Super-flu, coughing fits, vaccines, lockdowns, body bags, mass graves . . . are we sure we want to watch this right now? Still, since this fictional virus kills 99 per cent of those infected — 7bn and counting — The Stand could be said to offer the sort of grim escapism that shows you something even worse than your current reality. We may have lost Christmas, but at least society hasn’t totally broken down. Yet.
Separate narrative strands converge on the “Boulder Free Zone”, where the few lucky survivors of the plague are drawn to a mysterious guru-like figure, Mother Abagail (Whoopi Goldberg). In Maine, nerdy Harold Lauder (Owen Teague), is inauspiciously first seen peeping through a fence at his adored former babysitter, Frannie (Odessa Young). When he accidentally-on-purpose comes across Frannie digging graves for the rest of her family in the front garden, he proposes that they make a run for it. The gleam in his eye and the gun in his belt bode ill for Frannie, but what other choice does she have?
Other refugees include Larry Underwood, a musician who was just about to break into the big time (Jovan Adepo), and Rita, the beautiful, distant blonde he meets in Central Park (Heather Graham). Stu Redman (James Marsden) has been picked up by the military for testing and confined in an underground bunker in Texas. “You gamed the apocalypse!” he yells in the control room. In reply, a four-star general sonorously intones Yeats: “Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world . . . ”
Countering Mother Abagail is a much more sinister figure. “It’s a good time for people like us,” says the devilishly good-looking, or actual Devil, Flagg (Alexander Skarsgard). He scoops up gigglesome armed robber and accidental killer Lloyd Henreid (Nat Wolff), and also has a deadly proposal for Nadine Cross (Amber Heard), whose arrival at Boulder is bound to cause strife one way or another.
Updates to Stephen King’s 1978 novel mean that everyone has a mobile phone, and the yob who caught Harold peeping taunts him: “You’re gonna die a virgin — especially after I post these on Instagram.” Harold informs Frannie that the internet was full of conspiracy theories regarding the virus until it shut down. He still bashes out his creative writing on a manual typewriter, but that’s presumably because electricity is intermittent. Greg Kinnear plays a laid-back professor quietly relishing the enforced halt: “Up and running is what got us here. Time we tried down and standing still.”
As befits King the horror maestro, there’s lots of nasty business with corpses, rats and wounds, and the virus does grisly things to people’s necks as they die in a spew of green froth. More insidious however is the atmosphere of dread and unease running through each episode. All in all, it’s a relief to return to the present.
On Starzplay from January 3