July 2, 2013

THE SKED’S PILOT + 1 REVIEW: “Under the Dome”



A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on UNDER THE DOME:  Well, there’s a giant freaking dome.  One peaceful Sunday afternoon, it suddenly came down over Chester’s Mill, Maine, enveloping the town and imprisoning all who dwell within as though inside an inverted fishbowl.  They include hero-with-secrets Dale Barbara nee “Barbie” (Mike Vogel), lovely newspaper editor Julia Shumway (Rachelle Lefevre)–among Barbie’s secrets is that he killed Julia’s husband in self-defense, apparently while collecting a debt–a used car salesman with demagogic tendencies named Big Jim (Dean Norris), sharp-witted teenager Joe McAlister (Colin Ford), and shoplifting Norrie (Mackenzie Lintz), who was passing through town with her mothers when the dome came down.  There’s also Big Jim’s psychopathic son Junior (Alexander Koch), who’s locked up his ex-girlfriend Angie (Britt Robertson) in dad’s bomb shelter, certain that she’s been carrying on with Barbie.  In case all that wasn’t enough, some of the teens have begun having seizures, shouting while in the throes about “pink stars.”  And at the conclusion of the pilot, the one seeming authority figure, town sheriff Perkins (Jeff Fahey), discovered that it was a fatally bad idea to touch the Dome while wearing a pacemaker.

Episode 2:  The second hour of the story, written by Co-Executive Producer Rick Cleveland and directed by Lost veteran Jack Bender, continued to follow, with some variations, the general outlines of Stephen King’s novel.  Tonight, we got a clearer idea of who the main inhabitants of Chester’s Mill are going to be for our purposes.  Now that the sheriff is gone, they include Deputy Linda Esquivel (Natalie Martinez), who’s attempting to take charge of law enforcement, and also Dodee Weaver (Jolene Purdy), engineer at the local radio station who’s been able to tap into the military signals broadcast outside the Dome.  Joe McAlister started mapping the exact size of the Dome, and found out that it does allow for the penetration of some moisture.  We also gathered more hints about the nefarious scheme Big Jim, the late sheriff and local minister/mortician Lester Coggins (Ned Bellamy), had going pre-Dome, which involved storehouses of propane and drugs.  Trying to keep Linda from finding any clues in the sheriff’s house (which she’d inherited), Coggins accidentally started a fire, almost setting half the town ablaze.

King’s novel lends itself well to the miniseries treatment, with its multi-character serialized storyline and confined setting.  (There aren’t even all that many special effects required, because the Dome itself is invisible.)  The screenwriting has been efficient and assured in the opening two hours, and the actors are faithful to the tone of their characters as imagined by King.  The book gets hyperbolic to the point of hysteria before it ends, and so far it seems like the main difference in tone in this adaptation is to bring things down a notch, which is a good idea.  So Junior may be crazy, but locking up his girlfriend is a far cry from the grisly doings he was up to in the novel (of course, the show is still young), and Big Jim is so far a less obvious dictator-to-be.  Since, unlike the book, Dome the series isn’t meant to end at the conclusion of this season, we’ll see whether later episodes approach the apocalyptic feel of the novel’s second half.

Under the Dome got off to a sensational start in the ratings last week, proving that there’s a substantial audience–the viewers that have been flocking to cable–who are perfectly willing to watch a network drama during the summer if the drama is worth watching.  If the numbers keep up, this should be a lesson to all the networks, who’ve abandoned scripted programming from late May to late September (apart from the occasional cheap international pick-up), and then find themselves in the position of hoping everyone comes back 4 months after “the season” ends.  That’s a major risk these days, and more high-class swings for the fences like Under the Dome may help the networks hold onto the viewers who are left.


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."