By James Hibberd
December 17, 2020 at 07:52 PM EST
Credit: Robert Falconer/CBS

Fans of Stephen King's novel The Stand noticed a major difference in how the iconic tale is being told in Thursday's premiere of the new CBS All Access adaptation: The sprawling narrative is being told out of order rather than in the usual linear fashion. In a storytelling style that evokes ABC's Lost, The Stand focuses its first few episodes on various characters who ended up in the Boulder Free Zone and then flashes back to show how they got there.

Even before the premiere, some TV critics chided the decision as "draining the story's inexorable gravity and tension," or saying it "robs this version of all narrative momentum," or that it's "making this Stand more confusing."

We asked showrunner Benjamin Cavell about the dramatic departure from the book, particularly whether it risks making scenes less suspenseful if the viewer already knows which characters make it to Boulder.

"I feel like an audience is savvy enough at this point [to follow along]," Cavell says. "I doubt people would have thought that James Marsden was going to die due to Captain Tripps and not be with us for the whole series. It's a completely valid question, I just don't know if that's the juice of the early part of the series. It's not so much about whether the characters are going to die, but rather: What is the horror that's going to befall them? And how are they going figure out how to push back against that evil?"

Cavell added that he also didn't want to spend the first few episodes focused on the pandemic, though said this was always part of the original plan — not something that was changed in the show due to COVID-19.

"Captain Tripps is not The Stand," Cavell said. "Having time run completely linearly as it does the book would mean making people sit through three episodes of the world dying before we got to the meat of our story. For us, it's about the rebuilding and the struggle between Randall Flagg and Mother Abigail and the question that all the characters have to ask themselves, which is: If you got the chance to push the reset button on human civilization, how would you build it? I think we were all starting to – reluctantly – be willing to consider the possibility that maybe those things aren't as stable as we had come to believe, that maybe we need to start thinking about ideas like: Is [society] structured correctly? Is it built in the best way, or are there other systems? It's about these fundamental questions: What does the individual owe to society and what does the society owe the individual and what do human beings owe one another?"

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The Stand (2020 series)

  • TV Show
  • CBS All Access