CBS made only one episode of the series available in advance, which was enough to provoke mostly positive reviews and pretty spectacular ratings, especially for June. Personally, my review cited the program’s potential but kept one foot on the floor, primarily because of past disappointments involving Stephen King miniseries adaptations that started well but didn’t have enough of a payoff.
The second hour, unfortunately, found the show dropping vague clues about the nature of what might be responsible for sequestering the town of Chester’s Mill from the rest of the world (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t watched), hinting at a conspiracy involving the town mayor (Dean Norris), among others. For those who haven’t bothered with King’s novel, it wasn’t enough to advance the ball, and several of the show’s other serialized elements are beginning to look a trifle problematic.
For starters, the whole “Pretty girl locked in the basement by crazed ex-boyfriend” subplot feels as if it’s been lifted from an entirely different show. In theory, “Dome” ought to explore what happens to the residents of a seemingly idyllic community when they’re isolated — along the same lines as the classic “The Twilight Zone” episode “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street.”
At this point, the series appears to be about that to a degree (the old-fashioned bucket brigade to put out a fire underscored the notion of folks working together), but with about four other shows of varying quality living under its big tent simultaneously.
Hanging around for the summer might still be worthwhile if this really were a closed-ended miniseries, but CBS is leaving the door open to turn this into a continuing franchise. Writer-producer Brian K. Vaughan has talked about viewing the concept as “an ongoing series” and harboring “long-term plans for this,” but as with a lot of limited series, this really might be a case where less is more.
Of course, having started out so high ratings-wise, “Under the Dome” would have to plummet a long way to reach the point where, in business terms, CBS wouldn’t be tempted to bring it back. But then again, NBC was proclaiming “Smash” an “unqualified success” after its first season, and look how that turned out.
So while hour two didn’t completely squander the sense of mystery the premiere established, it did plant seeds of doubt regarding whether “Under the Dome” really has legs. And if the creative merit follows the path goes of many earlier King TV adaptations, it will be interesting if viewers do what the residents of Chester’s Mill can’t — namely, start heading for the exits.