Under the Dome: Pilot

“We’re on our own.”

The first half of this review is spoiler-free. After a big, bold heading and an adorable spoiler kitten, I refer to end of the first episode, and hint at some stuff from the book. If you haven’t seen this episode yet, I recommend that you watch it before reading past the kitten.

Although I was originally very excited about a television adaptation of Stephen King’s Under the Dome, as the air date approached I developed some trepidation. After all, the history of Stephen King adaptations is hardly filled with victories: for every Shawshank Redemption and The Shining, there’s a Pet Semetary or The Mist. Even the 1990s adaptation of The Stand--I think it’s great because I love it. I don’t love it because it’s great.

And Under the Dome is a rather odd book. King began writing it in the 1970s and put it away; he developed and finished the story for publication by 2009. Under the Dome is half Lost-spinoff, half political allegory: King was directly responding to what he saw as a mass hysteria surrounding the Iraq war, the Patriot Act, and the Bush years in general. Some editions contained playing cards with pictures of the characters that were clearly based on President Bush, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, et al.

This adaptation is none of those things. It’s part thriller, part mystery, part psychological experiment. It’s pretty good, but not great—if this were the busy fall season, I’d probably drop it. But it’s summer, so why not?

After all, it has a fun premise: a gigantic fishbowl mysteriously appears over the town of Chester’s Mill in rural Maine. There are limited resources, limited emergency personnel, and more than a few children and teenagers left without parental supervision. And at least some of those kids have started having seizures and making foreshadowy pronouncements like “The pink stars fall in lines.” So that’s all to the good.

And it has some actors we already love: Jeff Fahey from Lost, Britt Robertson from The Secret Circle, Colin Ford (young Sam Winchester from Supernatural), Mike Vogel (Bates Motel), and Dean Norris (a little bit of everything). I haven’t seen Rachelle Lefevre in anything before, but her Julia Shumway is probably the character I identify with most.

That upsets me a bit, as my favorite books character is “Barbie,” a former military man who is supercompetent and more than a little cynical. Here, he’s been given a dark secret—the opening scene is him burying a body. I hope he manages a little redemption.

I don’t have similar hopes for Councilman Rennie, who clearly likes power and is up to something shady with all the propane-hoarding. (By the way, Councilman? Anton Chekhov called, and he’d like to remind you that a propane hoard in the first act must explode by the time the shotgun over the mantelpiece goes off.)

But, all in all, this has potential even if it lacks that spark I was hoping for. The writing and production staff includes Brian K. Vaughn, Steven Spielberg, and Mr. King himself. Jack Bender directed a few episodes, and his style is both elegant and familiar to us Losties. It is reasonable to hope we might get excited about this show. (And how’s that for damning with faint praise?)

And now for the Spoiler Kitten: If you have not seen this episode, and if you’re afraid to learn a bit about the book that may or may not be relevant to the show, please do not scroll past the kitten.


The creators have made clear that this series can—but might not—extend beyond just the summerish 13-episode original order. They’ve also clarified that the ending will be completely different from the ending of the book; I suspect that’s a bit of an exaggeration, so I want to warn all of you that “What happened?” is not a valid reason to stick around: the denouement is a let-down, and not the point. And if this show is in it for the long haul, who knows if we’ll ever find out the whys and wherefores?

One place where the show did stay faithful to the book is the character of Sheriff Perkins, played by Jeff Fahey. As soon as I saw him, I hoped the show would keep him around. They didn’t: that exploding pacemaker scene is ripped straight from the book, and is even more upsetting given how much I like the former Frank Lapidus. His death may add that “Oh, no, they didn’t!” element that all pilots seem to require these days, but it really just left me sad: he was one character I connected with, and there weren’t many of them.

Bits and Pieces (Of Livestock):

• The cow! The bisected cow! Jumping Judas on a unicycle, that's a cow in cross-section!

• Britt Robertson’s character Angie was given so much to do that I thought, for most of the episode, she was two different actresses who just looked a lot alike.

• Fun fact: Aisha Hinds, one of the two tourist moms traveling with the diabetic daughter, played a terrible (in the sense of evil and badly-written) character on the short-lived show Cult. I was happy to see her given some decent material here.

• Junior Rennie is crazy creepy, huh?

Two and a half out of four bisected cows. Bisected cows!

Josie Kafka reviews The Vampire Diaries, True Detective, Game of Thrones, and various other things that take her fancy. She is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)

16 comments:

J.D. Balthazar said...

Rachelle Lefevre was in the first two Twilight movies, and Aisha Hinds was in True Blood and Dollhouse.

I liked this, but I wasn't blown away. I'm more intrigued by the why's than the who's. Also bisected cow... holy dog I didn't need to see that, and I'm a horror movie buff.

ChrisB said...

The bisected cow was my OMG moment. It certainly got my attention. I also loved the radio's call letters -- WYBS. That was my LOL moment.

I am intrigued. I went into this unsure about whether or not I would follow it, but I will definitely tune in next week to see what happens. I have a lot of questions, mostly around the relationships in the town.

I have also downloaded the book and read the first fifty pages or so. I like the way it is written and I am interested to see which of the two genres I am more drawn to.

Billie Doux said...

I liked it enough to watch the next one. Jeff Fahey was the character I liked best, too, so I was bummed about the pacemaker.

celticmarc said...

Allow me to brag, just a little.

Rachelle Lefevre is a Montreal native. And she's gorgeous.

Poor cow...

Panda said...

