In CBS’s silly but somewhat intriguing 13-part summer drama “Under the Dome” (premiering Monday night), an invisible upside-down punch bowl falls on the little town of Chester’s Mill, trapping its inhabitants inside its mysterious, impenetrable membrane.
As it crashes down, various obstructions — a house, a barn, a cow, probably a bed-and-breakfast or two — get cleaved in half. It’s pretty neat to watch both sides of the cow slump over and leave a nice, steak-tartare smear on the dome. Also cool: A single-engine airplane smacks into the dome. Later we get to see a produce truck traveling at a nice clip slam into the dome head-on and make a fruit-and-metal smoothie.
I could watch an entire hour of things just running into the dome. Alas, there’s a whole psychological/metaphorical saga to be trudgingly told here about the people living beneath this weird glass. Based on the 2009 Stephen King novel of the same name, “Under the Dome” is a science-fiction social study right out of the “Lost” school of forced togetherness: Once the people of Chester’s Mill figure out the circumference of the dome and realize they are indefinitely trapped without means of food supply, outside communication and power, their polite sense of small-town, American civilization begins to fall apart.
A hunky stranger who calls himself Barbie (“Bates Motel’s” Mike Vogel) was speeding on his way out of town (probably because he’d just buried the body of a man he’d killed) when the dome came crashing down.
“What if the government built it?” asks a wide-eyed teenager, admiring the sliced cow and the burning airplane parts.
“I doubt it,” Barbie answers.
“Because it works,” he says. (Oh, you people and your Washington jokes!)
“Under the Dome” encourages viewers to care about its characters’ custom-tailored plights as their “Survivor” instincts kick in: the newspaper reporter piecing together the mystery (which has also bisected her marriage); the town’s car dealer and elected official (“Breaking Bad’s” Dean Norris) who views the dome disaster as an opportunity to seize control; the jealous, cuckoo boyfriend who has torturous plans for his girlfriend; the nice lesbian couple with the sullen teenage daughter (they were just passing through Chester’s Mill — so unfair!); the spunky sheriff’s deputy; and so on and so on. Pretty soon people are having seizures and mumbling about how “the stars are falling in lines.”
“Under the Dome” does have an air of King’s more sinister tendencies, but not enough of them in the first hour to suggest the sort of horror that’s worth sticking around for. The behavioral metaphors are a bit heavy, making the problems of Chester’s Mill’s feel like the same old problems: being stranded, fighting zombies, living through a power-grid apocalypse, enforcing the HOA restrictions, trying to get out of your personal bubble. It’s the usual story about modern society’s inability to cooperate and get along.
(one hour) premieres Monday at 10 p.m. on CBS.