The purpose of this blog is to have a little fun. It is NOT to start arguments. I don't profess to be an expert on Sci-fi, nor do I aspire to become an expert. You are welcome to comment on any and all content you find here. If my opinion differs from yours, as far as I am concerned, it's all okay. I will never say that you are wrong because you disagree with me, and I expect the same from those that comment here. Also, my audience on the blog will include some young people. Please govern your language when posting comments.

Posts will hopefully be regular based on the movies I see, the television shows I watch, and the books I read as well as what ever strikes me as noteworthy.

Spoilers will appear here and are welcome.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Under the Dome - The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly - A Rant on The CBS TV Series

Under the Dome – Season 1 - 2013

I am not sure when I learned about the making of the Stephen King novel, Under the Dome was going to be made into a television series, but I do remember being very excited to see it.  I was also very excited to learn that two podcasting friends, Wayne Henderson and Troy Heiritz, were planning to produce a podcast (Under The Dome Radio) to accompany the show.  Well, Under the Dome has just finished its first season and since it was touted to be a science fiction drama, I feel the need to discuss my take on what was good and what was not so good.

The Book:

I listened to the audiobook version of Under the Dome last year.  I really enjoyed it during my drives to school and back finding that I couldn’t wait to listen to it.  The story itself is a very long account of the people in the fictitious town of Chester’s Mill being trapped under a mysterious dome and how they coped with life following such a disaster that might cut a community off from the outside world.  At first, the community pulls together, but then begins to fall apart as resources become scarce.  As always, there are those who try to find ways to take advantage of the situation to grab power that they would normally not have.  Under the Dome by Stephen King was a brilliant character study that looked into the lives of several of the Mill’s residents as they either tried to help others or tried to help themselves in surviving a disaster.

The novel is not for the weak stomached or those that may be overly sensitive as King doesn’t hold back anything as far as the language used in the book, or the descriptions of the activities.  It is very graphic and carries a very dark tone.

One complaint that I have heard about the book concerns the ending.  Apparently the dome was erected by some child-like aliens that were playing around with what they considered a lower life form, much as a child would use a magnifying glass to concentrate the sun’s rays to burn insects.  To those who read the book and complained about the ending I would say that the story wasn’t about the alien children as much as it was a character study.  Only a very small part of the book at the very end was about what actually about how the dome came to be.  I would like to think that I actually got what Stephen King was communicating with his yarn.  If you decide to read or listen to the audiobook (which was and excellent performance by the reader), you should approach it from the point that the characters and not the how or why is the main point.

The Show:

Right from the very beginning, it was announced that the television production was only based on the novel, and would not be a simple visual retelling of the Under the Dome story.  After listening to it, this was obvious to me since the extremely graphic nature of the novel could not be played out word-for-word on broadcast television.  Many of the characters have the same names and personality traits as their Stephen King counterparts in the book, but there are some major differences in their stories as the show unfolds.  Many of the characters for the television series seem to have been cleaned up a bit and have had their characters made acceptable for the average viewer.  Big Jim Rennie, for instance has had his overtly hypocritical religious stripped from him for the most part.  Dale Barbara isn’t the pure heroic figure as presented in the book; he has a darker background story.  Junior Rennie is far less psychotically disturbed in the show than he was in the book.  These are just a few of the changes from the original story.  So, before the show aired, I had made up my mind to forget about the book and take the television show as a separate entity.

The Good:

Visual Effects: The visual effects used in the show are magnificent.  Right from the very beginning when the dome descends on the town, there are some sunning scenes of planes and truck crashing into the invisible barrier.  One of the most iconic scenes is when Barbie witnesses a cow being cut in half while the half inside the dome falls away to reveal the other half sticking to the outside.  Along with that are scenes of electrical discharges as people contact the dome, a storm inside the dome, and a scene as the military attempts to break the dome with a large cruise missile.

Characters: For the most part, the acting is well done, that is when the characters are well written.  For me, the best of the cast is Dean Norris as Big Jim Rennie.  He portrays the “big fish in the small pond” personage to a tee.  Here’s a guy who is totally out to better himself under the guise of caring for the community at large.  He is so well written and acted that even I watching the show have occasionally believed that he was working for the good of his community.  But nothing Big Jim does is for the betterment of anyone but himself, if others are made better off along the way, it’s okay.  But don’t try to get in his way because anyone who does either mysteriously turns up dead, or he finds a way to manipulate others into doing his dirty work for him.  For me, he is the most interesting element of the show.

