Under The Dome is Under the Bar

From Geek Goes Rogue TV Editor Zach W. Lorton, who’s having trouble getting the people on the other side to understand him…

CBS has faith in its summer drama, Under The Dome.  So much faith, in fact, that they have renewed it for a second season.

I really wanted to like this show.  I watched the first 3 episodes with a careful eye, hoping that I could get into the story.  Like all great Stephen King stories, there are loads of characters, each with their own agenda, and each with their own vices.  Some are criminals, some are corrupt, some are trying to do good, some are teenagers without supervision.  You get the idea.

In fact, you’ve gotten the idea several times before.  Granted, the concept of a town cut off from the rest of the planet by a mysterious dome is terrifying, and human beings will act in desperate ways when faced with desperate circumstances.  However, the small-town milieu gives way to more stereotypes than I can handle in one show.  And I haven’t been able to sit through an entire episode since without wanting it to just be over.

I can understand why CBS renewed the show.  With exceptions like The Big Bang TheoryTwo Broke Girls, and Two and a Half Men, the vast majority of the programs on CBS seem to draw a vast over-40 crowd.  That’s not to say that those under 40 can’t enjoy them, but I’ve heard a lot of jokes about accidentally changing the channel from CBS to something else because you fell asleep at 5:30 pm and shifted on the remote control.  I digress … it seems to me the popularity of this show could be due to some of the expectations of the older demographics.

Now, at 37, I’m no spring chicken, and I enjoy a lot of television and radio programs now that, five years ago, I would never have engaged in.  But there seems to be a want in the CBS ranks to hang onto remnants of the Golden Age of Television.  To their credit, CBS has done this fairly successfully.  However, I watched the pilot episode of Elementary, the U.S. version of the Sherlock Holmes character, and it looked like another CSI/NCIS knockoff.  Honestly, I might as well have been waiting for David Caruso to come walking in from behind a counter while throwing off a phrase like, “There’s nothing elementary about murder,” as he slides his sunglasses on and Roger Daltry screams.  One episode was enough to get the drift.

And with Under The Dome, the problems aren’t quite as spot on, but they are familiar.  An assumedly key character dies in the first episode (played by Jeff Fahey — what’s THAT about??!?); a local minister is found to have ties to corruption in government, a King staple; members of law enforcement go off the deep end; and one of the townspeople imprisons a young woman with whom he has an unbalanced obsession — an obsession which, since the show is on network television, is much tamer than it would be if the show were on a cable channel.  As I said, this is all familiar territory, even though it may not be as stereotypical as it could be.

Still, there are a few redeeming qualities about the show.  One is that the producers noticed the wide range of acting talent in Dean Norris, whose role as Hank Shrader on the AMC series Breaking Bad has turned the heads of many critics and fans, and cast him as Big Jim Rennie, a car salesman and the town’s only selectman left in the town after the dome appears.  His presence is a familiar face that isn’t annoying, and Big Jim is one of the more enigmatic characters.  Appearing more amoral than immoral, his goal is to keep the town running, keep everyone working together, and keep secrets under wraps.  He interacts with nearly everyone, but he acts differently depending on with whom he shares the screen.  In fact, Norris is one of the reasons I looked into the show in the first place.

The other potentially high-quality aspect about this show is the sheer number of characters involved.  I wrote 2 research papers on Stephen King’s novel Needful Things while in high school, and one thing I discovered in that process is that King is able to juggle an enormously large number of characters, and he makes them seem not only essential to the development of the story, but he also allows a level of character development, nearly unheard of for minor characters in literature.  There are thousands of possible outcomes for the inhabitants of Chester’s Mill, based solely on the fact that there are so many characters and personalities at work that the show focuses on.  The potential for greatness is certainly there.

But after having watched the entire Battlestar Galactica series for the first time earlier this year, after having been immersed in Breaking Bad, and after failing to really engage with any CBS drama since CSI: Miami went off the air a few years ago (admit it, you secretly loved it, too), I find Under The Dome too familiar.  I feel like I’ve been to Chester’s Mill before, and one visit was enough.

Zach W. Lorton is a media producer and professional DJ/MC by trade, and a comedian, actor, and musician by default.   His debut music project is set to begin recording in 2014, and will likely take the world by storm, possibly in the form of a Sharknado.

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