Stephen King is here to save you from droll summer TV reruns with “Under the Dome,” his horror sci-fi miniseries for CBS and Amazon, of all places. So it’s not quite Breaking Bad, Arrested Development, Game of Thrones or Mad Men quality—this is cable TV, remember—but it’s still damn close in a cheesy-good-fun-summer-blockbuster kind of way.
The premise of the show is simple: A mysterious force field of a dome cuts the small rural town of Chester Hill off from the rest of the world. Trapped underneath while a clueless national government looks on, panic spreads as resources become scarce and unhinged and corrupt characters go about being nefarious. Four episodes in, and the town has already battled a fire without fire trucks, a deranged ex-cop-turned-shooter-on-the-loose, and a meningitis outbreak. People have died. Sometimes it is sad. Other times it’s goofy, stupid and bizarre. Good couch or Twitter talk, basically.
If you can’t already tell, the story has a strong survivalist-isolationist post-apocalyptic vibe and is all about being prepared. If you live in rural America, you should really own a back-up generator. People who have them are generally portrayed as awesome people in this show (and you will be too should a natural disaster occur), and even one teenagers rise to high school popularity is linked to his house having electric sockets that work. Electricity will even get you laid, people.
An independent rock radio station (with their own “genny”) is a hero in its own right too, as it becomes the only way to spread news under the dome. Dodee Weaver, the station’s electronic engineer, shows off her college education by fiddling with some dials and picking up cellular and military communications from the outside. How very Fallout.
Thankfully, “Under the Dome” is not all resourceful kumbaya. Two teenagers keep having synchronized seizures and mumbling cryptic things about falling pink stars whenever they touch, and a psycho boyfriend has kidnapped his ex girlfriend and is tormenting her in a fallout shelter. The town’s elected councilman (and father of the psycho-boyfriend) has some evil plot with the zealous priest-mortician over massive amounts of propane, too. There is intrigue, suspense and creepiness. Or as King said in a promo interview describing “Under the Dome” as a metaphor for living on Earth, it’s a “family fright” with an eco-friendly twist!
So the writing isn’t particularly award-winning with it's predictable but slow progression and some lines of dialogue make your eyes roll, but its many story arcs revealing different archetypes is entertaining and accessible enough for mass consumption, as evident by it topping the Neilsens rankings consistently every Monday night. This is King’s work too, so you know the narrative will be pretty traditional and you probably don’t have to worry about all your favorite characters dying. (King isn’t into George R.R. Martin’s shtick of killing off main characters just because, but hinted some of them will die.) You can safely root for the good guys, and they generally win.
The progression of the kidnapped girlfriend storyline leaves much to be desired, however. While it’s true the dome landed just a few a few days ago, a pretty young (possibly promiscuous) thing that works at the now-popular local diner and volunteers at the hospital would be missed almost immediately. Are you telling me none of the remaining hospital staff thought of her during the meningitis outbreak? Add that the kidnapped girlfriend’s younger brother is now “the most popular guy in high school” because of a generator and trapped-outside parents and yet no one is concerned about not seeing his hot older sister since day 1 when she was helping deal with an influx of new patients at the hospital? Not even skeevy diner regulars have inquired about her to her mother hen of a boss? So much for King’s “ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances” or the notion of community.
Regardless, the acting across the board is not terrible, and features heavyweights like Lost’s Mike Vogel and Breaking Bad’s Dean Norris -- whose performance as a villain is the sole reason the AV Club watches the show. King, Lost writer and producer Brian K. Vaughan, and Steven Spielberg have made sure all demographics are represented—including a lesbian couple—and there are several strong female characters as leaders so the feminist in me is pleased, at least.
All in all, CBS’ sci-fi series is a solid B. Do you really need more than that when it's 90+ degrees outside?
Front page image via CBS