Under the Dome, Episode 1: Pilot
It’s always interesting watching a television show or a movie that is based on the book. I read Under the Dome a few years ago and when I first read the back cover, looking for the synopsis the first thing that popped into my mind was “Didn’t the Simpsons already do this?” Of course, Stephen King managed to cover the subject matter with a definitively darker look at the human pysche and so I was excited when I heard the story was being made into a series. I also assumed that, having read the book, I would have a pretty good idea of what was going to happen and who was going to do what.
Under The Dome: Pilot Episode
It turns out that the show’s producers decided to go The Walking Dead route, more than the Game of Thrones direction. I could tell right from the very beginning that the story I knew was not going to be the one I was watching. Depending on how the series unfolds, that could actually be a good thing, because it means people who have read the book get to experience the series for the first time just like those who haven’t. Having said that, I’ll do my best to review the show for what it is and not what I thought the story was going to be.
Pilots are never the best episode of a series, they are all about setting up the story and introducing us to the characters. The writers rarely have a sense for what those characters can do in the first episode of the first season. Even good pilots generally tend to leave something to be desired. The pilot for Under the Dome was no different in that it wasn’t particularly bad, but the characters all came off as caricatures more than actual people. The task of the writers is going to be filling in the townspeople over the course of 13 episodes.
There were a couple of character plot points that really annoyed me and a couple that seem genuinely interesting. There’s the lesbian couple with the daughter who’s always getting into trouble. I suppose this is supposed to show that same sex marriages are the norm now, but it seems awfully ham fisted to do that in story like this and in a story that didn’t have those characters in the original. I’m sure we’ll find that their daughter is really a “bad girl with a heart of gold” in the most obvious ways as the season rolls forward.
Barbie is obviously one of the main heroes/antiheroes of the story and so the writers are working hard to weave some real mystery around him. We find that the man he was involved with at the beginning of the show turns out to be the husband of one of the other heroes Julia Shumway and this does lend a certain “Julia shouldn’t trust him and neither should we” vibe to the character. That reveal could still have been set up differently and later in the season but it wasn’t poorly done.
“Big Jim” Rennie is played by the always great Dean Norris and so far it seems as if he has this character down. Beloved leader of the town who has something rather shady going on as a side business.While this is clearly a man we can’t trust, as evidenced by his rather ominous conversation with the town’s sheriff (Jeff Fahey) his barging into the radio station and making the plea to pull over immediately likely saved lives.
His son, Junior Rennie on the other hand annoyed me from the very beginning. I know we’re supposed to be creeped out by the guy and we’re supposed to look at him as someone who is mentally unbalanced but I just see someone I desperately want to slap across the face. His kidnapping of Angie Mcalister seemed to have no point at all. I know that he’s supposed to be nutty, but even nutty people have some sort pathology. He went from zero to psychopath in 60 seconds flat. It seems as if they’re trying to do a Norman Bates type portrayal with him and I’m not convinced Alexander Koch has the acting chops to pull it off.
Finally, here’s hoping the “town secret” is handled with far more intrigue than it was in the pilot as well. Duke beginning to reveal the “sinister underbelly” and being cut short and the way he was cut short had me laughing out loud. I don’t think that was the intended reaction.
All in all, the pilot episode wasn’t the strongest pilot I’ve ever seen. It also wasn’t the weakest and there appears to be enough there that the show could turn into something pretty good if it is guided right. Stephen King’s stories rarely translate all that well to television or movies and this one could go off the rails quite quickly. It could also turn the other way and be quite riveting. Next week’s episode should go a long way in letting us know which direction Under the Dome is going to head.