Review: Under the Dome

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Andrew Weber blogs about TV at  The Drug of the Nation. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Under the Dome is an extremely literal title.  The main characters, primarily the residents of the small (presumably New England, since it’s written by Stephen King, but not specified that I can recall) town Chester’s Mill, along with some people who were passing through, are completely trapped from the outside world under a giant mysterious dome.  So far, we know nothing can go through the dome, including sound, and citizens haven’t yet found a way to contact anyone outside the dome.  The only method of communication is through sight on either side of the dome.

So that’s our big premise, taken from a recent Stephen King novel of the same name.  That’s by far the most important part of the first episode.  The second task of the pilot is to get a passing look at who we can guess will be our major characters.  Here they are in short.  First, you’ve got chief of police veteran Duke (Jeff Fahey, pilot Lapidus on Lost), and his younger chief deputy Linda, engaged to a firefighter outside of the dome.  Due to poor timing, many of the town’s police were out of town participating in a parade.  There’s “Big Jim” Rennie, car salesman and town council member (played by Dean Norris, Hank from Breaking Bad).  Big Jim and Duke have a tet a tet most of the way through the episode and appear to be keeping some sort of secret from most of the town involving bringing in lots of propane.

There’s a pair of erstwhile summer lovers, teenagers Junior and Angie.  What was a fun little fling goes bad when Angie doesn’t reciprocate Junior’s love, and Junior turns out to be some sort of psycho and kidnaps Angie and locks her away in a fallout shelter.  Joe, a high schooler, is Angie’s younger brother.  They’re both parentless for the duration of the dome.

There’s a Barbie, an ex-military out of towner who was looking shady at the beginning and could be either good or bad.  He appears to have been on some sort of mission that involved needing a gun and looks a little like Jeremy Renner.  He’s staying with local journalist Julia for the time being whose husband is missing and/or dead and/or having an affair.

Phil is a local radio DJ, and Dodee is his engineer at the station.  Alice and Carolyn are parents just passing through en route to drop off their troubled, rebellious daughter Mackenzie at camp, before they get trapped (if only they hadn’t stopped at that one gas station).

Those are from what I could suss out the major characters, though there may be more introduced later, and some of the characters I described may turn out to be more minor than I could have figured from the premiere.

There are two major fronts then to work with in Under the Dome.  There’s the question behind what the dome actually it is, how the characters find that out, if they can communicate outside the dome, get anything in, etc.

Then, what will probably occupy more time, is how everybody deals with the situation that arises when the characters realize they’re cut off from the rest of the world.  Separating all the characters from the rest of society under the dome should give us a set up for the classic science fiction situation of an external futuristic (or supernatural) power forcing humans into difficult and unusual situations.  They’ll have to decide whether to work together or compete and act outside of the ways they do every day, revealing their true natures. Do people look out for each other and help to store food for the good of the whole town?  Do they form gangs and compete and engage in violence?   It’s a classic Lord of the Flies scenario, and the dome is their island.

As I’ve said time and again, I’m a sucker for high concept serial science fiction shows.  I know by now better than to get too excited from a mere one or two episodes of a series.  Big sci-fi series like these so often disappoint, and they’re a thousand times easier to begin than to end (or to, well, middle, for that matter).  It’s not particularly difficult to think of a wacky situation and create a cast of characters; it’s much harder to flesh out those characters with realistic and believable motivations and create a plot that obeys the rules set out by the show, and is compelling, well-paced, and not anti-climactic.

This has the building blocks.  The reason it’s intriguing is solely the future possibilities but it’s hard to ask for too much more out of a first episode.  There’s nothing about the writing or the characters or the film work that stands out, but I’m affirmatively intrigued due largely to the plot, and with pilots, if the plot is compelling enough that can be enough, especially for sci-fi or fantasy.

Will I watch the next episode?  Yes.  It’s on CBS.  I can’t remember the last show I’ve watched a second episode of on CBS.  I’ve repeatedly faced let downs with these types of shows; I watched multiple episodes of Revolution which I regretted quickly, as well as Terra Nova.  I’m probably never going to learn completely.  All I can do is know my own biases and prepare myself for the likely disappointment.  In its favor, this at least this has some source material by a credible writer to work with, and is created by Brian K. Vaughan, a comic writer whose work I’ve enjoyed.

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