Me and Lil’ Stevie
UNDER THE DOME
(CBS Summer Series, Episode 1)
(Exterior/Day. Establishing shot of some farmland off a rural highway on the outskirts of Chester’s Mill, Maine. There are cows out in yonder pasture, doing cow stuff and not paying any attention to the propane trucks that keep entering the town and driving off into some secret location. We hear the sound of a single engine prop plane somewhere in the sky above, flitting in and out of the clouds. Camera pans across the pasture when suddenly, WHOOMF, a huge transparent dome gets dropped out of the sky, cutting off virtually everything inside Chester’s Mill from the outside world. One of the cows that was standing under the perimeter of the dome gets severed completely in half in an amazing CGI bifurcation. A figure nearby turns to look at the recently deceased bovine, and we see that it is a man holding a ventriloquist dummy in the form of Master of Horror, Stephen King.)
Lil’ Stevie: Holy cow!
Peter: More like “Halfie Cow!” Good evening, Constant Viewer, and welcome to our Me and Lil’ Stevie bonus Miniseries Spotlight. We’re examining the s premiere episode of UNDER THE DOME…brought to you by CBS. Of course, we’re not going to get this in depth with every single episode, but we do want to bring you the best coverage possible of this summer’s biggest television event.
Lil’ Stevie: Of course, this series is based on my 2009 novel of the same name, with the teleplay by Brian K. Vaughan (who produced the series LOST, 2009) and directed by Jack Bender (CHILD’S PLAY 3, 1991). I even stuck around as an EXECUTIVE PRODUCER.
(Peter pushes his arm forward, planting Lil’ Stevie’s face against the side of THE DOME.)
Peter: What’s that? I can’t hear you when you’re talking into that weird force-field wall.
Lil’ Stevie: Mmmff. MMMMffff!
Peter: (Pulling Lil’ Stevie back) The REAL Stephen King did have a hand in producing the project from novel to small screen, and has even gone on to confess that Chester’s Mill is heavily influenced by Bridgton, Maine. But we’re here simply to recap tonight’s events and help readers decide whether they should invest the time in watching all thirteen episodes or not. So let’s get started.
Lil’ Stevie: Fine!
Peter: The series begins with a stranger driving out into the woods to bury a dead body. Dale “Barbie” Barbara (Mike Vogel, CLOVERFIELD, 2008) is seen tossing the body into the ground and covering it, and then making a very secretive phone call as he tries to high-tail it out of town. He…
Lil’ Stevie: No, no, no…this is ALL WRONG already! In my book, he’s trying to flee town after being bullied at the greasy spoon he works at as a short-order cook. He takes an ass-kicking out in the parking lot, and…
Peter: (starts pushing Lil’ Stevie toward the side of THE DOME again.) Do you mind?
Lil’ Stevie: (Grimacing) I’ll be good!
Peter: Anyway, we’re also introduced to other various occupants of this small Maine Town. Sheriff Howard “Duke” Perkins (Jeff Fahey, GRINDHOUSE, 2007), Town Selectman and car dealer “Big Jim” Rennie (Dean Norris, TOTAL RECALL, 1990, and also best known right now for being one of the stars of the excellent AMC TV series BREAKING BAD), new editor of the Independent, Julia Shumway (Rachelle Lefevre, THE CALLER, 2011), and “Big Jim’s” psycho son, Junior (Alexander Koch, THE GHOSTS, 2011).
Lil’ Stevie: Don’t forget about “Scarecrow Joe” McClatchey and Angie McCain, and…
Peter: All right, here’s the thing: Way back when we reviewed STORM OF THE CENTURY, I noted that this was going to be a problem. This novel is one of King’s widest-scoped projects to date, in terms of cast and plot lines. In fact, if you open the 1,000+ page novel, right at the beginning you’ll find an annotated list of primary and supporting characters…three pages worth. Now, I read the book back when it came out, and I’m already stumped outside of the primary players we’ve already listed as to who does what in the story. It’s ginormous. Hence the 13 episode series. And even so, I’m betting at least a dozen names get bumped right out of the story in transition from novel to teleplay. Hell, King even lists “Dogs of Note” in his character list. That should tell you something right away.
Lil’ Stevie: So I got carried away…
Peter: (Shaking head.) Anyway, to make this ginormous story short, the dome is dropped just as Barbie is about to leave. He has a minor accident seconds before THE DOME impacts, and he takes out a fence on the McClatchey farm. Young Joe sees the accident and runs out to help, and then just like it says above, WHOOOMF, THE DOME drops. The cow is split in half. And then the single-engine prop plane collides with it, and then dead birds start dropping out of the sky.
Lil’ Stevie: Meanwhile, in town, it feels like an earthquake is happening. The ground shakes, car alarms begin going off, the church bells ring out in vibration, etc. “Duke” and “Big Jim” rush to the scene of the airplane crash and immediately take over in delegating authority. Only, nobody really understands exactly what happened.
Peter: Precisely. And during this calamity, cub editor Julia Shumway gets tipped off about the strange number of propane trucks showing up in town. She goes to investigate into what is obviously being foreshadowed as “Big Jim’s” big secret (and it’s obvious “Duke” is looking the other way in terms of what’s going down in this little town). And meanwhile, there’s the little problem with “Junior” Rennie.
Lil’ Stevie: Another case of “liberal scripting!” In my book, Junior suffers brain-tumor headaches, which literally drive him crazy. He kills Angie right off the bat, right in her kitchen, and then revisits her dead body over and over again…
Peter: Not here in TV Land, Kimo Sabe. Junior does knock her out in her kitchen, but she wakes up in the bomb shelter “Big Jim” has built outside his own home. By the end of tonight’s episode, Angie has become a hostage in what is obviously a neat little cliffhanger. And the same goes for “Duke’s” heart attack.
Lil’ Stevie: There are a lot of other changes as well. The storyline of Julia Shumway’s husband getting bumped off (remember the guy Barbie buries at the beginning?). And who the hell are these radio personalities? In my book, the only radio station is the one playing Christian broadcasting.
Peter: Well, we knew going into this that parts of the story were going to be changed around…particularly the ending. But for now, let’s sum this up and get to bed. Overall, most of the characters and plot devices in this story have been done before. Sometimes better, sometimes not so much. Barbie instantly reminds me of Stu Redman from THE STAND. “Big Jim” reminds me of Robbie Beals from STORM OF THE CENTURY (and quite frankly, Norris never captures the power-mad bully as King envisions him in his novel). Chester’s Mill is another small Maine town where the people are all middle to lower class and have their dirty little secrets. But to be fair, the acting has been rock-solid and nitpicking all these little discrepancies is kind of fun. The special effects seem to be above average for television, and overall, I can honestly say I did enjoy the first installment. Then again, I’m a rabid King fan, so I suppose I’m kind of biased.
Lil’ Stevie: That’s right, boy! Bow to my awesome power of storytelling. I command you!
(Peter takes Lil’ Stevie off his arm and throws him at THE DOME. There’s a faint buzzing sound as Lil’ Stevie’s body begins to convulse and smoke).
Peter: What we’re trying to say is, “We’ll be tuning in next week for episode 2 to see where things are going.” We think you should, too.
(Lil’ Stevie drops to the ground, panting and gasping for breath.)
Lil’ Stevie: It’s like “Big Jim” keeps saying…”We’re all in this together!”
© Copyright 2013 by Peter N. Dudar
(UNDER THE DOME will be airing throughout the summer on Mondays at 10pm EST, on CBS)