When I first read Stephen King’s The Stand it read to me like science fiction. Not hard sci-fi, but still …the world presented wasn’t anything that felt familiar, or immediate. This week the CBS All Access limited series adaptation of the show released its first episode in a world where it almost feels like watching a documentary.
Or, at least, a possible future, which is even scarier.
We had a chance to talk to Benjamin Cavell, showrunner, co-creator and executive producer of the limited even series The Stand, adapted from Stephen King’s seminal novel of the same name. The Stand follows an apocalyptic vision of a world decimated by plague and embroiled in an elemental struggle between good and evil, a story which remains as eerily relevant today as it was when it first came out.
The adaptation features an all-star cast, including Whoopi Goldberg, Alexander Skarsgård, James Marsden, Odessa Young, Jovan Adepo and Amber Heard.
Considering the world we live in, and, especially, how that world has changed in the past few months, we had to start the interview with the question of how much they changed to accommodate what 2020 has made of the world. And though Cavell told us they “really didn’t change the show in response to real events,” he admitted that “maybe it kind of changed the stakes of getting that stuff right, especially about when the pandemic really starts to spread.”
How could it not? We don’t live in the same world we lived in a couple of years ago, when this was getting off the ground. We don’t even live in the same world we lived in at the beginning of the year. And that affects not just how we view things, but also what – and how we consume entertainment.
This is perhaps the number one reason to point out that The Stand, in book or TV form – isn’t truly about a pandemic, as Cavell was quick to point out: “As King has said, The Stand is his attempt to do Lord of the Rings in modern America, and in order for the heroes to be able to walk to Mordor the world has to be cleared out, and the mechanism to do that is a pandemic.”
And “we really set out to make the book and the book for us has never been a book about the pandemic, I mean obviously it’s got a pandemic in it, but the book is more about what comes after.”
Which explains the decision to start the series in a very different place from the book, something that Cavell explained as: “Our story is about the aftermath of the pandemic, we certainly go back, but it’s a real forward looking story, a story about the soul of what’s left, and a story about what you would do if you were getting a chance to rebuild the world, how would you rebuild it?”
“That’s the gist of our nonlinear storytelling.”
As I mentioned before, I read the book a while ago, and I had some expectations for how it would start, and a very particular scene in mind – you probably know which one if you’ve read it too – but personally, I had no issue with the way they chose to present the story.
I didn’t really feel like watching two or three episodes of a pandemic deteriorating to start this story. That would just have hit a little too close to home.
The decision to approach the show this way was, of course, not made in 2020, but a couple of years ago, and ironically, back then, Cavell shares that he felt “like such a perfect time (in 2018) for a show exploring the questions of what constitutes a society what does a society owe to the individuals, what do the individuals owe to the society, what do the individuals owe to each other.”
He continued setting the stage for how this all came to be in 2018 by sharing: “All these things that I had grown up, or most people I knew had grown up taking for granted, about the structure of human society, about the structure of American democracy, were starting to come into question.” Basically “the questions the show is concerned with, and things that people were starting to consider in 2018 in a way that in my lifetime they really hadn’t.”
So yes, there’s a pandemic. I won’t lie to you about that. But “the pandemic is really just background to the story we’re telling,” and there was really an attempt by the team behind this story to not do something like Contagion again, especially as they all seemed very aware that topping that was a tall order, to begin with.
This is, instead, about the after. About how we rebuild. And isn’t that the kind of inspiration we need right about now?
If you need anything more to recommend The Stand to you, consider this: Stephen King himself wrote a coda to his own story, and the way that came to be was shared with us by Cavell, who told us King had talked about the possibility but wasn’t sure if he would actually do it, and then “when he (King) read our first couple of drafts and saw the direction we were going, and our take on the material, he decided that he would write the coda.”
“This was obviously a vote of confidence from him, to us. It made us feel like this guy we’re so desperate to honor really trusts us to tell this further part of the story, one of his masterpieces, and it was hugely inspiring.”
What else do you need? Stephen King is in. Benjamin Cavell, the man behind this adaptation, closed our interview by proclaiming he was “very proud of the way it turned out.” Now it’s time for audiences to weigh in, and all things considered, we feel like they’re in very good hands.
The Stand premiered on CBS All Access December 17th. A new episode will be made available every Thursday.