TV review: Cautious optimism for Stephen King adaptation “Under the Dome”

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From the June 20, 2013 edition

Only occasionally have Stephen King’s novels been adapted in to successful movies and television shows, and the latest attempt in CBS’ “Under the Dome” could prove to be another failure. But I’m cautiously optimistic.

The setup for “Under the Dome” is pretty much all there in the title. A small town, Chester’s Mill, is suddenly and mysteriously trapped under an invisible force field-like dome.

After some brief introductions to major players, the dome drops/appears in the first act. The townspeople then spend much of the episode wondering about said dome: Where did it come from? How do we get out? I imagine the next few episodes will involve everyone figuring out how to survive without outside assistance, while character backstories and motives are fleshed out.

There are interesting characters in the ensemble cast, and a few very problematic ones. “Big Jim” (Dean Norris from “Breaking Bad”) offers potential intrigue as the town’s most powerful man. Julia (Rachelle Lefevre), the town’s newspaper editor, is effective as our ostensible hero. And Jeff Fahey is always welcome, here as the town sheriff.

The problems lie in Mike Vogel’s Dale “Barbie” Barbara and the lovelorn Junior (Alexander Koch). Dale is passable as a mysterious antihero, but Vogel doesn’t add much depth. Junior on the other hand devolves into a total nut-bag mess too quickly and Koch is laughably bad.

“Under the Dome” is best compared to “Lost”— stranded, enigmatic folks converging while facing off with a supernatural adversary — only with significantly less characters (and smoke monsters). And with “Lost” alum behind the camera, writer Brian K. Vaughn acting as showrunner and Jack Bender directing a couple episodes, the comparisons only become more applicable.

Also like “Lost,” “Under the Dome” has a potentially intriguing build-up that will ultimately be defined by its climax, or lack thereof. (The worst King adaptations also suffer from lackluster conclusions.)

“Under the Dome” is worthy sci-fi escapism, given only 13 episodes are scheduled — although more could come if this is a hit — and hopefully the story is wrapped up by the end of the summer. At least then if the conclusion sucks, we won’t have invested too much time.