The Stand (3 stars)

The Stand

New version of 1970s novel that imagined a world gone to hell in a pandemic handcart

The people behind this new TV adaptation of Stephen King's The Stand clearly had a tough decision to make. With filming in the can, would early 2021 be the worst possible time to air a drama about a global pandemic? Or was the alternative of waiting until all this is over just as bad an idea, given that a fictional apocalyptic virus might not be the kind of thing anyone will want on their screens when our post-Covid 'new normal' finally arrives?

Whatever their thought process, the plunge has been taken now with three episodes of nine available so far as Starzplay drip-feeds new instalments every Sunday. Essentially a story of good versus evil with Whoopi Goldberg exercising her soft side (contrary to her current role as a US power-agent terrifying the life out of Tennant and Sheen in Staged) as Mother Abagail while Alexander Skarsgård is the epitome of mean as Randall Flagg. Both Abagail and Flagg appear in the dreams of a chosen few survivors of a mystery disease that has pretty much wiped out the global populace, attempting to woo them to their cause.

The special effects crew go into overdrive to make the illness look as awful as possible with particular emphasis on horrendously bloated necks, but fortunately only the best-looking people seem to have been picked for survival. Among them is Tom Cruise-obsessed oddball Harold (Owen Teague), all-American go-getter Stu (played by James Marsden who, curiously, is a doppelganger and virtual soundalike of the aforementioned celebrity Scientologist), a teacher being seduced by the dark side (Amber Heard's Nadine) and Larry (Jovan Adepo), a famous singer-songwriter in the Beforetimes and a natural leader despite his struggles with addiction.

With shades of Lost and The Walking Dead within a universe that King crafted to update Lord Of The Rings, the story jumps around between the various periods of before, during and possibly a little after the apocalypse while dipping into a fantasy realm where Flagg and Abagail make their initial power plays before arriving in the real world. With viewers having to battle the differing timezones, an uber-plethora of characters, and the nagging feeling that this might all wind up being more of a near-future documentary, watching The Stand is mostly a burden with occasional flashes of fun, such as a very cute Alfred Hitchcock-style cameo by Stephen King in a blink-twice-and-you'll-miss-it moment.

Starzplay, new episodes available every Sunday.