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Under the Dome

Another high-concept sci-fi invades smalltown USA, when a glass dome isolates one-dimensional characters.

2013-06-16_2318A few years ago the CBS post-apocalyptic show Jericho was one of TEN’s first-ever fast-tracked shows.

The high-concept series depicted a small-town in USA cut-off from the rest of the world. Despite the hype, the writing was underwhelming and it was knocked around the schedule snuffled with a whimper rather than a bang.

Next week we’ll revisit some similarities when CBS series Under the Dome is fast-tracked on TEN in which an inexplicable, unseen “dome” cuts off another small-town from the rest of America. Nobody knows what it is, let alone how it got there and what its purpose is.

This 13 part series is based on a novel by Stephen King, whose prolific work has brought us many spellbinding film and television works. Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment joins with CBS to produce this one, with Spielberg credited as one of 7 executive producers.

Directing the Pilot episode is Danish director Niels Arden Oplev (The Eagle, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Lost‘s Jack Bender will direct the next episode.

Chester’s Mill is a leafy rural town in Maine where the folk go about their small lives in farming, general stores and adolescent turmoil. Under The Dome takes an ensemble-approach to its opening not dissimilar to Irwin Allen’s disaster movie set-ups: we meet multiple, disconnected characters ahead of a great calamity about to unfold.

There doesn’t appear to be a central character in the opening scenes, although Dale “Barbie” Barbara (Mike Vogel), an Army veteran with something to hide, and investigative reporter Julia Shumway (Rachelle Lefevre) may challenge for that title.

At any rate, we seem to have a bit of everything: young couple negotiating romance, alpha-male whose heroic qualities may override his flawed past, local cop with a dodgy heart, nosy gossip, power-happy local councillor, teenage girl prone to seizures, and a fast-talking local DJ. A lesbian couple passing through the town at least gives Chester’s Mill a little point of difference.

Thankfully, it doesn’t take long for Under the Dome to propel us into its first major-turning point when the “dome” suddenly descends upon the town (warning: you may never look at a cow in quite the same way again). This lends itself to lots of popcorn, CGI disaster-moments, especially for wayward planes and trucks. This is when Under the Dome is at its most enjoyable.

I don’t mind watching a campy, B-grade rollercoaster, when that’s what the show is out to do. But this drama likes to take itself seriously a lot of the time and that’s when it begins to struggle.

The dialogue is clunky and sign-posts all the exposition. So far the characters are very one-dimensional (the speed with which one teen boy turns from Romeo to unhinged stalker is bereft) and if we’re to care about them for longer than the novelty effect of the mysterious dome, then we need more depth.

While other shows like The Walking Dead stare into the future deftly juggling team-spirit, black comedy and gore, Under the Dome begins with a fair amount of community chaos, as insecure locals begin to turn on one another.  I’m not sure I’d survive with many of them for very long.

There’s also none of the humour that accompanied the glass dome ‘President Schwarzenegger’ ordered over Springfield in The Simpsons Movie nor the social metaphor behind the closed world of The Truman Show. But Stephen King is an accomplished storyteller, hopefully he has some brilliant twists up his sleeve.

The closing scenes are especially indicative of the earnest tone here as we hear President Obama’s words “America’s with you. We are standing behind you, and we are going to do everything we can to help you get back on your feet.” It’s a speech he gave for Hurricane Sandy survivors, but it’s been hijacked here in a fairly cheeky move.

I’ll come back for another look at Under the Dome hoping that it doesn’t go the way of Jericho (or worse, The 4400) but I think it needs to be a lot more fun than its first outing.

Under the Dome premieres 8:30pm Tuesday June 25 on TEN.

21 Responses

  1. @ camo2…was thinking the same thing…tunnel out…*G*..
    @ A. …agree…a do not have my TV on a lot these days…watching shows I like on catchup on my computer…cannot deal with all the distracting rubbish on the screen.

  2. The Stand was a good book but it just didn’t work well on TV but thats just my opinion.

    This will probably be replaced after a couple of weeks anyway with some IQ sucking reality programme!

  3. As a science-fiction concept, this probably first came up in a short story in 1949 set in contemporary Manhattan. “The Box” by James Blish, I think.

    This predates all of the Stephen King and Simpsons variations. I read it as a kid in the high school library and it was one of those stories that left a lasting impression.

  4. I’m going to ask nicely can they please cease the pop-ups on Eleven especially on Star Trek. But pretty much everything.

    I’ll just say the Under the Dome pop-ups during DS9 basically killed that series for me including repeats. And it can lead to worse. The irony is the last time and first time I was broken due to Star Trek it was Deep Space Nine and Voyager. I guess history might repeat itself again. But it won’t be because a channel was constantly 40-55 minutes late near midnight. No it’ll be the other thing.

    I’ll just add I can be loyal. I pretty much will almost give up anything if you treat Star Trek decently. And Eleven has. It plays it before midnight. Also reliably and close to being on time. Plus before this week no pop-ups and the credits are kept intact. I love this and I love seeing the ads during the ad break too. It was as close to perfect as can be. But I can be broken. I don’t want to be. Please. The silly thing is the pop-ups seriously don’t work. Often make viewers hostile. I’ve never seen a viewer thank a channel for the pop-ups. Have you? I guess time will tell. Including if I get broken with Star Trek again.

  5. @poss – I diagree. It was pretty scary and I actually really enjoyed The Stand.

    @Jason, seven did actually play out the whole season of The Event. They just buried it late at night. And there was no resolution given it’s axing in the US.

    Speaking of whole season, we never did get to see all of Jericho. How about it ten? You could put it on one or eleven???

  6. I’ve got to congratulate Eleven by playing pop-ups during Beauty and the Beast they successfully convinced me not to watch Under the Dome. Too bad the ads made it tempting. Also they’ve also made me wary about watching new shows on Eleven.

    I’ve mentioned I think pop-ups are like a stick to the head. But in contrast I see ads during the ad break as the carrot. Actually if done right they are one of the most brilliant advertising ideas. Because you get the audience not only willingly watching the ads to find out what is on but recruiting themselves to watch a channel or network more. But I get that television no longer has faith in the carrot method. Again too bad.

  7. Damn, I was so hoping this would be good, but from David’s review it seems my bubbly personality is going to take another hit. Should be worth a look and if nothing else I can come back tomorrow so David can say “I told you so”.

  8. With Haven a US Network bought the rights to a Stephen King novel just for his name. They loosely used one idea and a Maine seaside town setting to write their own story with their own characters.

    So I wouldn’t expect King to save it (and some of his writing is rambling and doesn’t come off e.g. Rose Madder). The show is in the hands of its producer/writers.

    I prefered Jeremiah as post-apocalyptic story. Not action packed but J. Michael Straczynski packed it full of complex characters.

  9. I’ve read the book for this and it’s pretty good.
    The disjointed feeling you have David is very similar to the books – many people are introduced very quickly, with no reason to become attached to them, and no reason to fear for them.
    The book manages to solve this eventually, but I’ll be interested to see how the show does it.
    Sadly, I think you’re supposed to hate every single character in Under the Dome… another challenge to overcome for a TV audience.
    Can’t wait to see this.

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