Summer is notoriously bad for TV fans. Under the Dome promised to be a bright spot in the summer viewing schedule—especially for people who can’t bring themselves to watch a show about meth dealers. Under the Dome had all the makings of a winner when it was announced as a 13-episode miniseries on Showtime. Before we knew it, the show moved to CBS–who vehemently denied they ever said it was a mini-series. In all fairness, they didn’t. From the first episode, it was clear that it was being primed for multiple seasons. Grr.
Casting for Under the Dome was alternately inspired and confounding. Dean Norris is an obvious win as Big Jim Rennie. Mike Vogel is equally perfect as Dale “Barbie” Barbara. Other casting highlights include Colin Ford as the adorable Joe McAlister, and Mackenzie Lintz as his annoying love interest, Norrie. Alexander Koch (who I don’t think is one of the Koch brothers) is creepy and fun as the trod-upon Junior Rennie, and Leon Rippy stole every scene as Ollie Dinsmore. So yeah, there were plenty of good performances. Now for the weird…
Rachelle Lefevre as Julia Shumway. What? No, she’s at least 20 years too young. In addition to her age, Julia’s history, job, marital status, and dating activity are all markedly changed. She’s also impacted by some of the crazy made-up crap they put in the show to kill time. Nicholas Strong gives a solidly empathetic performance as Phil Bushey. I love that they have him in a romance with Dodee. But since I know what his character ultimately (in the book, at least) dissolves into, I’m not really cool with the casting. Jolene Purdy as Dodee was awesome—even if she had an entirely different storyline. The introduction of a gay couple was…weird. It seemed to be there just to show that some of the people in the town were bigots. Meh.
Whoever told Natalie Martinez that she could act has done her a grave disservice. Honestly though, most of the women on the show were pretty terrible. Angie’s needless bravado in the face of the town psychopaths is annoying and repetitive. Linda is the dumbest cop in the universe, and it’s infuriating to know that she doesn’t trust Big Jim but steps aside for him because she’s mad about something that isn’t even true. Aside from Carolyn and Alice (Norrie’s moms) the strongest women on the show were Dodee and Rose—and they’re both dead now. So we began with four compelling and strong women, and now three of them are gone. Dang.
By the second episode, we’re hit with some striking and infuriating changes from the source material. A character that died almost immediately is still alive despite tangling with her literary murderer. Another character lived for 8 episodes long than they should have. Meanwhile, other people died who should still be pivotal in the third act. Other pivotal characters, like Andrea Grinnell, and Carter Thibodeau are barely shown.
Once I realized that the show was going to be totally different from the book, I tried to appreciate it on its own merits. It was difficult, because they added so much crazy crap and reworked some really amazing stuff from the book. The black egg with its flashing lights? Dumb. All the stupid butterfly monarch nonsense that didn’t even mesh with modern entomological understanding? What the hell for? Maxine and her idiot drowning mom? Why? Fight Clubs? Really? This small town where everyone knows each other has dissolved into Fight Clubs inside of 10 days? C’mon, it was clear that they were just messing with us at that point.
It was right around the underground cement factory fights that I got depressed at how terrible this show was. I’m one of those horror writers who has always loved, and voraciously read Stephen King. His short stories taught me about story structure, how to parse out information, how to write dialogue that works. When Stephen King’s books first started getting made into movies, he had very little control over them. That’s why the ending of Carrie was changed; and why Christine and Salem’s Lot were cut by about half. He hated Kubrick’s interpretation of The Shining, but was powerless to do anything about it. As King’s Hollywood mojo rose, his movies got much closer to the books. Pet Sematary, Misery, Stand By Me, and on from there? Masterpieces. Other TV movies adapted from King books didn’t have half the potential as Under the Dome but weren’t remotely this bad. Nonsensical, sloppy writing wrought with unnatural dialogue. I’m insulted by it on his behalf.
Somebody should tell CBS that spending extra on CGI isn’t going to save a show that’s poorly written. People don’t care about seeing cows split in half. They want to feel things and get attached to characters and be on the edges of our seats. As of now—none of that is happening. And it should be—like I said, there are some really good performances.
So…it’s a show about a dome coming down over a town. The Dome is huge. You can tell because there was a house fire inside of it and it didn’t suck up all the oxygen. In fact, even though Chester’s Mills is totally trapped under a dome, there are strong winds whipping around all over the place. The water still ripples as if there’s regular weather, tides—business as usual. Just when you think it can’t get any more absurd under there, it starts to rain. Rain. Seeing a plane crash into The Dome in the season opener gave us a pretty good idea of the height of The Dome. It was not remotely high enough to have its own weather. But then, if they don’t have enough water—they can’t stay under there for multiple seasons. We now know that we can expect at least one more season of this garbage.
It’s a dome. What else? Funny you should ask. The Dome is letting through some radio waves. It’s also got an electric current that actually is in the book. Poor Sheriff (sadly, not Dwayne) Duke died when his pacemaker exploded. If you have a hearing aid, you may think you’re getting crazy transmissions from The Dome telling you to burn the medicine and other weird stuff. If you have an old school radio receiver, you’ll know that you’re actually hearing The Army. In this case, it’s an army that would fire at a dome full of civilians without telling them or taking any precautions for their safety. If I was in the military—I wouldn’t care for that one bit.
The political commentary is all on the offensive side. Apart from the insult to the military, Barbie’s biggest insult to Big Jim Rennie is calling him * gasp * A Politician. Big Jim collects everyone’s guns to keep them powerless, which is the worst fear of far too many people. In fact, Big Jim is exactly the kind of character that keeps fear alive. Frightened people are easy to manipulate—but by the time they build a gallows in the center of time and attempt to execute a man without a trial despite his claims of innocence? No. The only thing worse than that is that the town Sheriff, Linda, stands there watching like it’s all fine and dandy.
Turns out, not everyone being bossed around by The Dome is crazy. The Dome shows you things that are going to happen through “taking a familiar form.” To that I say, shut up. The Dome is, apparently, sentient. It wants things. It wants people to do things. It’s not a punishment, it’s a gift because the world is ending and they have to earn the light and kill Big Jim butterfly egg pink stars are falling in lines. Of course, when I say it like that, it just sounds stupid. And it is.
In the end, Under the Dome was a big hunk of nothing. It could have been a great summer show. Instead, it was watered down for maximum value—allowing it to be stretched over several seasons. Much like The Following, an exceptional leading cast was filled out by terrible characters played by stiff and wooden actors, all forced to meander through vapid writing by people who couldn’t possibly care about delivering a compelling and truthful drama. Shame, that.