Television Review – Under the Dome: "Pilot"

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Adapting a television show from a 1000+ page novel can’t be easy. All of that exposition has to be pared down somewhere, or at least greatly accelerated, especially based on Under the Dome‘s 13-episode run throughout the summer. Brian K. Vaughan apparently had a lust for the original concept by Stephen King, however; he’s taken that massive (and popular) novel and developed it for CBS in bite-sized pieces that audiences can digest steadily.

Under the Dome, then, is something of a long mini-series, at least as far as we know for now. It’s unclear how Under the Dome will conclude its season this early in the series; the pilot is more concerned with setting up that small-town feeling for the location of Chester’s Mill. What we do have in this first episode, though, combines plots that were originally in King’s novel along with things that have been included in the television series to make it more conducive to the silver screen.

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Our main character is Barbie (Mike Vogel), a mysterious man who’s not a native to Chester’s Mill. He’s there on business, said business being burying a guy in a grave out in the middle of the woods. He’s the regular tough guy/shadowy-developed character, played by Vogel in much the same way he played his character in┬áBates Motel. That’s okay, though, because Vogel and his co-star Rachelle Lefevre (who plays Julia, a hard-hitting reporter displaced from her husband) are the two best actors in this adaptation.

That’s not saying much, because though Under the Dome does require plenty of secondary characters to facilitate the idea of community in Chester’s Mill, the show doesn’t get very many capable actors. This pilot seems bent on switching between nearly every important side character on the show. There’s Big Jim Rennie (Dean Norris), a car salesman and councilman with some aspirations of greatness; Junior (Alexander Koch), Rennie’s son and borderline suicidal kid; and Angie (Britt Robertson), a candy-striper who’s been dating Junior and pushes him a little too far. That’s just to name a few; the first episode really runs rampant between many different characters, often trying to move too fast to introduce them all.

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It’s amazing how poor some of the acting really is, though. But the blame can be attributed as much to the script as it is to the actors. The writing is very slipshod in the pilot, and the reason seems to be the extremely fast pace Under the Dome moves to incorporate the initial settling of the dome and then the fallout of that problem. The pilot introduces a lot of conflicts very quickly, and what would have taken King pages of prose and exposition to tell happens in just a few very fast moments.

That means that a lot of the impact of what happens is significantly lessened. When Norrie (Mackenzie Lintz) drops into a seizure uttering “The stars… are falling…” to her mothers (yeah man, a step forward for cable television with lesbian moms!), the immediate lack of focus on the situation loses the tension. It doesn’t help that there are quick and sometimes outrageous reactions from the characters; again, that seems to be because Under the Dome is trying to rush through the small stuff to get to major details.

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Yet the real question is, why the rush? It feels like Under the Dome is trying to cram the giant novel from King into 13 measly 45-minute episodes; but really, for a show with such potential for a lengthy premise about life in a community under a dome that requires no end in sight, there’s no use in trying to get everything done so quickly. For me, it’s more important to hit the high notes satisfactorily, not rush them so that they get jumbled into a mess that quickly fades. Unfortunately, the pilot for Under the Dome does more of the latter than the former.

Under the Dome doesn’t seem like a terrible adaptation, just one that feels pared down and made suitable for fairly predictable network television. There’s still some blood and guts, and a few tasty surprises thanks to special effects. But the inconsistent acting and the rushed plot indicates that Under the Dome is going to be a show that gets in and out fast, and it doesn’t seem to mind that either. We’ll see where the season takes us, but right now this adaptation feels trapped under the (admittedly large) dome of the original novel.

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