Right now, let’s make as many jokes as we need about how “The Simpsons Movie went there first.” And while we’re here, get out all that talk about how you were bracing yourself to be disappointed by the big names involved with Under the Dome. Because a TV event doesn’t feature much bigger roles than Steven Spielberg as producer and Stephen King as the writer of the source material, right? Throw in Lost veteran and Y: The Last Man comic scribe Brian K. Vaughan as executive producer, and you’ve got enough big-name hype that could send skeptics’ hopes crashing down as quickly as some weird electric Dome over a li’l Maine town.
But that didn’t happen at all last night. And if we set aside the chatter and hype, Under the Dome’s pilot episode was exactly what it should have been: a gripping intro for a show that I’m now excited to dig into every Monday night, not to mention its excellent summer timing for a series of its kind.
Much like King’s book, we’re instantly thrown into Chester Mill shortly before this Dome’s unpredictable descent. On the screen, we’re given just enough time to get some serious dirt on our main character before Chester Mill goes on Pyrex-style lockdown. The unfortunately nicknamed Barbie (short for Dale Barbara, who is played by Mike Vogel) is first spotted digging a grave for an unknown body. It’s not exactly breaking ground for a King tale, but we’ll take it out of some sense of familiar excitement that comes from the stories he pens.
And before we have much time to even take in what Barbie’s done, it happens: a cow is halved by some sudden impact, an image that was difficult to forget a day later. Limbs crossing the dividing line are severed. Airplanes collide with the invisible barrier. Trailers, cars and people learn the Dome’s limits the hard way, and Chester Mill’s residents get an eerie marking of the Dome’s perimeter from the bodies of birds that unknowingly flew head-first into death. Welcome to the Terrordome, Chester Mill.
Despite the show’s hour-long timeslot, we didn’t really travel much in the first episode. Instead, the Dome’s landing set the broad circumstances at watchers’ feet—we still don’t know if this is an act of God or some crazy government move, but we know the Dome isn’t safe for those with pacemakers, apparently makes people go into seizure-like fits and is seemingly uncrackable.
But most importantly, the episode gave us glimpses at characters who seem to be mainstays for now. We see the boastful used-car-salesman-turned-politician “Big” Jim Rennie, a character we all expect to see making heavy-handed power moves once Chester Mill’s circumstances are more clearly defined. Journalist Julia Shumway, who writes for The Chester’s Mill Democrat, gives Barbie a place to stay after the Dome’s landing. She mentions her husband’s missing at the time of the drop—cough, Barbie, any idea what happened there?—because he’s having an affair.
Rennie’s son, Junior, is maybe the show’s most exaggerated character, who takes his ex-girlfriend Angie hostage in a bunker. In doing so, Junior (played by newcomer Alexander Koch) brings the episode to its quota for creep-tastic lines, but the performance borders on crime drama-worthy corniness at times. And if you bar out the frequent commercials, Koch’s late-episode rant was the first time I actually felt like I was watching something designed for a living room screen. Predictably so, Under the Dome feels like a huge event—visually and thematically—right off the bat.
While Under the Dome isn’t off to a perfect start, the little taste we’ve had is pretty damn good. And with the guidance coming from King’s hulking, 1,072-page epic, Under the Dome is full of promise and draws from a full well of interesting characters thrown into an impossible-to-make-sense-of situation—And we can’t wait to see where it takes us next week.