“Under the Dome” is a CBS summer “event” series that will be airing a limited run over the next 13 weeks. It’s based on an extremely long novel by Stephen King which, while I won’t get into spoilers, follows the familiar pattern of King novels that start strong, get dark and twisted, and throw a weird and disappointing ending at you. The pilot aired last night, so I figured I’d let you know a few of the major things you should keep in mind while watching the show, particularly if you’ve never read the books.
10. No, It Didn’t Copy the Simpsons Movie
Yes, I know, the plot involving a small town being trapped under a giant dome and left to rot was used in “The Simpsons Movie” and you’re not being clever by pointing this out. What you may not realize is the fact that Stephen King not only didn’t copy this idea, but he actually came up with the original concept for “Under the Dome” way back in 1982 when he wrote a 450 page handwritten novel called “The Cannibals.” It was this story, which he himself wrote, and not “The Simpsons Movie” that inspired the absurdly long novel version of “Under the Dome” and, by extension, this adaptation. So quit complaining, because despite what General Disarray might tell you, this is a case where the Simpsons definitely did not already do it.
9. Yes, There Are Changes From the Book
And fans of the book, you’ll just have to get over it. I love the book, apart from the ending, but I’m fine with taking this as its own endeavor. There are several characters which have been pretty drastically altered, particularly characters like Phil Bushey and Norrie Calvert, as well as some alterations to Julia Shumway. There’s also the mystery of what the hell is going on with the main protagonist, Dale “Barbie” Barbara, who has been given a dark secret which, unless I’m forgetting something that would be rather substantial, did not exist in the book.
But hey, every book gets altered when it moves to the big screen or the small screen. “Game of Thrones” springs to mind, as well as “World War Z”, which is similar to the source material only in name and the involvement of zombies. Fortunately there are enough things taken straight from the book to keep Stephen King fans satisfied.
8. It’s Masterminded by Brian K. Vaughan
Brian K. Vaughan is a name you may not immediately recognize, but he’s got some pretty tremendous geek credibility that lends itself well to a story of this nature. For those who are unfamiliar, he’s a successful comic book and television writer, having been one of the driving forces of both the television show “Lost” and the creator of the wildly popular comic book series “Y: The Last Man” among other projects.
Of course if his involvement isn’t enough to get you excited, not only is this series based on a novel by Stephen King, but it has another pretty awesome Stephen involved as a producer. Yes, Stephen Spielberg, or as I like to call him, Senor Spielbergo, is an executive producer along with both King and Vaughan. Plus, the guy who does the music for the show is named W.G. Snuffy Walden, which is a pretty fun name to say. So there’s that.
7. It’s Actually Getting a Ton of Good Buzz
Unlike most shows dumped into the summer, “Under the Dome” is actually getting pretty excellent buzz from the people who have seen it. The website Metacritic tracks the reviews of television shows, movies, video games, and music and comes up with an aggregate score based on what the reviews are saying. Well, the pilot of “Under the Dome” scored a 73 out of 100, which may not seem overly impressive if you’re thinking about your grades in high school. However, to put it into perspective, the new show Hannibal has a Metacritic score of 69, while the much beloved but so far little seen show Orphan Black has an identical Metacritic score of 73. Or to compare it to another show with a post apocalyptic, supernatural type vibe, Falling Skies has a Metacritic score of 65.
So basically, it looks like this may well be a summer event series that lives up to the hype. Of course that all depends on where they go after the pilot, because obviously the set up is one of the most intriguing parts of the entire book, and probably will be for the show also.
6. The Story is a Criticism of the Bush/Cheney White House
Without getting into too many spoilers from the book, since the applicable parts of the story are not yet evident in the television version and thus it’s tough to tell just how closely Vaughan and his team will stick to the plot, elements of the book intentionally echo a widely viewed notion of who actually ran the country during the Bush/Cheney years. Stephen King himself has confirmed this, modeling the primary antagonist after Dick Cheney, while writing another character, who has not yet appeared in the show and therefore may not at all, considering he’s not on the cast list on IMDb, as a stand in for George W. Bush.
