TV Review: UNDER THE DOME Season 1, Episode 1 'Pilot'

PrintE-mail Written by Joel Harley

Wherein the writer attempts to review the television adaptation of Stephen King's Under the Dome without referring to The Simpsons who, in the words of South Park, “did it.” Not counting this reference right here, obviously.

So Under the Dome's pilot hits television, the first in a thirteen episode adaptation of Stephen King's hefty tome. As a second series has already been announced, we should expect no resolution anytime soon. Which is a shame, since anyone who has read the book will know that the resolution – like so many King endings – is not worth that sort of wait. Not unless they change the ending, anyway, which, given the differences already evident within the pilot from the source material, is a distinct possibility.

In the small all-American town of Chester's Mill, Maine, an enormous invisible dome suddenly descends, trapping the denizens within, and everyone else out. Enter Dale 'Barbie' Barbara, an ex-soldier on shady business in Chester's Mill. As he attempts to leave the town, the dome comes down, preventing his exit and trapping him within. Birds start dropping from the sky, a small aeroplane crashes and explodes, and a cow is sliced cleanly in half. It's not as immediate or gory as when King wrote the opening scenes, but they're exciting, all the same. There's something inherently amusing about cow carnage, from the flaming cows of Mars Attacks to the roadkill of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. The dead cow of Under the Dome is among the best yet, in a Damien Hirst kind of way. If I keep harping on about it, that's because that dead cow is the most memorable thing about Under the Dome's pilot.

Certainly more so than the casting of Mike Vogel as Barbie, or Alexander Koch as Junior Rennie. The casting skews towards the young and the pretty, with Barbie looking more conventionally handsome than I had ever imagined from the book, and Junior looking just like any other sulky high schooler out there. Like the Junior of the novel, it doesn't take long for him to do some very bad things, but he's not remotely threatening or scary. I have real difficulty seeing how this series will make him even nearly as memorable a villain as he was in the book. Although, if they simply decide to tone back Junior's evil, that'd be no bad thing (King tends go go a bit overboard with it). Elsewhere, however, Rachelle Lefevre does fine as journalist Julia Shumway and Dean Norris is reliably watchable as Big Jim. Dream casting would have dictated John Goodman as Rennie, but Norris's casting isn't to be sniffed at. As he's more than proven with his work in Breaking Bad, the man has chops. It's just a shame that Under the Dome is no Breaking Bad. Not even nearly.

Jeff Fahey is the best thing about the pilot, playing doomed Sheriff 'Duke' Perkins. It would have been nice if he could have stuck around a little longer, but a bum ticker puts an end to that. Only himself to blame, though: seeing as he knows full well the dome emits an electromagnetic charge, of sorts, maybe not standing around touching the thing would have been the sensible thing to do? Especially given that the very same thing already gave his pacemaker trouble earlier in the very same episode. Boom, with an exploding heart, Under the Dome loses its best actor. I'm sure Norris is more than capable of stepping up to the plate though, even if his work as Hank does put this this rather one-dimensional character to shame. Tread carefully, Big Jim.

Elsewhere, there are some rather fine special effects and neat touches to the dome's descent, with a number of entertaining car crashes and human casualties enlivening the episode. Despite my problems with their ages, the acting is of a generally decent standard, and the pace nips along comfortably. It could have taken more time to establish the dome's boundaries and the general chaos it caused by coming down, but it's an otherwise decent opening. Just imagine, though, if they'd played it with the same gusto and bombast as the initial plane crash in Lost. It could have been something special. As it is, Under the Dome hasn't quite stuck the landing. There's enough legs on the concept for it to regroup and improve, but it's a definite disappointment so far.


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