The Stand Episode 1: The Plague

August 31, 2011 at 7:19 pm (TV) (, , , , , , , )

The end of the world is just the beginning.

I’ll try to keep spoilers to a minimum, but … no promises. : )

In June, I read The Stand (my review of the book is over here, and kept remembering the little bit of the miniseries that I watched back when it aired. I’m a wuss: I can’t do horror.  Can not.  That might be why I never watched the whole thing back in 1994.

At the moment (up till my next payment is about to go through and I change my membership) Netflix is still including free streaming with their subscription (*grumble*), and The Stand is available …

It’s faithful, as is only to be expected given that Stephen King wrote the teleplay.  There goes Campion and family; and there goes 9/10 of the population … I was right, it was all a great deal quicker on TV, as, again, is only to be expected.  There goes New York.  (*shudder*)  There goes the Vermont Center for Disease Control … There are the first cornfield dreams, creepy as only cornfields can be (though the color in Stu’s dream was just odd).  This first episode does a very nice job of creating likeable characters to kill off.  These deaths are (as, yes, is only to be expected) considerably neater than in the original – genteel small pools of liquid (some of which turned out to be spills, not vomit), very little blood, just a horrible mottling of the skin and some random sores.  We don’t see the rotting bodies of Campion’s family, nor the one that will haunt Larry (yet, at least – I just realized that might be to come); there is no corpse with his face in a soup bowl (though there was “Is that Hungarian goulash?”) … There have been no pants-wettings so far, though there was ample opportunity for at least one, for Dr. Dietz.

I’ve read scoffing comments about the conceit that a dead person looks like he’s sleeping; death isn’t sleep and doesn’t resemble it, they say.  It certainly doesn’t look like sleep in The Stand.  Each time someone dies, there is a remarkable transformation: a stiff relaxation of the body, not that that makes much sense, and a striking change in skin color … it’s horrifying.  It’s very well done.

The cast is a kind of mixed bag:

Gary Sinise is great; he’s so young.  I enjoy him, and he’s managing the East Texas shtick well enough.  I doubt I’m going to have any problems with Stu Redman.  It does help that I had him in mind while reading the book.

Molly Ringwald … dark hair doesn’t suit her.  I’m not overwhelmed with her performance, positively or negatively – my attention, to be honest, was on her belly in her first scenes and on her hair throughout.  We’ll see.  There’s much more to come.

Miguel Ferrer seems too strong an actor, too strong a personality to play Lloyd Henreid; I’m not sure I believe him as the character I remember.  Richard Lineback, the actor who played Poke (briefly), would have been ideal, I think.  Again, we’ll see.

Rob Lowe is Nick Andros.  My main thought is that I hope to all the saints that he changes clothes soon; he spends most of the first hour and a half dressed in a plaid shirt and khakis that look too big for him, cinched in at the waist and just … ultra nerdy.  And to reverse the Molly Ringwald quibble, he looks better with darker hair.  It’s early to tell on the performance, as with most of them; he’s pulled out a couple of great expressive expressions.  I’ll reserve judgment.

Apparently he was first considered for Larry, and I think I kept picturing him there (to the extent that even though I said “Hi, Larry” when the car with the DIGYOMAN license plate showed up, I kept thinking who’s that? when Adam Storke was onscreen.) (With Rob Lowe, Adam Storke, and Gary Sinise (at least), someone should suggest that gorgeous bright blue eyes might be related to survival of Captain Trips…) (They didn’t help the uncredited Ed Harris, though.) (That was a rather big role to have uncredited…) Adam Storke has an excellent Elvis lip curl, and may well be perfect for the part; even without more detail on his troubles in California, it’s clear that he could go either way, to Mother Abagail or to Flagg.  But he is a boy who loves his momma. (Loved.)

Ruby Dee as Mother Abagail … shouldn’t she have been aged upward a bit more?  “I’m a hundred and six years old, and I still make my own bread” – Mother, you don’t look a day over 80.  There’s nothing not to like, but…

Corin Nemec as Harold is … not fat, for one thing.  He’s a dweeb with thick glasses, lank hair, terrible acne, and a jogging suit.  It’s probably because of the book’s influence that I can imagine he smells – but then again he’s the kind of kid you tried not to sit near in school because he did smell.  He’s pompous, he’s verbose (hey, I don’t talk like this (usually), so I can say that), and Frannie can’t stand him.  Okay then.

