‘The Stand’ finally lands, fun with Fran and civilized dramas

Here are some of the more interesting shows and movies coming up.

Whoopi Goldberg in 'The Stand' (photo credit: Courtesy)
Whoopi Goldberg in 'The Stand'
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Let’s be honest: At this point, we’ll watch just about anything. But now that there is light at the end of the tunnel, maybe it’s time to get a bit pickier. So here are some of the more interesting shows and movies coming up.
There’s been a lot of curiosity about The Stand, the second adaptation of Stephen King’s massively long novel about a plague that wipes out around 99% of humanity. It was set to premiere about the same time as our current plague hit, however, it was postponed until December in the US and January 21 here, when it will become available on Yes Action at 10:45 p.m., on Thursday nights after that, and also on Yes VOD.
While it may sound as if this would be particularly frightening to watch right now, the truth is that this much-awaited series is a bit of an anti-climax. First, although the current pandemic is statistically far less deadly than the plague in the series – a super-flu engineered by the US military, naturally – COVID-19 is real and much scarier than anything the series can conjure up. Yes, there are some disgusting shots of decomposing bodies that the characters spend a lot of time stepping over in the early episodes. And the scenes of New York City laid to waste by the plague are pretty creepy, especially a hospital visit, but they go by fast.
Second, part of the mystery behind the plague in the book is why a seemingly disparate 1% of the population survives it, but the series makes clear what the survivors have in common: They’re all extremely good-looking fashion-model types, with a bland screen presence. There’s something inherently nonthreatening about a plague that spares only those who look as if they should be doing perfume commercials. Even the quirkier characters, such as the malevolent nerd Harold (Owen Teague), an aspiring writer who seems to be based in part on the young King (note to the screenwriters: Nobody gets rejection letters from magazines in the mail these days, as Harold does in the opening episode, it’s all online), is not nearly as distinctive as he should be.
Whoopi Goldberg, who plays Mother Abigail, the archetypal force for good who draws some of the survivors to her, seems as if she is waiting to deliver a punchline that never comes. But the standouts are James Marsden, who is a decent action hero as regular-guy Stu from Texas, and Alexander Skarsgard, who brings back the menace he sometimes displayed as Vampire Eric in True Blood in his role here as Randall Flagg, aka The Dark Man.
The good news is that it won’t terrify you. The bad news is, The Stand won’t entertain you much either.
IT MAY SOUND counterintuitive, but the series I’ve most enjoyed recently is largely about two old friends sitting around talking. It’s the Netflix series Pretend It’s a City. Directed by Martin Scorsese, it features him interviewing writer Fran Lebowitz and essentially letting her rant. Lebowitz is a legendary New York wit and eccentric who is irritable, honest, a bit of a kvetch, and unquestionably one of the funniest people in the world. She is the author of two books of essays in which she had a voice that can be described as reminiscent of a gay, downtown Nora Ephron; a children’s book; and a handful of articles. However, at this point she is best known for her public appearances, including in Scorsese’s 2010 documentary Public Speaking.
Each of the seven half-hour episodes of Pretend It’s a City has a theme, such as culture, and how it’s changed since Lebowitz first came to the city in the ‘70s; sports, and why they don’t mean anything to her; and books, and why they do. But no matter the theme, it’s all about letting Fran be Fran. Most of the series consists of Lebowitz just sitting at a table with Scorsese, although there are clips of her being interviewed by Alec Baldwin, Spike Lee and Olivia Wilde, and a few videos including some of her favorite musician, Charles Mingus, whom she knew. Very secular and very Jewish at the same time, Lebowitz discusses her upbringing in a middle-class Jewish family and her rebellion against it as a young woman. If you have a friend like her with whom you can rant about everything, you may feel a bit left out by Pretend It’s a City, or you might want to binge the entire series.
If you’re looking for a civilized drama, you might want to check out the Downton Abbey movie, which will be coming to Hot Cinema 4 at 6:10 p.m. on January 27, or the new version of Emma, starring Anya Taylor-Joy of The Queen’s Gambit, which will be on Hot Cinema 4 on January 31 at 10 p.m. Both will also be available on Hot CinemaTime. Emma is already available on Yes VOD.
Lupin, the Netflix series about a gentlemanly jewel thief in Paris, stars Omar Sy of The Intouchables. The series seems as if it should be great fun, but it’s actually a bit lackluster. It plays like one of the lesser movies in the Ocean’s Eleven franchise, but Sy is a star who is always fun to watch.
Tiger, the new two-part HBO documentary about Tiger Woods, is available on Cellcom TV and Yes VOD and Hot VOD. The second part, about his infidelity scandal, will be shown on Yes Docu on January 18 at 10 p.m., and on Hot 8 on January 21 at 10 p.m.
While it does not really break any new ground in telling the complex life story of Woods – the phenomenal mixed-race golf champion who became an iconic figure – it’s still engrossing. And for fans deprived of live sports, it features some footage that shows just how great Woods was at the game.