Silly bits aside, Under The Dome is intriguing enough for this viewer to give it a shot for one season.
UNDER The Dome ... the title almost makes you want to burst out into an Alan Menken-Howard Ashman song, if you were a talking crab singing to a Disney mermaid, that is.
What’s with the cartoon reference? Well, the animation connection is strong with this sci-fi series from the book by Stephen King – after all, it bears more than a passing resemblance to The Simpsons Movie.
Like Springfield was in that side-splittingly funny cartoon feature, so too is Chester’s Mill, Maine, sealed off from the outside world by an impenetrable, invisible dome in this TV series.
On paper, UTD seems like a fantasy/SF buff’s dream come true: its source novel is by frightmeister Stephen King, and it is adapted for television by veteran comics writer Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man, Saga, Ex Machina) – who also served as a writer and story editor on Lost.
In addition, it’s got that whole post-apocalyptic vibe to it, although the world hasn’t exactly ended; it’s just been sealed off.
It happens one sunny morning when the dome descends/appears without warning. Many townspeople are trapped inside; others are away and unable to return to their loved ones; a cow gets bisected by the dome (a gory but eyebrow-raising visual effect); while vehicles crash into it both on the road and in the air.
The gripping pilot episode also set up some intriguing plot threads.
It appears that the town has a dark secret known only to a select few – Jeff Fahey’s police chief “Duke” Perkins, Dean Norris’ town politician “Big Jim” Rennie and Ned Bellamy’s Reverend Lester Coggins. Curiously, it involves large amounts of propane gas.
At the start of the pilot, we see mystery man and army veteran Dale “Barbie” Barbara (Mike Vogel, Cloverfield) burying a body in the woods around the town. After the dome comes down and he’s stuck inside, he befriends local reporter Julia Shumway (Rachelle Lefevre) who is investigating the large shipments of propane into the town. She offers him a place to stay. She’s also worried about her husband, who is missing.
Back at Julia’s house, Barbie sees a photograph of her with her husband, and realises that he’s the same man he killed and buried!
The early episodes quickly introduce most of the principal characters: from sheriff’s deputy Linda Esquivel (Natalie Martinez) who yearns for the approval of her mentor and father figure Duke, to Joe and Elinore (Colin Ford and Mackenzie Lintz), a couple of kids who have an unusual, unexplained connection with the dome; and to Rennie’s psychotic son James “Junior” (Alexander Koch) – yes, they seem to be big on nicknames in Chester’s Mill – who kidnaps and imprisons his ex-girlfriend because he thinks she’s having an affair. And apparently also to save her from impending cataclysm. See, and you thought this warped notion of protective custody only happens in real life.
Junior’s story arc is perhaps the most irritating of the lot. UTD suffers from some terribly uneven acting and writing, and unfortunately, an important character like Junior comes across as a one-dimensional caricature – he rapidly becomes the most annoying teenager this side of Terra Nova. I’m almost wishing they’d suddenly have carnosaurs appear inside the dome, just so one can eat Junior.
His story arc also leads to some unintended guffaws when his victim, Angie (Britt Robertson) actually starts to sympathise with him in a most unbelievable way ... call it Stock-dome Syndrome, if you will.
Three episodes in, and the mystery is only deepening with no sign of any answers on the horizon. The dome has a highly destructive effect on any electronics or electrical device that comes in contact with it, as one unfortunate soul with a pacemaker finds out in the pilot. As a near-future episode will reveal, it is also impervious to even the most frightful of manmade destructive forces.
And then there’s the whole issue of the isolated town’s diminishing resources and the rapidly fraying nerves of those trapped within, in addition to that big secret that Big Jim is guarding.
While I found some characters (Junior, the overprotective lesbian mums, the psycho deputy, the belligerent locals, the clueless Julia) highly irritating, others like deputy Linda, Joe and Elinore, and even the murderous Big Jim make me want to keep watching to see how their respective stories play out.
And the whole enigma of the dome is intriguing enough to keep me around until at least early next season.
Yes, next season. Remarkable, isn’t it, for something based on a standalone novel to already be heading for a second season? Hold on to your canned provisions: one producer has indicated that five seasons of 13 episodes each is an ideal length for UTD to run. That’s actually more spine-chilling than anything the show has served up so far.
Apparently, the producers have “completely re-imagined” (in King’s words) the source of the dome; furthermore, their series outline calls for the dome to stay in place for months, series time, instead of one week like in the book.
So is it aliens? Mad scientists? Or worse, clandestine government agency-sponsored scientists? Is it some kind of social engineering experiment, a sadistic superior intelligence at work, or a mass hallucination? If it’s really going to last as long as it’s been hinted, the answer had better be knock-your-socks-off good,
So ration out those crackers and crisps, people – if you’re planning to stay Under The Dome, it’s going to be a pretty long visit.
> Under The Dome airs every Wednesday at 9.55pm on RTL CBS Entertainment (HyppTV Ch 616). E-mail feedback to email@example.com.