UNDER THE DOME Series Premiere Recap: “Pilot”

     June 24, 2013

Broadcast TV during the summer can be slim pickings, but CBS’s adaptation of the Stephen King novel Under The Dome looks to break the cycle.  The series is set in Chester’s Hill, Maine (though it’s really Anytown, USA), whose inhabitants have been cut off from the rest of the world thanks to a sudden, giant, inexplicable dome.  Families, lovers, even body parts are split apart once it descends.  How those left on the inside will cope with their now severely limited lives will play out over 13 weeks, and if the pilot is anything to go by, we viewers will be glued to our seats for every one.

The 13-episode miniseries format is also a relief, because with as much as is laid down in the pilot, wrapping that up in a single season should lead to a satisfying finale (one hopes).  The production has also brought in some great talent, from Lost‘s Brian K. Vaughn, who developed the series and gets teleplay credit, to Danish director Niels Arden Oplev, who brings a great deal of style to the work, complete with some nifty effects.  Hit the jump for more.

under-the-dome-castA quick Reader Note: Under the Dome has provided me with the rare opportunity to not read the book before its adaptation.  I also have not been spoiled about how it plays out or ends.  Though I won’t be commenting, obviously, on book-to-screen stuff, please feel free to discuss it in the comments up to what the show has covered (otherwise, clearly mark it with spoiler asterisks, etc, please!)

What I can say about this adaptation in general is that it has done a great job so far of building its central story and explaining the many, many complex relationships in the town without being too obvious or rote in its explication.  The showing-and-not-telling elements were brought on with really great effects (things smashing up against the dome wall will never get tiresome), but even the relationship moments played out in a way that didn’t feel as cliche as most pilots unfortunately are.

Sure, journalist Julia (Rachelle Lefevre) and rogue “Barbie” (Mike Vogel) are certainly likely to get romantically involved, but the fact that he unknowingly killed her husband was a great twist.  Things not related to the dome, too, like Junior’s (Alexander Koch) psycho behavior and Duke (Jeff Fahey) and “Big Jim” (Dean Norris) talking cryptically about stockpiling propane are all interesting even outside of the fact that they’re all trapped in there together.

Mythology-wise, the show does a great job of being accessible in its sci-fi elements.  Chester’s Mill is a pretty regular town in contemporary times, there’s no (so far as we know) time travel or aliens (yet), which at least allows us to orient ourselves with the main characters.  Bringing all of the characters together and experiencing the event from so many different perspectives makes the series already ripe for very dramatic storytelling each week, with plenty of places for it to go.

under-the-dome-mike-vogelEpisode Rating: A-

Musings and Miscellanea:

— I usually don’t start with such a high rating, but this was a damn fine pilot.  Points deducted for a few really cliche elements like everything about Duke, as well as some questionable acting from some of the lesser knowns.

— Dome Mythology Moment: so far we know it’s a dome, it shocks you the first time you touch it but no after that, it must have its own power source, it causes some kids to seizure out and repeat things about stars and falling lines, and it is impenetrable to even sound or radio waves (maybe).

— Speaking of acting, let me save you a trip to IMDB, because this show is packed with people you probably recognize.  Mike Vogel (as “Barbie”) was most recently on Bates Motel.  Rachelle Lefevre (Journalist Julia) may best be known as the hot redhead who loses out on a lot of roles to Bryce Dallas Howard.  Breaking Bad fans will of course know Dean Norris (car salesman and power hungry Big Jim) as Walt’s family nemesis Hank Schrader.  While Hank is absolutely an up-and-up guy, end of the day, it looks like Big Jim may be a lot more complicated.  Britt Robertson (the unfortunate Angie who gets locked in the bunker) has been on a handful of CW shows like Life Unexpected and the Secret CircleNicholas Strong (the radio DJ) was in Avery’s original band on Nashville (obscure but still,Nashville viewers will be going “ahh HA!” right now).  Aisha Hinds you might recognize from being on TV a bunch, most recently on True Blood (a short but memorable role as a witch doctor — Hoyt’s mom from True Blood was also in the episode as the woman who calls Julia to her house at the start of the episode), and her partner is of course Samantha Mathis who is Samantha Mathis.  Finally, Beth Broderick (the blonde who owns the diner) was on Sabrina the Teenage Witch as Aunt Zelda (I know, right?), and of course Jeff Fahey (Duke) will be known to Lost fans as Captain Frank Lapidus.

under-the-dome-rachel-lefevre— It’s refreshing to see a lesbian couple depicted on here, because that is so exceptionally rare pretty much anywhere on TV that’s not either making fun of butch lesbians, or using them as part of a man’s fantasy.  Something different — well done, CBS.

— “Heavy is the head that wears many hats” – Rose.

— How creepy is Junior?

— What was your favorite wall-smash moments?  I think mine had to be the truck, though the cow split in two was pretty great.

— Even goldfish can turn into cannibals, it seems.  What doth that portend here …

— Though Duke’s persona and lines were pretty standard (the last stand against the power-hungry politician with whom he was stock piling propane — you know, the usual), the exploding pacemaker was another good twist.  Fans of The Following should have chuckled a little bit at that, and then felt bad because Lapidus!