SUMMER TV EXTRAVAGANZA
THE 4EP TREATMENT
We here at YourPopFilter are aware that pilots are often, if not always, pretty much garbage. Now we can’t give every show the time it needs, btu we can pick and choose so some new TV gets a fair shake. That’s why, as often as I can, I’ll be giving a new show the four-ep treatment. After watching four episodes of a show, it becomes clearer whether or not it has the potential to shake off the pitfalls of pilotitas and become something entertaining, great, or at least watchable.
UNDER THE DOME
I’m going to start this review off by apologizing to you, our dearest readers. I’ll explain at the end…
Under the Dome is a train wreck of a show. The pilot might actually be the strongest episode out of the four that have aired so far. In that first episode, jumping from character to character, we learn tidbits of information about the large cast, and can start to form impressions of fully-fledged people they could become. That groundwork is instantly flushed down the toilet as the writers decided, fuck it, those one-notes are all any of these characters need. I guess I should explain the premise of the show before jumping in further.
Chester’s Mill is a small town like any other. Except this small town got trapped under an invisible dome that sliced through everything as it came crashing down. It blocks out sound and any form of transmission from outside of the dome. It also destroys electronics, but only when convenient. “Only when convenient” seems to be the guiding mantra of Under the Dome in general. People are suspicious of each other only when convenient, they worry about supplies lasting only when convenient, and they show true emotion to the new state of being only when convenient. There’s not an ounce of consistent authentic reactions to the science fiction premise, which wouldn’t be so grating if the subplots had any fuel behind them. The first line of this paragraph is taken from the intro to the show that explains what’s happening. Except Chester’s Mill isn’t like a normal small town; there are sociopaths, hip radio DJs, and a plot of corruption that strings together preachers, cops, and councilmen. Even without the dome, there’s some shit going on here and that’s awesome. We need the other distractions to keep us going; not every scene can be people freaking out about the dome. But we do need some scenes per episode to be about people caring about the fucking dome that the show is named for.
Back to the characters. There’s the big town reporter stuck in this one-horse town after some dumb mistakes in the big city. Also, her husband is missing (killed by the protagonist, Barbie, in the pilot). She’s the only one who seems to get the gravity of the situation, but bumblefucks around the problems most of the time, haphazardly trying to fix things, sort of, not really. There’s the new sheriff in town (which at one point is actually said); she has to take over when the real, very beloved, sheriff dies. Her 2 remaining deputies die pretty quickly, so she’s trying not to lose control, and by that I mean instantly loses control without asking anyone for help. There’s a drug-addict preacher who’s pretty boring, some kids doing some shit that doesn’t matter, and some other people who take up minutes of the story but don’t add much. There are two characters where there have been attempts at fleshing out into three-dimensional human beings, but at this point I think it’s almost an accident. Barbie is ex-military and not from around here. He killed the reporter’s husband before the dome went down and is now staying at her house. He vacillates between helping the town out and trying to watch his own back/keep his secrets. There’s never any real reason he changes his mind and there’s no arc. We don’t get to see Barbie transition from a loner to part of the town; he flipflops between the two, which is why I’m guessing his moments of humanity and emotion are accidents instead of planned character work. The planned antagonist of the show is Big Jim. He’s town’s sole remaining councilman/used car dealer. People either love him or don’t trust him at all and that also switches scene to scene. Jim’s played by Hank from Breaking Bad and is definitely the best actor of the group. He sells much of the stilted dialogue and gives a cartoonish villain some humanity. That’s all Hank, and none of the writing. He’s a man who wants to control the town, does some fucked up stuff to do so, but also really cares about the people there. The times he’s onscreen are the times I’m happiest.
It could also have used more of this from Barbie.
The character with the most problems is Big Jim’s son, Junior. Junior battles with self-esteem issues like any young man does; he argues with his Dad; trying to carve his own path while still attempting to make Big Jim proud. Oh, he also has his ex-girlfriend locked in a bomb shelter, assuming she left him because of the dome and chaining her up will win her back. With everything else going on, this melodramatic garbage is too over the top and never earned. Junior’s motivations don’t really make sense, which could be the actor or the writing. He’s insane for the sake of having an off-the-rails character, but the clumsy attempts to show his caring side are misguided. They need to just cave in and make him a mini-Dexter, fully accepting what he is and deceiving those around him. Anything else is just too hard to swallow at this point.
I was looking forward to this show. I love Brian K. Vaughn’s work in comics, and think he’s an amazing creator. But there’s zero evidence of his hand in this show; it’s been too bogged down by network TV mediocrity and too tied to Stephen King’s novel. How many chances are we going to give King’s work as adaptations? Other than The Shining (which he hated), have there been any good King adaptations? Seriously, I’m asking for an answer. It just doesn’t translate, and we should stop letting people try. Stand together and say nay! Under the Dome is too reminiscent of other shows, it borrows a huge amount of cut-off small town dram from Jericho, but doesn’t come close to that level of entertaining. And that’s why I started out with an apology. There’s a huge likelihood I’m going to keep watching this show. It makes me sad to know the thing I hate in other genre-fans also burdens me. It drives me nuts when poorly made shows and movies have fan bases attached seemingly because they just like sci-fi in general. We’re allowed to decide there’s bad sci-fi, and treat it as such. And this certainly counts. But I love the premise of the show. I could care less about any of the characters, but I dig the dome. And for the dome I will keep watching. -MG