July 1, 2014

THE SKED Season Premiere Review: “Under the Dome”



The broadcast networks don’t get much in the way of pleasant surprises these days, but last summer’s UNDER THE DOME was an exception.  CBS’s “event” adaptation of Stephen King’s massively long novel was intended as an ambitious entry in the quiet world of summer programming, and it exceeded all expectations, drawing ratings in the 2s and even 3s that would have made the series a hit in the regular season, let alone summer.  Not surprisingly, the original idea of a limited miniseries quickly went away, and Dome was renewed for a second season.

That success has had a price.  King’s novel posed a mystery–the Maine town of Chester’s Mill is suddenly encased by an inexplicable and impenetrable cover–but it also had, in the end, an explanation and a unified point of view.  The Dome TV show, in order to keep the story going indefinitely, has departed more and more from the novel (it’s all but abandoned the political allegory and study of group dynamics that was at the heart of what King was writing about), and in contrived ways that will make it ever more difficult for the whole thing to make sense once it’s time for the show to come to an end.

King, nonetheless, is a supporter of the new Dome, as shown by his having personally written the script for tonight’s Season 2 premiere (directed by Lost ace Jack Bender).  Although King has never been remotely  as effective a screenwriter as he is a novelist, the hour accomplished a fair amount and sent the series even more firmly into new directions.  Most of the episode was concerned with the aftereffects of the season finale’s cliffhanger, which had villain Big Jim Rennie (Dean Norris) and his deputy son Junior (Alexander Koch) preparing to hang hero Dale “Barbie” Barbara (Mike Vogel) on a public gallows for a murder that Big Jim himself committed.  The Dome wasn’t happy about this turn of events at all, and in the premiere, it magnetized.  Junior refused to send Barbie to his maker (not very convincingly), and the trio traveled to the Dome’s edge, where in short order Deputy Linda Esquival, one of the book’s central characters (former regular Natalie Martinez) was crushed to death while rescuing Barbie.  The episode’s finale seemingly increased the body count, as another of the book’s main protagonists, teen Angie McAllister (Britt Robertson) had an unpleasant encounter with an axe.

Meanwhile, a quartet of important new characters were unveiled, as electromagnetic pulses made most Chester’s Mill-ians unconscious, and apparently sent out a message of nonviolence, since it cleared up when Julia Shumway (Rachel Lefevre) refused to kill Big Jim when he needed help in trying to hang himself for his crimes against humanity.  Sam Verdreaux (Eddie Cahill) is a recovering alcoholic and former EMT who turned out to be Junior’s uncle; Rebecca Pine (Karla Crome) is a high school science teacher who will apparently be spokesperson for a non-mystical interpretation of the Dome (good luck with that), while Melanie (Grace Victoria Cox) is a mystery teen rescued by Julia and Sam who stalked around town in the second half of the hour like the second coming of Carrie White.  We also got our first glimpse–and an unusual scene outside set outside Chester’s Mill–of Big Jim’s ex-wife and Junior’s mother Pauline (Sherry Stringfield), an artist whose work was reflecting messages about the Dome before it even existed, and who appeared to Junior in a vision when he was unconscious.

The episode was most gripping when it was just recording the effects of the Dome’s magnetism, as knives flung themselves across rooms (more shades of Carrie) and nails plunged through hands (although the show’s CG crew wasn’t able to make the collapse of a house very convincing).  The emphasis on spectacle didn’t allow for much characterization, of new or old members of the cast, and the dialogue was no more than workmanlike at best.  Still, Dome continues to be compelling, and certainly different from anything else on the broadcast airwaves this summer.

For CBS and the other networks, the mystery of the Chester’s Mill Dome pales next to that of Dome’s ratings, which suggest that there are still opportunities to be had for broadcasters to draw big audiences for scripted entertainment, even in the thin air of summer TV.  (CBS will probe those possibilities some more with the arrival of next week’s Halle Berry vehicle Extant.)  Dome won’t win any prizes, but it’s the TV equivalent of a beach pageturner.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."