CBS was understandably giddy when “Under the Dome” opened to eye-opening ratings, and proceeded to hold on well. Not only had the network taken a big swing outside its wheelhouse, but it scored a rare summer hit, at a point where scripted network successes have appeared increasingly elusive. Small wonder the whole “limited series” idea pretty quickly went out the window, resulting in a second-season pickup and Monday night’s open-ended, cliffhanging season finale.
None of which should obscure how empty, silly and tedious “Dome” became after its intriguing premiere, going the way of many a past Stephen King miniseries adaptation — only in this case, in what amounted to slow motion. “Stephen King’s It” and “The Tommyknockers,” all is forgiven.
Why did a Dome descend over the little town of Chester’s Mill? Apparently, to create cover for a series of crazily violent exchanges, conveniently timed murders, stray characters and portentous dialogue, since a few teenagers are able to “speak” to the Dome — although we’re still not quite sure what the Dome is — by touching it and falling into a kind of trance.
Frankly, it would have been so much cooler if they had to say, “Wonder Twin powers, activate!”
It’s hard to fault CBS for wanting to continue to milk the show (with apologies to that poor cow), having averaged nearly 15 million viewers this summer if you throw in delayed DVR viewing, while also performing well internationally, including Australia, the U.K. and Germany. Besides, there’s something kind of nice about seeing “Breaking Bad’s” Dean Norris segue directly from that show into another series with legs, even if his character — the evil mayor — has been saddled with some of the program’s more ridiculous moments.
That said, let the “Dome” experience be a warning to anyone who really thinks any of these limited series will truly be limited and provide closure if they happen to work. As soon as the live-plus-three numbers look promising, network execs will be on the phone wondering how to extend these shows faster than you can say “American Horror Story” and slap a colon behind it.
On the plus side, CBS and the producers (a roster that includes Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television) have nearly a year to figure out how to keep this storyline going, hopefully in a manner that makes a bit more sense than the narrative mess that was season one.
Not that there’s an incentive to tamper with something that appears to be working, of course, especially when the obvious goal is to find a way to keep going around in circles. But the “Lost” experience is illustrative in cases such as this, inasmuch as that was a far superior series and still began to slide and struggle as it sought to sustain its mystery.
Because the bottom line is if “Under the Dome” can’t become a bit more transparent, sooner or later, it’s going to run straight into a dead end.