Linda Esquivel portrayed by Natalie Martinez finds herself becoming the chief of police following the death of her mentor and friend.  She is a very strong female character who takes her job seriously and is obviously well trained and experienced.  With the exception of the last few episodes of the series, Linda is the only character who seems willing to stand up against Big Jim to keep law and order in the town.

Ollie Densmore appeared in five episodes of Under the Dome.  He is played brilliantly by Leon Rippy, an experienced character actor.  Ollie goes into a head-to-head conflict with Big Jim over the town’s resources.  As a farmer with a well, he sees an opportunity to snatch power away from Big Jim and run the town himself.  He believes that he has many friends in the community and recruits them to help guard his well, the only major source of water for the town for a time until Barbie destroys the well.  Ollie finds himself left out in the cold by his “friends” as one of the extras tell him “you think we were here for you?” and they head for the hills as Big Jim again gets the upper hand.
There were definitely other good things about the show, but the above were the items that really stood out for me.

The Bad:

Barbie: hero or villain?  I honestly cannot tell if Barbie is good or bad.  He is obviously ex-military and perhaps some former member of an elite combat group.  He seems to have a lot of knowledge of weapons and is very good in a fight.  He also seems to have some extensive knowledge of emergency medical procedures.  But let’s face it, he came on the scene as a collection man for some entity that wanted him to use brutal tactics.  In the very first episode, we see him burying the body of Peter Shumway, then we learn later that he killed Peter collecting a large gambling debt.  On the other hand, we see Barbie acting on numerous occasions as a “deputy” without a badge, helping to keep law and order in the town.  But that’s not all folks; more on Barbie later.

Science Fiction?  There is lots of fiction Under the Dome, but very little science.  If a show is going to be touted as a science fiction series, shouldn’t there at least be some science?  Even made up science would be a welcome addition.  As I recall, there were perhaps two instances when any real science was actually explored; first when Joe was using math to try to figure the actual size of the dome, and second when the mini dome projected the star field in the barn.  Even that second one was more of a metaphysical instance since it turned out that the dome was pointing the way for the “teen quartet” (my term for the mini dome club of Joe, Angie, Norrie, and Junior) to go to the dome and get another premonition.  In actuality, Under the dome seems more like a paranormal series than sci-fi, or perhaps even more so, a study in abnormal psychology.  Everyone seems to have some kind of baggage they are carrying around.

Linda Becomes Big Jim’s Nazi Cop: One of the worse turns in the show is how Linda, the Police Chief, stops being a strong female character who has taken it upon herself to uphold law and order during the crisis and becomes Big Jim’s lacky.  Rather than doing what a good cop would do and investigating to learn the facts, in the last few episodes she just begins to take Big Jim’s word for everything and follows his agenda of the character assassination of Barbie.  The plot hole here is that Linda has gotten to know Barbie as they worked together.  I suppose it didn’t help much when After Big Jim killed Maxine and her henchman, Barbie knocked Linda out and headed for…

Speaking of that, after Barbie cold-cocked Linda, where did he expect to go?  After all, isn’t the Dome relatively small?  

In a later episode, Big Jim dispatches Linda to track down the location of the mini dome and take it into custody.  When she finds it, she goes way out of character and begins demanding that the object be turned over to her.  I didn't even recognize Linda's character in that performance, and I was quite puzzled at her gestapo-like tactics.

Barbie and Bushie: Phil Bushie, the radio station DJ spends a lot of time exchanging knowing nods with Barbie in the early episodes of the show, almost like they know each other.  Well perhaps they share a common bond as ex-military, or at least it would seem that way, but like Linda, Phil is more than willing to accept that Barbie is a cold-blooded murderer and even offers to build the gallows that Big Jim intends to hang Barbie from.

The Ugly:

Barbie and Julia:  One of the most convoluted parts of Under the Dome is the relationship between Julia Shumway and Barbie.  In several instances, Julia seems to be pining away for her deceased husband, Peter, but as soon as Barbie comes on the scene, she invites him into her home.  Now Barbie didn’t know that Peter and Julia were married, not at least until he saw pictures of the two of them together, but then really, he killed Peter SHUMWAY and begins cohabitating with Julia SHUMWAY.  Did he go in to kill Peter without knowing what his name was?  Even after discovering that Julia was Peter’s widow, that he killed, Barbie has the conscious of a snake and begins cohabitating with Julia anyway?  Now I realize that this show is not about reality, but come on, I cannot imagine anything like this happening with someone who is supposed to be a hero!  This plot is Hamlet gone completely wrong.

