TV Review: Under the Dome – 101 – “Pilot”

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I am going to make a conscious effort not to compare the series to Stephen King’s novel. I might do something at the end of the season, but I’ll make that decision when the time comes. For now, you can read my thoughts on the novel and the series in the lead up to the premiere on the Stephen King Week page. You can also hear my thoughts on some of the changes the show made on this week’s episode of The Obsessive Viewer Podcast (which releases on Friday).

BEWARE: MAJOR SPOILERS

Something struck me about the opening scene. The audience watches as a bird hatches out of an egg. It’s mother flies away through a secluded wooded area. The imagery is nice to look at. They clearly pumped some money into this series. What this image signifies, I’m not sure. Maybe the bird is emerging from its own dome-shaped imprisonment, only for its mother to abandon it, is simply supposed to signify that the town of Chester’s Mill is completely on its own.

In any case, it’s not what struck me about the opening scene. What struck me was Barbie. We’re introduced to Dale Barbara (Mike Vogel) as he’s disposing of a dead body. We’re later privy to his side of a phone call, which just deepens the mystery. Apparently he was supposed to meet a guy for an exchange of some kind. Said guy showed up empty handed and tried to aggressively “change the deal.”

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I found this interesting considering my outlandish claim last week that Under the Dome could potentially become the next “event television” mystery series. Which is to say it could become a larger than life experience for its audience. Given my previous comparison to Lost, I found it to be quite telling that Under the Dome’s protagonist was introduced disposing of a dead body.

In my House of Cards review, I referenced Snyder’s “save the cat” screenwriting rule. The rule states that, in order to make your audience root for the protagonist, he or she should do something heroic in the first scene. In Lost, we meet Jack as he’s pulling people away from burning wreckage and aiding to the injured and incapacitated. In Under the Dome, Barbie buries a dead body, keeps a gun close by as he passes a police car and then he saves a kid from burning wreckage.

I find it to be an indication of the changing moral landscape of television audiences’ that now characters are effectively “burying the dog” before they “save the cat.” That’s perfectly fine by me. I’m instantly invested in the mystery of Dale Barbara. It’s an investment that that gets even deeper at the end of the episode when it’s revealed the man he buried was Julia Shumway’s doctor husband.

That’s as far as I’m willing to go in my comparison of Lost and Under the Dome, though. I enjoyed this pilot quite a bit but, as I’ve said before, Lost’s pilot is essentially an extraordinarily well-produced TV-movie. It would be unfair to judge Under the Dome’s premiere against it. I still think Under the Dome could be the next Lost, however. Maybe after they develop the characters a little more.

Screen shot 2013-06-25 at 5.12.14 AMI really like the way Dean Norris is portraying Jim Rennie. The scene where he is talking to Sheriff Perkins about the conspiracy involving the propane was my favorite scene in the episode. The way he paints a jovial expression on his face while maintaining a deep-seated aggressiveness that shows through in his eyes was a brilliant choice by Norris and makes me very excited to see what else he does with the character.

One of Big Jim’s first scenes has him breaking into the radio station after the dome appears. He aggressively gets into the studio, bypassing station workers Dodee and Phil, and makes an emergency announcement telling everyone in their cars to pull over so they don’t drive into the dome. I thought it was interesting to have Jim save lives that way after Barbie is shown burying a body. It’s an interesting juxtaposition of the show’s protagonist and (presumable) antagonist.

Screen shot 2013-06-25 at 5.12.57 AMAlexander Koch plays Junior Rennie in the series pretty well. Trapping Angie in the fallout shelter under the guise of protecting her is an interesting storytelling device. So far it makes Junior seem a little more sympathetic than if he had just outright killed her. But judging from his interaction with Barbie, I would think the level of sympathy the audience will have for him will run out quickly enough.

Alexander Koch looks a little bit like Andy Samberg in the face. So throughout the episode I couldn’t help but replay The Lonely Islands “Jizz in my Pants” in my head. It’s immature and stupid, I know, but it distracted me a little from the episode.

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Jeff Fahey. Man, I was sad to see him go so soon. I had an interesting series of thoughts leading up to the pacemaker explosion scene. My inner monologue went this way: “Man, I love seeing Lapidus from Lost on TV again. Hey, I remember this scene from the trailer. Wait, I remember a lot of his scenes from the trailers. Duke’s getting awful close to the dome. Oh shit!!”

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It was a necessary death, though, as it will serve to solidify Big Jim’s hold on the town and allow him to get a crazy new police force up and running.

Screen shot 2013-06-25 at 5.16.23 AMSome other standout scenes in the episode included the grocer truck driving into the dome and Linda seeing the men in gas masks and HAZMAT suits arriving at the dome and pushing the media back. The thought of seeing that in that situation is absolutely terrifying to me. The aforementioned pacemaker explosion scene was also very cool to see.

All in all, I enjoyed the premiere quite a bit and I think the series shows a lot of promise. Even though the characters don’t seem as strong as Lost’s did at the end of its pilot, I think there is a lot of room to grow. I’m really intrigued by the mysteries presented, more so than with any of the post-Lost serialized mystery dramas even.

I’ve read some comments about how disappointed fans of the novel are about the changes and I can’t really wrap my head around it. It’s a given that any adaptation is going to have its share of changes (either out of necessity to the storytelling or due to general artistic license) but Under the Dome is different.

I stayed away from most of the internet chatter around it and still came out knowing that there were going to be a lot of changes and that the show was going to effectively be a very loose adaptation. But I guess you can’t please everyone.

Make sure you check the Under the Dome page regularly for my weekly reviews of the show. You can also follow me on Twitter @ObsessiveViewer, like the blog on Facebook and subscribe to The Obsessive Viewer Podcast on iTunes or download episodes directly on The Obsessive Viewer Podcast page of the site.

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What did you think of the Under the Dome premiere? Leave me a comment below with your thoughts on the new summer series.

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8 responses to “TV Review: Under the Dome – 101 – “Pilot”

  1. oh I cant wait to hear the podcast! this is my fave new show! I will be writing a blog later today as well! great post I give show 9 out of 10 so far Stephen King in my top 3 fave authors

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  2. Overall I liked the premiere but had a few issues with it. I thought the actual dome coming down happened a little too quickly and there should have been some more character development leading up to it. It could have happened in the last 15 minutes. That leads too my other point that there seemed to be way too much crammed into one hour here. Like how Angie was seen at her waitress job in one scene, then at home, then a candy striper all of a sudden. I didn’t even think it was the same girl for a minute. And with the characters being rushed around so much I didn’t really care that Junior locked her in the fallout shelter. And my last nitpick was the acting was pretty bad outside of Big Jim, Barbie and Junior. The kid Joe and the female cop Linda especially. Hopefully it gets a little better. It will be interesting to see how they stretch the story out if the series goes multiple seasons.

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    • I see where you’re coming from with the dome coming down too early. I didn’t have an issue with it, though. In fact, in the book it happened sooner. That was one area that was very true to the feel of the book.

      You’re definitely right about Angie’s two jobs though. I didn’t even notice it until I read your comment. I hope there’s a deleted scene somewhere. That’s a pretty big gap to leave, in my opinion.

      My only real problem with Linda was her scenes were mostly exposition. “I love you Rusty!” “Duke? Is it your pacemaker?” I’m hoping they give her more to work with in the coming episodes.

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  3. He looks distractingly like Andy Samberg!

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