First Watch: Under The Dome – “Pilot” (Season 1, Episode 1)

CBS is the home for Stephen King’s newest miniseries: Under the Dome. King is notorious for having his books adapted into miniseries; with just as many critical hits as he has failures. Under the Dome takes place in a small New England town (like most of King’s work). The seemingly-normal town gets cutoff from the rest of the world by an invisible barrier; the story in a nutshell — or a dome. With a cast equal parts seasoned pros and fresh faces, a giant budget, and a team of writers working with Mr. King, it seems likely Under The Dome will break barriers and records.

Ensemble casts are the reason Stephen King’s works can be easily adapted to a Miniseries. Multiple characters with entirely different problems and plots of their own are tied together by global circumstances. These events force characters together, in a tight way, oftentimes squeezing the deepest parts of those characters to the surface. Then we see a clear divide in the people: good and evil. With King novels, shades of gray disappear and are replaced with a degree of certainty never found in reality. We are often allowed to know the evil character’s point of view, understand his logic behind his decisions, and even empathize with him, but we never make the mistake of agreeing with his actions. Stephen King is certain to make us aware of another option; a better choice. A right choice.

Depending on the success of the show, Stephen King alumni often end up famous. Kiefer Impossibly-Long-Name Sutherland made his debut in Stand By Me and Misery launched Kathy Bates’ career. With Under the Dome we have Mike Vogel, as Dale ‘Barbie’ Barbara, an Army Veteran doing some illicit things; Rachelle Lefevre, as Julia Shumway, a reporter separated from her husband; Natalie Martinez, as Deputy Linda Esquivel, who’s trying to hold the town and herself together; Jeff Fahey, as Howard ‘Duke’ Perkins, the police chief; Britt Robertson, as Angie McAlister, a candy striper trying to escape her small town life; Dean Norris, as James ‘Big Jim’ Rennie, a councilman and used-car salesman; Alexander Koch, as Junior Rennie, Big Jim’s lovesick teenager; Colin Ford, as Joe McAlister, the local trig-wielding brain; Nicholas Strong, as Phil Bushey, the town’s radio DJ; Jolene Purdy, as Dodee Weaver, Phi’s engineer; and Aisha Hinds, as Carolyn Hill, a lesbian and lawyer from LA. Any of these actors could be the next James Caan.

I have to admit two names drew me to this show: Stephen King and Dean Norris. Hank from Breaking Bad? Damn straight I’ll watch your show. Also, if you were ever a fan of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, you’ll be happy to see Zelda (Beth Broderick) back on the small screen as Rose Twitchell.

The episode opens with each of the five cornerstones of Drama: Murder, Law, Politics, Sex, and Mystery — all within the first five minutes. I can’t get into specifics because spoilers would be too easy; the episode is built atop itself in a way disassembling it would prove disastrous. I can say, the pilot is well done. It introduced characters and plot in a way that was neither painful or boring, and almost all stereotypes and tropes are broken early on — the classic bone structures are covered with original skins, making the characters feel fresh and new.

The post-production team is incredible. The special effects are some of the best I’ve seen on network television — and it spares no gore. The director did not shy away from severed limbs. The editing and camera work is top of the line: fast paced and professional. The thing that really catches my eye (or in this case, ear) is the music. The music is haunting, dramatic, and just plain well written.

Anyone that reads this blog knows I’m a stickler for dialog. Good dialog is necessary for good TV. This series has good dialog. Just a taste:

“What if the government built this thing?”

“Doubt it.”

“Why?”

“Because it works.”

Zing!

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