No matter what your politics are and even if you haven’t read the book I’m going to go ahead and guess that even based on a few key scenes in the pilot you can figure out who the Cheney character is.
5. Junior Rennie is Going to Lead to a Ton of Great Unintentional Comedy
This is nothing against the actor portraying the character of Junior Rennie, because he’s just doing what’s presumably on the page and what his director is telling him to do, but holy crap is this character already just hilariously over the top. For those who are unfamiliar with the book, yes, Junior is a creepy dude. However, the insanely rapid descent as portrayed in the first episode of “Under the Dome” is comically ham-fisted. When we first see him, he’s getting laid and professing his love, only to be shot down. Fair enough. He handles it relatively well initially, saying simply “ouch” when his claim of love is not reciprocated.
And then? Holy hell, things escalate quickly. I mean, they really get out of hand fast. His next few scenes involve him twirling a knife, stalking his would-be girlfriend, and then assaulting her, abducting her, and sticking her in an old fallout shelter. Of course given where his storyline goes in the books, maybe this was for the best. Somehow I don’t think CBS would be willing to air his much, much darker storyline from the book. Still, at least he’s going to be good for a few laughs each week.
4. The First Episode Contained This Image
That’s what happens when a cow is caught in the wrong place at the wrong time when the titular Dome comes to the little fictional town of Chester’s Mill. And it’s really gross, and I’d say it’s surprisingly graphic for CBS, but I’ve seen a couple episodes of CSI so I know this is more or less par for the course.
3. It Didn’t Quite Live Up to the Comedic Promise of an Invisible Dome
I was really looking forward to a lot of comedy being taken from people unaware of the Dome and walking straight into it, because people smacking into things is inherently funny. Sadly, there were a lot of wasted opportunities as somehow people seemed to be able to perceive where the Dome actually was. Probably due to the mutilated cows, car crashes, and the fact that a plane crashed into it as well. There’s also an electrical discharge when you first touch the Dome, and also blows up pacemakers. Rest in peace, Jeff Fahey’s character.
2. The B and C-List Actors are Absolutely Everywhere
This is not a knock on anyone in this show, because the acting is overall fine. But man, when your biggest star power comes from the girl who was replaced by Bryce Dallas Howard in the “Twilight” movies, a guy from “Cloverfield” (and not even TJ Miller), a recurring character from “Breaking Bad”, and the “Lawnmower Man” (who has already been killed off when his pacemaker exploded out of his chest after getting too close to the Dome), you know that the bulk of the budget went into special effects.
There are some other relatively recognizable people littered throughout the cast, such as Samantha Mathis as one half of a lesbian couple bringing their rebellious teenager to Chester’s Mill for some reason (which, by the way, also never happened in the book), and the kid who played the young version of Sam Winchester on “Supernatural” and used to do the voice of Jake from “Jake and the Neverland Pirates” before puberty hit him. And man, did puberty ever hit him, because the former Sam/Jake is now a tall, super gangly, very awkward looking teenager.
1. Well Made Art is Unsurprisingly Harder to Mock
This isn’t exactly rocket science, but good shows, movies, books, and so forth are harder to focus your snark on, mainly because they don’t typically have the glaring flaws that are ripe for nitpicking. Of course once you step back and really look at the final product it’s a lot easier to do so. For instance, as much as I love the original version of “The Karate Kid” there’s nothing I love mocking more than that film. So far, unfortunately for me but fortunately for viewers, “Under the Dome” seems to be a very well crafted and mostly well scripted and acted show, meaning that at this absurdly early point it’s tough to mock with delirious glee.
That said, it’s clearly got some flaws, most notably the already noted hilariousness of Junior Rennie and absolutely everything surrounding that character. Plus, if they stick to the plot of the book, there will be several guffaw worthy moments. After all, Stephen King is a great storyteller, but he makes some pretty bizarre choices with plot and has a tendency to force in stupid attempts at catch phrases that no one on earth would ever possibly say. Still, the first episode of “Under the Dome” is one of the most intriguing pilots to come along in quite awhile. I know I’ll sure as hell keep watching. How about you?
See my previous article about the television pilot for Whodunnit?