‘Under the Dome’ Flying Under the Radar

It’s pretty weird how quiet everyone is being about Under the Dome, because in theory it should be awesome. It’s based on a Stephen King novel! Its creator is Brian K. Vaughan, of LOST fame! It stars the Breaking Bad dude who’s going to give it to Walter in the end, Dean Norris! (He is cool, come on. That punch…) Isn’t that one of the aunts from Sabrina the Teenage Witch?! A cow gets SLICED IN HALF LENGTHWAYS in the first episode! Why aren’t people bullying non-watchers into jumping on the bandwagon, because it is “literally the best thing on television”? Where are all the forums?

It is probably because it is terrible. Well, not so bad that in ten years’ time it will have regular midnight screenings where people turn up in costume and recite all the lines (we’re looking at you, The Room), but the kind of bad where you find yourself wincing slightly and averting your eyes. You know how you feel about the new Daft Punk album? A bit like that. Under the Dome is not a coming-of-age white girl twerking (there it is, second paragraph), it’s more like a really long pause when someone you don’t know that well is in the middle of talking to you – it’s a bit off-kilter, a bit awkward, but no-one really says anything about it. That is what has happened: a collective looking-away. Although secretly, people must be still watching it, as it has been picked up for a second season.

In Under the Dome, the small town of Chester’s Mill gets trapped under a “mysterious dome”, and now “no-one’s secrets are safe” (according to the bored voice of Rachelle Lefevre – she plays a journalist called Julia on the show who hooks up with her husband’s murderer). The CGI when the dome comes down is brilliant, to be fair – cars and lorries crash into the invisible wall, birds fall out of the sky, houses crumble and collapse, as does the aforementioned cow. Then it’s pretty much an adult Lord of the Flies from the beginning, with people going crazy all over the place – lootings, fights, a creepy kidnapping, and some evil murdering. So far so good.

Then some kids start having seizures and chanting, “The pink stars are falling, the pink stars are falling”, which honestly just sounds more ridiculous every time you hear it and see them shaking about on the floor with their arms crossed over their bodies, and every time someone goes all wide-eyed and asks, “What does it mean?”  They finally figure out (oh yeah, spoilers) that there are four of them who are “special” and having seizures, so they set about on a mission to uncover “what the dome wants”. Perhaps it is all the personification of the dome that is most silly, with these deeply sincere teenagers saying things like, “the dome is angry”, “the dome is trying to tell us something” and, upon seeing a mirage of Dean Norris’ character Big Jim covered in stab wounds, “I think the dome wants us to kill Big Jim”.

There is a mini-dome at the nucleus of the big dome, and an egg inside that with purple sparks coming out of it sometimes, when it is on its own. The way everyone tentatively reaches out to touch the invisible wall of the dome is unintentionally funny, with an awkwardly-splayed hand and an expression of either alarm, suspicion or joy. Even Dean Norris (sorry Dean Norris) is so much like a pantomime villain in this that you expect him to burst into an evil witch cackle – he is far better as the usually cheery, slightly-bigoted-but-otherwise-kind-hearted Hank. However, award for the most irritating character goes to the incredibly annoying Maxine, who turns up and reveals that she has been running an adult-entertainment club in The Old Factory, with her declaration that “I deal in vices”. Here, punters bet on fights arranged by her, and if they win they get to purchase the commodity of their choice, from salt to cocaine to drugs for sexual enhancement. Honestly, the best bit about it is that the enigmatic and broody ex-military enforcer-turned-cop-turned-fugutive is called Barbie. Apart from his name, he’s not very good either – well, he’s perfect fodder for the action scenes as he is very handy with a gun and has a good glare, but when any other emotion is required it all goes a bit William Shatner. Even Rotten Tomatoes was left a bit confused by the whole thing, with no comments or reviews on the show at all.

In short, Under the Dome is just… daft. It takes itself too seriously, with very little humor, and yet it is not clever either. The dialogue and much of the acting is embarrassing and devoid of any real insight into the human psyche and, given the accolades it started with, it is a bit of a disappointment. It has let science fiction down, and it has let Stephen King down. Look away from the screen now and if you must know what happens next, stick with the book.

(Written and Edited by Lisa Francis)

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