And while I am thinking about that, I should like to point out that when Maxine threatened to expose Barbie to Julia as Peter’s killer, Barbie decides, nobly (?) to confess his crime to Julia.  In a very Swiss cheesed scene (with a plot hole big enough to fly a jet liner through), Julia listens patiently to Barbie’s confession and then tells him, more or less, it’s okay, just don’t lie any more.  Barbie’s punishment for offing Peter?  A night on the couch in the Shumway living room.   As my friend Hank Davis said on a call-in to Under the Dome Radio: “Where do you find a woman like that?”  Well, the answer to that, my good friend, is nowhere, except Under the Dome.

One of the biggest plot twists, or twisted plots, if you will, was that of the (thankfully) brief appearance of Maxine Seagrave.  Out of nowhere this character appears on the scene to spend two days trying to make Big Jim’s and Barbie’s life a living hell.  Apparently, she was the entity behind Barbie being a collector of gambling debts, as well as being the one who was bankrolling and distributing the drug that Big Jim was producing to “save” the town of Chester’s Mill.  She blows into town from wherever she was and opens a fight club in the concrete works and is taking loaves of bread and salt for admission; all in less than 24 hours.  She says that she is doing this so she can maintain the lifestyle that she has become accustomed to.  I can only imagine what that lifestyle must have been; not good I suspect.

Blame Barbie:  Julia Shumway is shot, Maxine’s mother is drowned, Dodie is killed and the radio station is burned, Maxine and her henchman are shot.  It’s all Barbie’s doing!  So Barbie is finally captured and the people of the town are assured that he will receive a fair trial, and then taken out to hang.  In the final scenes, Barbie has the noose around his neck, Big Jim is presiding and Junior has his hands on the lever, and a large crowd has gathered to watch the execution.  The trial was Big Jim telling them that Barbie is guilty and not one citizen of this little friendly town is going to stand up and protest a public execution.  Okay.

The ending of the season is probably the second ugliest thing about Under the Dome.  The butterfly hatches inside the mini-dome and begins flying around.  Everywhere the butterfly touches turns black.  At the same time, the large dome is also turning black.  Then the “teen quartet” lays hands on the dome, it shatters and the butterfly crowns Julia the much awaited “monarch.”  Julia was further informed by Norrie’s mother that the done was not to keep people in, but rather to protect them.  Huh?  Then Julia takes the egg that was under the mini dome and drops it into the lake.  The much talked about pink stars appear and Big Jim who is presiding over Barbie’s execution says that it is a sign that Barbie’s impending neck tie party has been blessed by the lord, which is accepted by the crowd.  Huh?  Then the dome turns white and the show is over.  Huh?  What?

I have heard this called a cliff hanger.  Understatement?  You bet!  There are so many unfinished stories and loose threads with this series that I cannot even remember it all.  It is hard to believe that Spielberg and King are involved with this.

But the ugliest thing of all is how CBS loaded the series with seemingly unending strings of commercial interruptions.  Most of those commercials were selling other shows that were either already on, or soon to come on CBS.  At times, there was less than seven minutes of Under the Dome followed by an ad nausium number of ads.

So we are going to get another 13 episodes of Under the Dome next summer.  We can only hope that someone at CBS will take some time to watch this sad, shark jumped series and perhaps listen to those of us who aren’t willing to just accept just the label Science Fiction getting slapped on something that went from being pretty good in the beginning to a mere paranormal soap opera complete with “cliff hangers” couched in huge plot holes.

Will I be watching the second season of Under the Dome.  Most definitely.  There is way too much to laugh and make fun of that I cannot pass it up.  Along with that is the Under the Dome Radio podcast, which is fun to listen to

If you watched Under the Dome and loved it, well more power too you.  If you are accepting it as sci-fi, you need to re-examine your definition of sci-fi.  Not only isn’t it very good sci-fi, it isn’t even very good television for the thinking viewer. 

While I started really liking the show, I watched it deteriorate over the weeks into something that was barely watchable.  I also realize that I am in the minority on my assessment and am quite okay with that.

If you are looking for a more positive twist to Under the Dome, I urge you to listen to Under the Dome Radio with Troy andWayne.  They have a podcast episode for every episode of the show along with great interviews with Kevin Sizemore, Dale Raoul, and John Elvis.

Well, there it is…