It was a nice treat to see Kathy Bates as Ray (Rae?) Flowers, also uncredited as the radio host who defies the army.  (I wonder if Ray was one of the immune? She didn’t show any sign of being ill, though that might have just been due to location and successful avoidance of others.)

And as for Randall Flagg … Hm.  I very much hope that he isn’t one of those Bruce-the-shark-like things which are much more effective when left to the imagination.  The book’s Flagg was terrifying, though never as scary to me as the man-made plague.  Psychotic, more than human (and less), unpredictable, as a book character he could do anything and be anywhere and be frightening.  In the miniseries, he has been … a skinny guy (played by Jamey Sheriden, mostly in silhouette so far) in tight jeans with too-long hair (a mullet?! Oh, I do hope not) and eyes that sometimes glow red.  That part was pretty well done.  The moment when Lloyd sees him sitting up on top of the telephone pole in place of the crow was very well done.  The “AAAH” moment with Stu in the cornfield …. Meh.  I’m not optimistic.

Cast that is yet to appear: Matt Frewer as Trashcan Man.  All right then.  That should be good.  Should.  However, Ray Walston as Glen Bateman doesn’t sit well with me at all.  I pictured him as someone like Kelsey Grammer – longish curly hair, tall and solid, bluff.  Ray Walston is none of the above.  Ray Walston is a pillar of American television and film, so don’t get me wrong – he’ll be wonderful, and will assuredly capture Glen’s intelligence.  It’s just going to be a challenge to fit him into the role in my head.  He’s one of my favorite characters, so I’m a little worried.  The other one I really, really am looking forward to is Bill Fagerbakke as M-O-O-N spells Tom Cullen.  Yay.  I hope.  I don’t have good memories of Laura San Giacomo as Nadine Cross (whose character is blended with … oh dear.  *search* Rita Blakemoor), but I like her as a rule, and also didn’t think I saw that far into the miniseries – so, here’s hoping.

It was a very good start, this.  It’s a masterful job of compression of time and plot and characters, a wonderful abridged version of the book – I wish Stephen King would consider screenplays of books other than his own, he does such an excellent job.  (‘Course, he knows his own book better than anyone, but still.)  This first episode laid out many of the threads that will be braided together.  I look forward to seeing the interactions as threads twist around each other, and as new threads are woven in.  My instinct is that it will not compare to the book – but I still need to see it.


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Berkeley Square (no nightingales)

September 4, 2010 at 11:38 pm (TV) (, , , , )

I haven’t written about “The Pandorica Opens” and “The Big Bang”, have I? 

Huh.  I should.  I really should. 

But not just now.

After a few months in which Netflix had its way with me (I had the same discs in the house, mostly unwatched, until I finally managed to lose them … and finally threw up my hands and reported their loss to the site and moved on so I can finally start using my subscription again)(Oh!  Found ’em), I’ve started actually watching the videos I receive.  I have a Twelfth Night with an Anglo-Indian cast (for the Gold-of-Fish Shakespeare series I’m getting underway – and because it sounds fascinating), and Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet (ditto) – and Berkeley Square, which we watched before, apparently, but several years ago, because it’s been almost – almost – fresh.  It was only when I accidentally read ahead and was spoiled for two huge plot points that I knew for certain I’d seen it before (which speaks to either my pitiful memory or the length of time it’s been since). 

The mini-series tells the intersecting stories of three young women who all become nannies in Berkeley Square.  There is Matty Wickham (Clare Wilki), who comes out of the East End to take a post looking after the three St. John (all together now: “Sinjin”) children; there is Lydia Weston (Tabitha Wady), who comes from her family’s farm to work as nursery maid under the formidable Nanny Collins for the Lamson-Scribeners, who are her father’s landlords; and there is Hannah Randall (Victoria Smurfit – aka Rowena Ciarán Hinds’s Ivanhoe and Orla in Ballykissangel), an Irish girl who comes, not quite directly, from a post as a lady’s maid – though there’s a lot more to her story. 

