Adapted from a hernia-inducing bestseller by Stephen King, Under the Dome – a summer series premiering tonight on CBS – is set in the rural Maine town of Chester’s Mill, a picturesque spot that could be the backdrop of a Norman Rockwell painting … if David Lynch painted under the name Norman Rockwell.
As in so many sleep burgs, Chester’s Mill harbors some unsettling secrets, some sexy, some sinister. A few locals have noticed mysterious propane tanker trucks pulling into town, but who is stockpiling it, and why? Local politician Big Jim Rennie (Dean Norris, Breaking Bad) seems to know, and worse, he seems to know how to use that information to his best advantage.
Elsewhere, we see a shadowy out-of-towner, Army vet Dale “Barbie” Barbara (Mike Vogel, Bates Motel), hastily burying a corpse in a makeshift forest grave, and waitress Angie McAlister (Britt Robertson, The Secret Circle) trying to end a dead-end affair with a handsome but unstable player (Alexander Koch) who doesn’t like to be told no. Oh, and the stressed-out sheriff (Jeff Fahey) has a pacemaker installed in his chest. Uh-oh.
Still, to the untrained eye, things appear to be tickety-boo in Chester’s Mill right up until a previously calm morning is shaken by an abrupt tremor and the church bells start pealing at a deafening level, just seconds before an enormous but completely transparent dome slams down around the town with a force that renders a hapless cow into carpaccio on the hoof.
The barrier tingles to the touch, yet is otherwise invisible, although nothing can pass through it, including phone, TV or radio transmissions. Where did it come from? Is it the work of some government, either domestic or foreign? Will it eventually go away? If not, will the people inside eventually suffocate? (Spoiler alert: probably not, because in tonight’s premiere, you can’t help noticing an inexplicable amount of wind blowing through this supposedly hermetically sealed-off town).
Much like King’s disappointing 1999 miniseries Storm of the Century, Under the Dome explores how a small community unites and/or comes apart at the seams when separated from the rest of the world and confronted with a deadly challenge. Since I haven’t tackled this hefty novel, I have no idea where the storyteller is going with this yarn, but tonight’s first hour is well-acted and boasts some very cool special effects, including the arrival of the dome, a trucker turning into an accordion on wheels when it slams into the invisible barrier and, of course, that poor bifurcated bovine.
The cast, which also includes Rachelle Lefevre (A Gifted Man) and teen actor Colin Ford (best known for playing Jared Padalecki’s younger alter ego in Supernatural flashbacks), is solid, even if their characters come across mainly as types more than three-dimensional human beings in the premiere episode.
All in all, there’s enough here to keep me tuning in to see more. I’m doing so with some trepidation, though, because more than once King has handed us a dazzling premise that fizzles in its execution and resolution. Fingers crossed!