Under the Dome – Pilot Review

Anghus Houvouras reviews the pilot episode of Under the Dome from the series premiere in Wilmington, NC, attended by Stephen King….

The last few years has provided a slew of mystery themed television shows wrapped around a lofty premise.  Ever since Lost became a fan phenomenon, the major American television networks have tried to capture lightning in a bottle as give audiences a succulent mystery to sink their teeth into and keep audiences coming back one cliffhanger at a time.  Under the Dome might be the first TV series in a long time to have that same brand of magic.

The pilot episode (premiering on CBS Monday June 24th) brings us the latest Stephen King adaptation, the story of the small town of Chester’s Mill that is mysteriously cut off from the rest of the world by a large dome shaped force field raising a number of questions and adding complications to some already complex situations.
The unfortunately nicknamed ‘Barbie’ (Mike Vogel) has just killed a man and is disposing of the body just before the incident.  As he tries to leave town, the dome drops down and prevents his escape.  He becomes the impromptu protagonist as the town tries to rationalize this strange event.  Like Lost, there’s a large cast of interesting characters.  The first episode gives us just a taste of each.  There’s Big Jim (Dean Norris), a well liked city councilman who seems all too eager to take charge at the first sign of anarchy.  Julia (Rachel Lafevre) is a newspaper editor trying to tack down her wayward husband.  And it wouldn’t be a Stephen King story if there wasn’t a knife wielding psychopath walking around in plain sight.  

The first episode of Under the Dome works because writer and executive producer Brian K. Vaughn kicks the whole thing into high gear.  The plot is set into motion fast.  Lightning fast.  There’s barely time to breathe before the dome drops and the body count begins.  There’s a briskness to everything that feels downright refreshing for network television.  

The cast is good.  Dean Norris does a particularly good job chewing scenery as the big fish in a small pond with an epic sense of entitlement.  I also liked seeing veteran B-movie actor Jeff Fahey in the mix (albeit briefly).  The large, ensemble cast keeps the story moving, barely stopping on one story arc long enough for the audience to catch their breath.
I’m very encouraged by the first episode of Under the Dome.  Stephen King’s works have not always had the softest landing on television.  Under the Dome could end up being one of the more thematically faithful and thoroughly enjoyable adaptations.  

The premiere event in Wilmington, NC gathered the cast and producers on stage with author Stephen King in attendance.  King has had a number of his works adapted in the Wilmington, NC area including Silver Bullet, Firestarter, and Night Flier.  But by far the most famous of King’s North Carolina projects has to be the 1986 cult classic Maximum Overdrive filmed in Wilmington.  Under the Dome is the latest (and hopefully not the last) project to film in the area.  King worked the crowd getting the biggest laugh of the night.  While being handed the key to the city, Mayor Bill Saffo said “I’ve been to Bangor (Maine) and seen the bats on your gate…” referring to the cast iron bats that adorn the gate to his home.
“You should see the ones in my belfry” replied King.

Anghus Houvouras is a North Carolina based writer and filmmaker. His latest work, the novel My Career Suicide Note, is available from Amazon.


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