Matty is a rigid, black-and-white thinking girl, who intends not to set a toe over the line (yet is frequently reproved for the appearance of having done so by an even harsher critic in her mistress – who isn’t one to talk). 

Lydia is a sweet, not-as-naive-as-you-think, sharp country girl who comes to the household of the noble Lamson-Scribeners somewhat against the will of Lord George L-S, and certainly against Nanny Collins’s wishes – but the latter is growing old, and the American second wife to His Lordship, Lady Constance, mother of baby Ivo, puts her foot down.  Nanny C sees Lydia as a savage, but gradually comes to appreciate the help (until it seems to have been her idea all along to bring her in).  The baby is the start of a second family for Lord George; his first wife had a son who is now in his twenties, Hugh, who starts off charming enough – enough that Lydia develops a deep crush.  Which doesn’t go well – as the other girls warned her.

Hannah is an Irish girl who was a lady’s maid – until she fell in love with the lady’s son, who fell in love with her, and in due course produced wee Billy.   Wee Billy’s appearance led to Hannah’s dismissal, but that wasn’t so bad as long as the father, William, could look after them … and then, very abruptly, he couldn’t, and Hannah was left on her own.  Instead of heading back to Ireland, where there were no prospects for her, she makes for London, and – with forged references and a raft of glib lies and the heaven-sent assistance of a Polish lady to look after Billy – lands a job as nursery maid. 

And so, one by one, they enter Berkely Square and join the adventures already in progress.  Mrs. McClusky, the housekeeper at the St. Johns’, is sister to the cook – and mother to a handsome young fellow named Ned (Jason O’Mara – of the ironically American Life on Mars), who lands himself in deep trouble with the law.  Mrs. M … er, wangles him a job in the household, never letting on they’re related, and sparks between him and Matty are rather inevitable – as are tears when Matty discovers more about him.  The upstairs lot aren’t dull, either; Arnold and Victoria St. John aren’t exactly a model couple.  While he loves his pretty, younger blonde wife, she has no time for him – she is much more interested in the charms a certain Captain Mason holds.  (And she looks like a chihuahua.)  And neither of them is immensely interested in the children, Tom (8) and Harriet (4?) and their baby brother, and so despite Nanny Wickham’s best efforts – and she is good – the two capable of showing personality are, while relatively decent, somewhat untamed.  Which has devastating consequences. 

Meanwhile, over at the Lamson-Scribeners, the family life is somewhat nicer … but Nanny, though getting on in years, is adamant that she does not need help, and is not thrilled when the American missus provides her with Lydia.  Not thrilled at all.  But Lydia’s not stupid, and can deal with that … what she has more trouble dealing with is the young Lord Hugh, who is trouble in spiffy trousers.  There isn’t much positive about Hugh, even when he’s trying to be positive – or claims to be. 

And over at the Hutchinsons’ … That family makes the other two look like British Norman Rockwells.  The father is pseudo-jolly with poor sma’ Bertie, who is pale and weedy and sounds like he’s permanently stuffed up and looks like he should be in bed.  But Papa insists that Bertie will be a soldier.  Probably the baby, Charlie, as well, but it’s early days yet for him.  When Mr. Hutchinson is posted off to India, and his wife sails with him without a second thought for the children, Bertie can probably hardly tell the difference from when they were home, except that the burden of daily terror of being made to stand and deliver (sharp responses to barked questions on military history) to his father.  More difficult than the parents, who at least go away, is the redoubtable Nanny Simmons (Ruth Sheen, also seen as Nurse Ethel Carr in Bramwell), who believes that nannying would be a wonderful job, if only it weren’t for the blasted children.  She locks the toy chest – and Hannah’s door when she’s foolish enough to want to tend to the baby when he cries at night – and uses her own methods to try to keep him from crying (probably one reason Bertie’s so weedy). 

The mini-series was soapy, well-acted, well-written, and managed to put over even the most absurd ideas.  And the photography was surprisingly beautiful – there was some lovely work especially in the last episode, and most especially the final shots.  Great archetypal (but not stereotypical) characters, great depiction of 1902 London.  Loved it.

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