UnderTheDome

It’s the number one TV show of the summer. The first bona fide scripted hit on a broadcast network in over two decades. And potentially a TV game changer for years to come.

This year CBS’s Under The Dome has succeeded where countless other shows have failed. Launched in a blitz of publicity in late June the Stephen King series pulled in a mighty 13.53 million viewers to rank as the number one TV show of the week and CBS’s biggest summer launch since Big Brother way back in 2000!

And the great ratings have continued for CBS. Week 2 attracted 11.81 million viewers and week 3 a still strong 10.71 million. As long as Under The Dome stays above the 10 million mark – heck, it could slip down to 8 million – the show is pretty much guaranteed a second season next summer.

I’m always a fan of original drama series and Under The Dome is certainly not your usual cookie cutter CBS show. So where’s the rub? Well here’s the thing. In my opinion Under The Dome just isn’t very good.

 It’s not that the show is terrible… it’s just that, as I suspected when I previewed the show a few weeks back, it has a distinctly TV movie odor. The acting, the directing, the storylines… they all just feel so average. There’s no distinct style to the CBS hit – just like NBC’s big, broad Revolution. When you think of shows like The Walking Dead, Mad Men and The Killing their ‘looks’ immediately jump out at you. Under The Dome looks and feels flat.

In case you’ve been out of the pop culture loop here’s the premise. Under The Dome show focuses on the fictionalized town of Chester’s Mill which suddenly finds itself trapped under a mysterious giant dome. We don’t know why the dome is there and no-one can get in or out. It’s an intriguing premise and the main reason I’m still watching the show. But most of the time Dome veers away from its sci-fi tinged central plot to focus on the townsfolk… and they’re not all that interesting.

Mike Vogel-Barbie

 There’s bad boy Barbie who’s developing feelings for local reporter Julia, even though he recently shot and killed her husband. Barbie is quiet and brooding while Julia is essentially Lois Lane. They’re both pure cliché. Then there’s the tough, tomboy cop, the interracial lesbian couple, the black radio DJ, the corrupt politician, the budding teen romance… the list of stereotypes goes on and on.

What Under The Dome lacks is any kind of shading. I recently raved about ABC’s Scandal precisely for this reason. The cast of the Shonda Rhimes show are undeniably multi-layered – they try to be good and noble but they do some pretty terrible things along the way. Meanwhile the show wraps you up in so many compelling storylines it’s like TV crack, even when it’s pushing your suspension of disbelief to its limits.

But Scandal is terrifically well written. Under The Dome isn’t. Take Junior for example, everyone’s least favorite storyline (and character). Midway through episode one the creepy teenager flipped out on his girlfriend Angie and locked her away in an underground bunker. This would have been an interesting plotline in weeks 5 or 6. But in the pilot episode we didn’t know who Junior or Angie were. As one commentator wrote, ‘he hadn’t earned his crazy’. So when Junior went mad it just felt a bit silly. Meanwhile we don’t know anything about Angie except that she screams a lot. There’s no shading to either character. And when you start your show with a character locking up his girlfriend there’s nowhere for him to go. The storyline would have been a lot more interesting if we’d grown to like Junior, seen him growing confused / jealous (perhaps as a result of the dome) and then seen him genuinely conflicted by his actions.

What Under The Dome also lacks is real drama and excitement. When the Sherriff’s house caught on fire in episode 2 it played as pure TV movie. There was no threat or danger. The fire felt contained as though you could see the effects crew manipulating the flames. Meanwhile the local preacher trapped in a blazing house for at least 10 minutes escapes with minor burns.

I’ll keep watching Under The Dome as I’m curious to see where the show goes next – and if it will improve as the cast get more comfortable in their roles and the writers become more confident. I’m hoping the show will become more layered and more surprising. But for now I have to say Under The Dome all feels a bit… square. Anyone else agree?