Have you’ve been watching the insanely great new television show Under the Dome? Based on the 2009 novel of the same name by Stephen King, the show has all the great elements of a science fiction / horror drama from the mind of the man who does it best. The show follows the small fictitious USA town of Chester Mills, whose residents find themselves cut off from the rest of the world when a translucent, impenetrable bubble surrounds their town – trapping everyone inside.
While having the name “King” attached to a project doesn’t always mean it will be a hit (Kingdom Hospital, anyone?), television numbers don’t lie, with the Pilot episode from Under the Dome drawing the biggest numbers for a scripted summer debut in six years. Plus, with over 13 million watching the Pilot, the numbers have stayed steady, and with only eight episodes into the first season, CBS has announced plans to renew the show for a second season to premiere next summer.
If you’re watching the show already, you probably already love it and there’s no need to explain the reasons for its success. If it’s still new to you, there’s still time to catch up and see why you should be adding it to your roster.
First, and I think this needs to be first, the lead is an absolute hunk. Mike Vogel, who plays the broody protagonist Dale “Barbie” Barbara, is a primetime television hunk we haven’t seen in a while. Don’t let the nickname Barbie fool you, because he’s much more of a “Ken” (hopefully, not anatomy-wise). Vogel gives off the vibe of a post One Tree Hill Chad Michael Murray while also giving off the rugged manliness of a James Denton or even a Matthew Fox.
As network television continues to get more cute, or “adorkable” in its primetime programming, we’re seeing the loss of sexy leading men. Which isn’t the worst thing, but on these hot summer nights, many people are looking for a show that gets them sweating – and not just because their AC unit is broken. Dome provides sex appeal, or just reliable eye candy – while still watching an entertaining hour of drama unfold.
Under the Dome is also doing a hell of a job competing with cable in the sex and violence category. Since the rise of shows like True Blood, Breaking Bad, and The Walking Dead, it seems like network TV has raised a white flag; they’ve just given up trying to compete with the level of sex or violence someone can see on HBO or AMC. And while Dome hasn’t (yet) risen to the proportions of True Blood, where a quadruple threesome happens with a werewolf, a vampire, and a witch while someone eats a human heart cobbler in the corner (I don’t watch True Blood, but I feel like this has happened), Dome is keeping things exciting despite network resistance.
Not to spoil too much for future viewers, but in the Pilot episode alone we saw a cow split in half and a – what I thought would be – major character killed off before the hour finished. Also, in every subsequent episode after, another character has been killed off in a new and often gruesome way. There is a level of relief when you see a show not allowing itself to get too attached to its characters, knowing anyone is expendable. Dome‘s ability to have that level of violence and disposable attitude towards its cast feels very much like The Walking Dead, a show that prides itself on making you wonder, “Who’s Next?” But again, on a network show. Like Dead, the killings create a feeling that the characters do have something to lose – how long will it be before this mysterious dome just wipes them out completely?
Under the Dome also provides a victory for the sci-fi fans, who know how hard it can be for science-fiction dramas to find success on network television. While the horror, sci-fi mix is a difficult one to sell to a casual viewer, one also knows just how hard it is to find success like this on television with regular sci-fi. Think of the FOX show Fringe, which started strong, but got harder to hold viewers as its Olivia Dunham storyline got too complicated. Even Lost, which after the island started feeling a bit too big, started making it difficult for its viewers to see if there would be any reward to keep watching. In the end, most felt cheated. Dome finds a good in-between, keeping the town big enough for chaos and disaster to happen – such as a loss of resources and a level of panic that would occur in this extreme, unexplained isolation from the rest of the world – while, no pun intended, keeping the action contained enough to follow along.
As long as Dome keeps with its fast-paced, action-packed strengths and knows when to use its sci-fi elements to keep it zany and fresh, it’s a hit, for sure. One that you need to watch before summer is over and you’re stuck watching New Girl all winter – a legitimately good show, but the closest thing to a dome will be the bowl Zooey Deschanel uses to trim her own bangs, and by then, you’ll wish you’d given this summer drama a chance.
“Under the Dome” airs Monday nights on CBS, at 10 p.m. EST.