The premiere episode of CBS drama Under the Dome, based on Stephen King’s highly acclaimed 2009 novel, delivered giant ratings when it debuted a few days ago. I haven’t read the novel yet and I understand that several plot elements of the TV show vary from that of the novel. Given that the TV script is written by Brian K. Vaughan, that’s perfectly fine by me. You see, Mr. Vaughan wrote the outstanding post-apocalyptic graphic novel series Y: The Last Man from 2002-08, which explored what would happen in a world where every male living being suddenly died. The series – much like Max Brooks’ World War Z – used a post-apocalyptic setting to evaluate how social and political structures would respond to a calamitous event…how strongly would the veneer of civilization hold in the face of the unthinkable.
I think Mr. Vaughan is bringing much the same thinking to his writing on Under the Dome. How will the citizens of a small town in North-eastern US respond when a single event takes loved ones away and leaves you having to defend your way of life against forces that you have no understanding of? Some people look to take advantage of such a situation while it brings out the best in others, frequently from those who have never demonstrated much altruism in normal times.
Another novel which explores a similar situation, although in a spatially inverted manner, is Eric Flint’s 1632. In that novel, a town in West Virginia mysteriously is transported into the year 1632 and transposed into the middle of Germany. I found many parallels in the story structure of the early chapters of 1632 and the pilot episode of Dome.
I really hope the showrunners of Dome can keep the momentum and quality going into the 2nd episode and beyond. I had similarly high expectations with J.J. Abrams’ series Revolution a few months ago. The premiere episode was directed by Iron Man‘s Jon Favreau and was really good. Thereafter, it went downhill, primarily because of the irritating Matheson family, especially Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos) and to a lesser extent her mother Rachel (Elizabeth Mitchell). Even the presence of intriguing characters like Major Tom Neville (Giancarlo Esposito) wasn’t enough to save the show for me.
Similarly, I noticed that the pilot episode of Under the Dome had great credentials – executive produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Niels Arden Oplev, the man who directed the original Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Hopefully with the solid source material from Stephen King and the adapted writing from Brian Vaughan, the subsequent episodes will maintain standards. The other reason I have hope is that the casting seems to be better than that of Revolution. Although the father-son combo of ‘Big Jim’ and Junior Rennie are going to be a handful to deal with, there are likeable characters like Linda the cop (Natalie Martinez, who had such a good role as the cop’s wife in last year’s End of Watch), Julia the journalist (Rachel Lefevre, who plays the vampire Victoria in the Twilight movies), the precocious kid Joe McAlister (played by Colin Ford) and the mysterious stranger ‘Barbie’ (Mike Vogel) who just missed leaving town before the dome fell.
The show is a bit violent and gory, but what would you expect of an adaptation of a Stephen King novel? And I have to admit, the bit with the cow was one of the best scenes in the episode!
I understand that the scientific explanation of the dome will differ in the show vs. the novel (although I haven’t read the novel, I know what causes the dome to happen), so that’s a good trick by the showrunners to keep people hooked till the end of the series, even if they’ve read the book. The only thing I am uncertain about is the likelihood that CBS will make this an open-ended story lasting for months (and therefore extending beyond its current 13-episode first season order), unlike the King novel in which the story lasts just a week or so. I am not keen on an endless wild goose chase like Lost (for which Mr. Vaughan was a story editor and co-producer for several episodes, by the way), where ultimately the sub-plots get so convoluted and characters become increasingly weird, that it becomes tough for the writers to resolve the story in a sensible way. No matter how good a story is, there can always be too much of a good thing!