We are undoubtedly in a ‘golden age’ of television. Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Utopia, Broadchurch – on both sides of the Atlantic, high-quality drama is flourishing, and in particular, the dark, bleak brand is doing better than anything. While Under The Dome is not quite of the same ilk, it is still more than worth watching – a high-concept, brooding and bleak science-fiction show.
Under The Dome, for those who missed the strong first series, concerns a small US town that is suddenly enclosed in a giant dome. While the people can see out of it, and those on the outside can see it, the dome is both soundproof, and completely impenetrable, as is found out over the course of the show. The series then follows the ensemble cast of characters stuck inside, as they try to cope and survive their predicament.
Through this, there are two main strands to the plot – firstly, there is the core mystery of how exactly the dome got there – is it military, alien, or something else? The style of the dome gives no real clues. But as the series goes on, there are hints to the mythology. Yet the best thing the show can do is to suspend the mystery, as whatever ‘the truth’ is, it surely can’t be better than the viewer’s imagination.
The second strand is exploring the characters themselves, and their interactions in this enclosed environment. While the town seems respectably big from the location shots, the nature of the show means there is little scope for spurious guest appearances, and instead the focus must lie on the main cast, akin to many single-location films, such as the recent blockbuster Non-Stop, where the same cast of extras was retained for the whole shoot. On Under The Dome, the main cast is fairly broad, and each character brings something important to the show, be it in their relationship with the other characters, or their shady past in some way or another. There’s Barbie, a shady man passing through the town as the dome fell. He’s joined by a quartet of younger characters including Junior, Angie, Norrie, and, one of the only characters on the show who doesn’t have a nickname, Joe, who all become more important as the show progresses. Finally, there’s the show’s ‘piece de resistance’ in the de facto antagonist, Big Jim Rennie, Junior’s father, played by Breaking Bad’s Dean Norris with a great sense aggression and delusion, frequently outdoing the other characters and actors.
Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, the show naturally retains a lot of ‘King-isms’, especially as the author is one of the executive producers on the show (alongside, incidentally, Steven Spielberg). Despite this, the sharp social commentary of the book, in particular the environmentalist aspect, is slightly toned down for the show.
At this point, a number of you might be thinking, ‘hold on, a giant dome traps a small US town?’ Isn’t that The Simpsons Movie?’ In that sense, it is. But while the book was published after that film in 2007, King was in the process of writing it for some 20 years beforehand, so rest assured, this isn’t just an adult version of The Simpsons. There are also a number of similarities to another King-adaptation, the horror film The Mist. There are some impressive gory scenes, the highlight being the first episode, where a cow is caught in the exact wrong spot as the dome descends, and is split in two with all the bloody detail on show.
Which brings us neatly to the confusion, at least here, as to why or how there is a second series at all. In the book, the timespan is only a few weeks, because, King realised by that point he’d already written over 1500 pages of manuscript. The first series was billed as ‘event television’, and appeared to be a one-off of the same nature. Yet it ended on a definite cliffhanger, and here we are.
Last time we visited the dome, Barbie had his neck in a noose, as Big Jim staged his public execution to frame Barbie for some of his misdeeds. Meanwhile, Angie, Norrie and Joe had found a ‘mini-dome’, and caused all manner of chaos to befall the dome, with the often-referenced ‘pink stars’ finally making an appearance. It was a gripping finale, and left a lot of answers, all of which means the relationship of book-show is now a tad unclear. Hopefully this won’t impact the quality of the show, and instead will enable greater risks and intrigue.
There are two new regulars this series, stretching the enclosed nature somewhat. Sam, Big Jim’s brother-in-law, played by Eddie Cahill of CSI: NY, and Rebecca, a teacher, played by Karla Crome of the later series’ of Misfits. They’ll likely shake things up with the returning cast. One might assume that Big Jims hold over Chester’s Mill won’t be quite as strong with his past coming back to haunt him.
While the second series has just started over in the US, it is yet to be officially announced over here in the UK, but if it follows the same timeline as last year with the first series, we should see it by mid-August, on Channel Five. It should certainly be worth the wait.