Under The Dome - Pilot Review

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Some shows don't make their premise entirely obvious in the title. Breaking Bad - obviously, we love the show, but the name hardly tells you everything, does it? I mean, it barely even comes up during dialogue. So, for fans of straightforward title decoding, it's Under The Dome, a recent hit from CBS in the US and nowChannel Five here in the UK. Based in the Stephen King novel of the same name, it's about a town, right, and they end up... yes, under a dome. A big dome. Falls out of the sky. It's a dome.

Now that I've probably forever ruined your ability to read the word "dome" seriously, it's time to take a look at the episode. Is this a smash hit, or a smashed dome? And for the record, there will be no spoilers in this review for once, since it's the first episode, and I figure you might want to read it to make a viewing decision. If you want to catch the first episode, it's up on 5's On Demand service for a while longer. So, without further ado, let's go Under The Dome...

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Don't bore us, get to the dome

Since it's a fairly simple concept, the show wastes no time getting down to it - we get a few very brief character intros, and then the dome falls and suddenly we're right into the meat. I suppose it makes sense - there's not really much point in holding off the dome until the last moment of the episode, since everyone knows it's coming and thus it would be the worst cliffhanger ever. So, in short, there's these characters who live in this town of Copper Mill, they're stuck in this funny sci-fi situation, and now we have to see them try and work out what's happening, as well as deal with their own secrets and interpersonal drama bubbling over in this newfound pressure cooker.

If that sounds familiar, it's because it's a pretty common TV set-up lately. Quite aside from the Simpsons movie in which Springfield was similarly domed, Lost and The Walking Dead both used similar styles of claustrophobic forced sci-fi soap. Under The Dome just feels a bit more on-the-nose because it doesn't have to take ages setting up the isolation, it just... y'know, drops a dome on them and that's that.

But although the initial doming comes early, it is the big impressive visual sequence of the episode, so we get a few nice shots of various vehicles, animals and buildings interacting with it as it falls. The look of the dome is impressive, as well as the acting as people interact with it. They could have looked like really upset mimes, but no, that stuff is all pretty good.

Start The Fans, Please

Considering this is a claustro-soap, though, the main appeal of the whole thing is the characters we're going to be spending time with, and early on, it's mostly decent if not staggering. They're a good spread, not many obvious terrible actors, and Dean Norris (aka Hank from Breaking Bad) which is good news. There's the inevitable teenager played by someone in his mid twenties (I've checked, he is) and a couple of raging stereotypes, but you gotta assume they'll be fleshed out in future weeks.

Oh, and lots of hinting. Vague mutterings about the secrets of the town, the secrets of the dome, the question of what might be happening outside. Like any of these shows, it's going to hinge on whether there's a decent pay-off to all this dark secrecy. If it's a lot of obtuse suggesting followed by a big damp squib, I imagine this won't be one we look back fondly on. But for now, there's interesting set-up. I haven't read the original novel, so no idea where they might be going. My gut says aliens, but we'll have to wait and see.

One of the big minds behind the TV version is Brian K. Vaughan, author of good comics including Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina and the current Saga. He's written decent mysteries before, so I'm hopeful the revelations might be managed well. The first episode itself is decently paced with some good twists at the end, although they do go from shock to acceptance of this sudden dome strangely quickly. I felt like I missed a few minutes where they properly panic.

Not quite an amazing blow-away first episode - I didn't come away feeling like I must have more Under The Dome right now, but everything is set up well and if it pays off down the line, it could be quite exciting. I imagine I'll give it a couple more weeks to see how they manage the roll-out. So many shows are finishing at the moment, I'd kinda like to start a couple of new things, and this has already been renewed for a second year.

Under The Dome airs on CBS in the States and Channel 5 in the UK. More info on the main Channel 5 Under The Dome site, and if that write-up has persuaded you to give it a try, the first episode is up on the Channel 5 On Demand service for a while. There's no place like dome.

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