Under the Dome is a TV show with serious pedigree. It’s based on a gigantic 2009 novel by Stephen King, the veteran horrormeister – and occasional EW contributor – who has been plumbing the dark side of Americana for close to four decades now. The book was developed into a TV show by Brian K. Vaughan, who wrote one of the greatest comic books ever (Y: The Last Man), one of the second-greatest comic books ever (Ex Machina), and some of the best episodes of Lost. Under the Dome is also produced by Jack Bender, Lost’s signature director. Oh, and somewhere in the mix, you can also fit in the words Executive Producer Steven Spielberg. When I interviewed Vaughan for our Summer TV Preview, he summed up the TV version of Under The Dome thusly:
Stephen King and Steven Spielberg have a lot in common. Everyone zeroes in on their fantastic imaginations, but it’s really the fact that both men are such aggressive humanists, and really like people, and like putting them in extraordinary situations. Spielberg might be more of an optimist, and King might be more of a pessimist. The show is about: Will Steven Spielberg’s worldview win out? Or Stephen King’s? Or some combination of the two?
And so, Under the Dome: The Series begins with a series of scenes located at the geographic midpoint between Spielberg America and King America. The episode begins with a vision of a bird hatching, and its mother flying away. (It reminded me a bit of this cover of The Stand. See also: The opening shot of the TV version of The Stand.) We are quickly introduced to some of the key players in the small town of Chester’s Mill, all of whom are about to have their lives radically changed. In order of appearance:
Barbie: A handsome and mysterious loner who begins the episode digging a deep hole in the woods and stuffing a dead body therein. Barbie has a gash on his forehead, like he was in a fight. When he drives away from the dead body, he makes a phone call, and says a vague statement that implies nasty business: “I’m headed back now. We got a problem here. Your guy, Smith, shows up. He doesn’t have the money. And then he tries to renegotiate. Aggressively.” What was Barbie doing in town? Who’s the guy in the unmarked grave? Did he kill him in self-defense? Did he actually kill him? And can America accept a handsome TV character with a nickname like Barbie?
Sheriff “Duke” Perkins: A genial, sad-eyed local police chief. Introduced having a nap inside of his jail cell. He’s informed that someone called into the police station after hearing a bang. “Like a car backfired? Or a bang like Tommy Anderson finally shot his wife?”
Big Jim Rennie: A local politician, used car salesman, and all-around rainmaker. Introduced at the Sweetbriar Rose, a local diner which has seen better times. (The new Denny’s one town over is really eating into their business.) Big Jim is the kind of guy who reads a biography of Churchill at breakfast and tips his waitress a hundred dollars. “That’s me buying your next vote,” he says. It’s a joke, but he’s also serious. It’s good to be the king. The owner of the Sweetbriar Rose – a sassy-looking gal with the sassy name Rose – describes Big Jim thusly: “Heavy is the head that wears many hats.” That’s a double misquotation of a famous line from Shakespeare’s Henry IV. If Big Jim is the King, then he needs a layabout son…
Junior Rennie: We meet Big Jim’s son in media coitus with Angie McAlister. Junior comes off like a moony-eyed lovesick puppy. “Angie, I love you,” he says. Angie fires back: “Yeah. It’s been a fun summer!” Ouch. Junior tells Angie a lot of things. He’s dropping out of college: It’s just another lame-ass pyramid scheme. He’s moving back home. He’s loved her since the third grade. “You’re the only person in the whole world who knows the real me.” “And that’s why I can’t be with you,” Angie fires back. And it’s like a little switch goes off in Junior’s head. He grabs her. She slaps him. He flashes her an evil eye. Watch out for this one.
Julia Shumway: Ginger-haired intrepid editor/reporter/maybe-the-only-employee of a paper so independent it could only be called The Independent, Julia follows a lead to a kindly old lady’s house, on what looks like the outskirts of town. The kindly old lady tells Julia, “I get my news online, sweetheart, like everybody else.” But the old lady has seen some mysterious trucks carrying a mysterious amount of propane. She called up Sheriff Duke about it; he told her the town was just restocking its emergency reserves; he sounded like he was lying. There’s something rotten in Chester’s Mill.
Deputy Linda: Duke’s apparent second-in-command, Linda’s married to a fireman named Rusty. “I’ll never understand why you said yes to one of those meatheads,” says Duke. “ ‘Cause their insurance policy makes ours look like crap,” she informs him.
Phil Bushey: Local radio DJ at WYBS, “The Mill’s only 100 percent home of rock.” Presumably has good music taste.
Carolyn and Alice: A fashionable couple from Los Angeles who are just passing through Chester’s Mill to take their daughter Norrie to “camp.” Said camp actually appears to be some kind of last-chance refute for troubled teens. Alice is a diabetic. Carolyn is a workaholic. City Folk, through and through.
A Happy Cow: Not hurting anybody. Just tryin’ to live a happy cow life, man.
Got all those names down? Good. In all likelihood, these people are about to begin a slow and painful descent into hell. And at least one of them is about to get chopped in half. (Hint: It’s the cow.)
NEXT: The Dome Comes Down