard documentary Rocky Lucasfilm TV renewals Polls and Games robots Paramount Network Netflix BET Awards Amazon Mindy Kaling cults Rom-Com WarnerMedia politics 21st Century Fox disaster GIFs rt archives DGA Mary poppins OneApp boxing FX Nominations composers child's play 72 Emmy Awards video on demand sequel 45 Shudder streaming finale 2018 richard e. Grant remakes 24 frames Extras DC Comics teaser VH1 war based on movie french south america spain Sony Pictures slashers PaleyFest black screenings Film Festival Marathons RT History golden globe awards casting news Watching Series cars RT21 TV Women's History Month comic versus Video Games Biopics batman American Society of Cinematographers Emmy Nominations Amazon Prime Disney Plus nature Comic Book festivals anime Reality Chernobyl zero dark thirty aliens Masterpiece LGBTQ theme song free movies The Purge Discovery Channel animated Valentine's Day NBC harry potter Family Black Mirror X-Men boxoffice Crackle dramedy Fox News Television Academy archives Tubi die hard Classic Film Captain marvel Certified Fresh Nat Geo dogs TBS YA Nickelodeon Paramount Sundance series A&E VOD Winter TV AMC MTV psychological thriller italian BBC children's TV Netflix Christmas movies ABC worst movies Syfy transformers Awards strong female leads Star Wars Anna Paquin Box Office BBC America reviews mutant NYCC Baby Yoda Character Guide Musical hollywood sitcom Amazon Studios VICE comic books TV One screen actors guild james bond 99% Britbox History best Binge Guide Ovation australia toy story Rocketman Oscars japanese Shondaland werewolf ghosts renewed TV shows discovery Teen CMT golden globes Super Bowl Winners Mystery USA Network zombie Holiday Musicals doctor who Ghostbusters ABC Family TLC Christmas vampires FOX ITV LGBT The Witch laika E3 superhero Spike Freeform TV Land cats 20th Century Fox First Reviews reboot The Academy Walt Disney Pictures ID romance cancelled television ViacomCBS rotten Alien spinoff documentaries Election zombies Universal talk show anthology Calendar Bravo 71st Emmy Awards directors revenge name the review supernatural Apple TV Plus game show nfl The Arrangement crime drama natural history biography Martial Arts blockbuster 2015 binge dragons comedies parents Pet Sematary adaptation cinemax Mary Tyler Moore adventure obituary thriller Black History Month IFC Films Brie Larson TCA SXSW crossover Superheroe Star Trek Awards Tour GoT Infographic Acorn TV Epix serial killer DirecTV Vudu Starz Creative Arts Emmys halloween tv what to watch Mary Poppins Returns WGN See It Skip It 2020 Mudbound Travel Channel historical drama CNN Tarantino critics Thanksgiving Paramount Plus Apple TIFF TNT Spectrum Originals Marvel Television movie Trivia CBS All Access period drama stop motion GLAAD A24 docudrama Dark Horse Comics christmas movies comics Marvel cancelled cancelled TV shows crime Reality Competition toronto trailers BBC One Hallmark Christmas movies YouTube Premium Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Grammys unscripted award winner elevated horror TCA Winter 2020 political drama CW Seed Adult Swim Holidays HBO Max MCU Song of Ice and Fire Warner Bros. psycho Photos Showtime President dceu Comics on TV USA canceled TV shows HBO TruTV Spring TV Academy Awards stoner Arrowverse Disney streaming service Fantasy Disney Channel Horror Countdown Tumblr crime thriller green book ABC Signature chucky films pirates of the caribbean spy thriller Year in Review Elton John criterion romantic comedy Amazon Prime Video ESPN cops independent space 2016 Stephen King Logo Sundance Now fast and furious New York Comic Con Writers Guild of America Avengers Emmys Disney+ Disney Plus Hear Us Out Disney Toys Hallmark OWN Funimation Fall TV Apple TV+ dark franchise cartoon Crunchyroll YouTube Podcast Sneak Peek San Diego Comic-Con hispanic Tomatazos travel science fiction Food Network DC streaming service National Geographic Endgame miniseries spanish classics MSNBC hist Trailer cancelled TV series mission: impossible PlayStation twilight mockumentary Sci-Fi comiccon DC Universe quibi witnail breaking bad foreign rom-coms APB scary movies Esquire The Walking Dead emmy awards ratings Schedule Cannes police drama Columbia Pictures 007 Rock stand-up comedy concert HBO Go blaxploitation Country Music Hulu football canceled true crime facebook medical drama nbcuniversal Premiere Dates The Walt Disney Company universal monsters latino Ellie Kemper Pop TV Trophy Talk tv talk movies YouTube Red justice league halloween E! kids The CW Lifetime Television Critics Association Interview all-time spider-man cooking Fox Searchlight Opinion Cosplay spanish language Drama FXX venice Red Carpet Western television SundanceTV CBS Heroines Comedy indiana jones Pride Month worst Film Quiz Pixar deadpool game of thrones Action Lifetime Christmas movies asian-american Pop Kids & Family women Best and Worst jurassic park TCA Awards sports BET indie 4/20 BAFTA sag awards jamie lee curtis satire Sundance TV Summer El Rey FX on Hulu a nightmare on elm street Lionsgate joker Peacock Marvel Studios Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt singing competition IFC technology SDCC Turner Classic Movies Set visit Superheroes Cartoon Network festival 2017 fresh video 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards TCM