The saga of a small town with sinister secrets bottled up by a mysterious sphere of transparent energy, Under the Dome is an echo chamber noisy with reminders of other TV shows and current events. The Twilight Zone. The Prisoner. Twin Peaks. At one point in the captivating pilot, one trapped character bids adieu to another with an ominous ”Be seeing you” — a wink to the 1960s cult classic series The Prisoner. At episode’s end, as we watch first responders, news crews, and rubberneckers rush to locked-down/locked-in Chester’s Mill, it’s hard not to think of Boston, Newtown, Katrina, 9/11. Welcome to the latest allegorical epic for these tumultuous, terrifying times. Feel free to get Lost.
Perhaps you already have: Under the Dome is adapted from the 2009 best-seller by Stephen King. Time will tell how much the series will veer from it, as CBS only provided the pilot for review; either way, Dome is worth lifting the lid. The premise captures the imagination, and the characters are well cast, even if they’re mere archetypes out of the gate. There’s the Mysterious Stranger (Mike Vogel), whom we meet burying a dead body linked to the Crusading Journalist (Rachelle Lefevre), who is investigating an ominous yard of propane trucks linked to the Devious Powermonger (Dean Norris) with the Psycho Son (Alexander Koch), who has an unhealthy attachment to the Worldly Small-Town Girl Who Wants Out (Britt Robertson). Executive producer Brian K. Vaughan — working in collaboration with showrunner Neal Baer (”E.R.”) — is a Lost writer and comic-book scribe whose masterful post-apocalyptic yarn Y: The Last Man gives me reason to believe he can pump the Dome with meaningful stories for as long as needed.
Which might not be too long. Under the Dome — set for a 13-episode run — has been described as an ”event” and a ”limited” series. Translation: ”This could continue, but it doesn’t need to, and we pinkie-swear promise answers and satisfaction from each modest-size season. Commit!” Of course, briefer doesn’t always mean better. Short-order serials have permission to be more deliberately paced, but have greater pressure on them to know what they want to be and how to be consistently entertaining. I hope Under the Dome resembles Orphan Black or Hannibal, both of which have a character-rich approach to generating and revealing mystery and mythology. If Vaughan can complexify the people and keep the show thematically incisive without becoming too pretentious, I’ll stand with the catastrophe-rocked residents of Chester’s Mill for seasons to come. B