I liked it. And any excuse to get Britt Robertson back in action is a good one.

Beatriz said...

The spoiler kitten is just too awesome!

Paul Kelly said...

For me, there's always a big disconnect between how I think SK's characters should sound, and how they actually sound on TV/film. Part of it is that I never figure in the Maine accents (in fact, I rarely imagine them having American accents at all), so they always sound different to what I'm expecting. I'm curious, does anyone else hear book voices in terms of accents? I rarely do (unless they're massively regional and integral to the character), and they always freak me out.

Secondly, although I think SK's dialogue sounds great on the page, it never seems to sounds as cool said out loud. It rarely sounds natural to me, and tonight quite a bit of the dialogue sounded a tad wooden. Maybe it's just the actors not quite living up to the accent-less characters I've created in my head.

But I quite enjoyed this. Like everyone else, I didn't quite wet my pants with excitement. The only character which really stood out for me was Julia (Rachelle Lefevre). And Barbie burying bodies? I'm not sure I like that. We'll see.

I'm also quite pleased that they intend to change the ending, although I'm worried about what they intend to change it to. Hopefully something better that what we got in the book.

a.m. said...

I enjoyed this episode--especially as a summer show. Unfortunately Entertainment Weekly spoiled the cow shot with a picture, but the show really got its money worth on those graphics. I especially loved the nightlme shot with the 1/2 cow silhouetted in the background as Barbie was getting things from his car.

Thie first 15 minutes seemed to be what I had seen in the month or two of commercials leading up to the premier but rest of it was exciting enough to keep my attention and make me want to watch more. I was totally surprised with the kidnapping and the pacemaker shot, and it's always nice to be surprised by a show.

I'm definitely willing to give it another chance, but part of me wishes they would limit the run to just one summer so that I'd know there was a definite planned ending in sight...

Josie, I'm glad you mentioned thinking Britt Robertson was two characters because I had that same problem. I think she's a good actress though, so I was glad to see her. I also love Samantha Mathis.

Great review! Are you going to review the whole series?

Josie Kafka said...

Paul, I don't "hear" accents when I read, either. But I also don't "see" characters; when I'm reading, I'm not playing a movie in my head. I'm just reading.

I only found out recently that this makes me officially strange.

(And I'm not really clear on what a Maine accent sounds like. I imagine it as like a Boston accent with more schwas.)

I definitely agree that the dialogue was a bit wooden. I was really lazy about re-watching this to review it, and didn't bother to take notes of specific lines. But some were dead on the page.

A.M., I am tentatively committed to reviewing this show. I don't want to fully commit in case it gets boring.

a.m. said...

Great, Josie! And I can definitely appreciate the tentative part...I'm tentatively watching it, too:)

Hopefully it will keep us both entertained the summer!

Paul Kelly said...

Well, Josie, apparently I'm officially strange, too. I don't play a movie in my head either, nor do I necessarily 'see' characters. I think it's more a case of forming personalities and then running with that.

For some reason, I don't find literature a particularly 'visual' medium. I do respond to a modicum of descriptive prodding -- it is, after all, nice to be told where you are, and what people vaguely look like -- but if a novel rattles on for too long with its descriptions, I tend to zone out.

Which may explain why I never get frightened by horror books, but repeatedly soil myself at horror films. (Don't sit next to me.) Maybe I don't visualise literature enough. If I did run them through my head like a movie, I dare say I'd react to them like a movie.

Back in my early teens, I read everything that Stephen King had written up until that point, loved most of it, and thus concluded that I must like horror fiction. So I started reading John Saul, Shaun Hutson, James Herbert, etc., only to find out that none of it had the same impact on me as reading SK. I eventually twigged that King doesn't scare me. That's not why I read his books. I just like his characters, his writing style, and his what-if? scenarios.

The only book which ever really scared me I read age ten, under the bed clothes with a torch -- in traditional naughty book worm style (not the sexy kind) -- and I think me being scared was more to do with it being late, dark, and the fear of what might happen to me if I'd been caught.

Mark Greig said...

An interesting pilot, but the characters are all so flat. Hopefully they'll improve as the series progresses.

The only time I ever "heard" an accent when reading a book was with A Game of Throne. Sean Bean had already been cast as Eddard Stark when I started reading so I kept hearing Eddard's voice in Bean's distinctive Sheffield accent.

TheShadowKnows said...

This was the second worst Stephen King book I ever read (after Insomnia). It just went on and on and on - it could easily have been half as long - and it turned out to be a whole lot of nothing much at the end. I might conceivably watch this, since it can't possibly be as punishing as the book, but the chances are slim.

Paul Kelly said...

TheShadowKnows: Wow, do you not like reading long books in general? I can readily agree that 'Insomnia' was as bloated as Ray Brower's face in 'The Body', but I thought that 'Under the Dome' -- sweeping aside for the moment the ending -- was pretty decent. 'Tommyknockers' was another book desperately in need of a trim, but I thought 'Desperation', 'Rose Madder', 'Cell', 'Dreamcatcher', 'Gerald's Game' and 'Black House', were all far worse books than 'Under the Dome'.

M said...

I was pleasantly surprised by the pilot, since Stephen King novels rarely translate well to the screen. I think it has potential.

My biggest disappointment was that someone spoiled the cow for me. Jerk.

Henrik Bennetter said...

There are three Chekov-guns aren't there? One, yes, propane-tanks. Two, Barbies actual gun. Three, Juniors butterfly-knife. All must go off.