Before it even aired a single episode, Under the Dome already had quite the head start, as the new CBS drama has the benefit of highly recognizable names built right into its DNA. For starters, the "event" series is based on the Stephen King novel of the same name (King also serves as a producer) and is being executive produced by Steven Spielberg.
That right there is enough pedigree to make any other series a little jealous in terms of marketability. But Under the Dome is also being shepherded by award-winning comic book and former Lost writer Brian K. Vaughan – which should please fans of genre storytelling and help to explain the Lost-y vibe that the show gives off during its gripping and well-crafted premiere.
For those unfamiliar with the novel on which it is based, the series depicts the residents of Chester's Mill – a small, tranquil town in the Northeastern corner of the United States – who have the misfortune of being cut off from the rest of the world after an enormous, invisible and seemingly impenetrable barrier covers their little burg. Cars, barns, cows and people unlucky enough to have been straddling the perimeter wind up with chunks (or worse) on either side of the barrier. Birds fall from the sky with broken necks, while cars and planes violently crash into the invisible wall; even sound is unable to pass through the mysterious obstruction.
Written by Vaughan, the pilot manages to quickly set things in motion while still giving a cursory, but adequate glimpse at the major players in the series. It's a wildly distinct group that features Mike Vogel (fresh off his stint on another Lost alum's new series – Carlton Cuse's Bates Motel ) as Dale "Barbie" Barbara, a shady former soldier who finds himself in Chester's Mill on a business deal that looks to have gone south, as he's introduced burying a body in the woods. There's also Angie (Britt Robertson) a candy striper looking to get away from the small town, but finds herself even more desperate to be free of her unhinged boyfriend, Junior (Alexander Koch) - and then there is Rachel Lefevre (Twilight) as the town's newspaper editor who was, until the dome appeared, woefully unaware of the potentially underhanded dealings going on in her own home.
Rounding out the expansive cast is Dean Norris of Breaking Bad – who will have the distinct pleasure of being on two networks at once come August – as the town's hot-shot car dealer/councilman James "Big Jim" Rennie (think Buddy Garrity with a potentially homicidal edge), and two local radio DJs, Phil and Dodee (Nicholas Strong and Joelen Purdy, respectively). There's also lesbian couple Carolyn (Aisha Hinds) and Alice (Samatha Mathis), who wind up stuck in Chester's Mill while en route to dropping their troubled daughter Norrie (Mackenzie Lintz) off at a specialized camp.
Jeff Fahey (another remnant of Lost) shows up as the town's sheriff, and is joined by Linda (Natalie Martinez), his deputy who was recently engaged to a fire-fighter currently on the other side of the dome. And although it looks like he may not survive the pilot episode, the series first begins to prod the what, how and why of dome through Fahey's character, while also intimating a compelling undercurrent examining the economic plight of small towns in the USA. It seems that in an effort to save the community he's devoted his life to, the sheriff may have been complicit in a deal with the devil that literally sealed the fate of Chester's Mill.
That brief inkling of mystery illustrates Vaughan's ability to set up and balance out the various elements that helped make the pilot a successful, swiftly-paced and entertaining episode. As for the viability of the series (and future seasons, should this summer series work out well for CBS), there's plenty to keep the narrative moving beyond the larger mystery of the dome, who is behind it and why. There's also a bizarre and vaguely supernatural aspect developing, as two teenagers experience seizures and begin uttering the cryptic phrase, "The stars are falling in lines."
Perhaps most importantly, Under the Dome seems to be as interested in the brewing conflict inside the dome, amongst those trapped there, as it is in the larger conflict of the dome itself. Vaughn (and King, of course) have managed to draw up a host of interesting characters and interweaving story arcs that could potentially keep the wheels turning within the confines of the enclosure for some time to come.
In addition to the high-profile creators involved, the series has the likely benefit of premiering during the summer – a time when quality series are typically scarce on network television. With competition in short supply, Under the Dome may just find the audience it was hoping for and could prove to be a rare summertime hit for CBS.
Under the Dome continues next Monday with 'Into the Fire' @10pm on CBS. Check out a preview below:
Additionally, if you have read the book, we ask that you keep in mind viewers who have not, and please refrain from SPOILING specific events or the ending in the comments below. Thank you.