Summer television programming, depending on the show, is usually a hit or miss. Based on its pilot episode, CBS’s 13-week miniseries Under the Dome, based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name, seems to be a hit.

Produced by both Steven Spielberg and King, Under the Dome begins with a look into the small-town lives of Chester’s Hill’s residents (and non-residents). A scruffy stranger named Barbie, played by Mike Vogel, buries a man deep in the forest, while Angie (Britt Robertson) and Junior (Alexander Koch) finish up an afternoon delight. Junior wants a relationship, but Angie insists it’s just a summer fling. Meanwhile, local newspaper reporter Julia (Rachelle LeFevre) investigates the mysterious restocking of the town’s emergency reserves.

On his way out of town, Barbie crashes his car and witnesses as an invisible wall descends from out of nowhere and graphically split a cow in half. Birds fall from the sky with snapped necks, a plane crashes overhead, the power goes out, people lose limbs and are separated from their loved ones, and a teen near the wall suffers a seizure. In the ensuing chaos, emergency broadcasts are aired, roadblocks are set up outside the dome, and the military arrives with high-tech equipment. The dome is impenetrable to sound or force. Officer Linda (Natalie Martinez), stuck inside the dome, pines for her firefighter fiancée outside. Angie, who’s assisting at the hospital, tells Barbie this is what it feels like to be stuck inside a fishbowl. Her two goldfish turned on each other after a while, a blatant metaphor for Chester’s Mill, so long as it is trapped inside its bubble.

That night, Big Jim (Dean Norris), a megalomaniac car dealer, confronts the sheriff on how he’ll respond when the townspeople find out about his storage of propane. The sheriff and dealer obviously share a secret, but what is it? After stalking Angie and Barbie, Swiss-army-knife-wielding and potentially insane Junior kidnaps Angie and locks her in his father’s old fallout shelter. Joe (Colin Ford), who Barbie saved earlier from the plane’s collision with the dome, wonders if the wall’s power stems from inside the town. Just then, he spasms and froths at the mouth, much like the other visiting teen did. Julia, who cannot locate her doctor husband and surmises he is having an affair, invites Barbie to sleep at her house. While she gives him a tour, Barbie finds a photo of Julia’s husband, Peter. He is the dead man Barbie was seen burying at the beginning of the episode.

At one of the roadblocks, the sheriff and Linda keep watch. Linda worries over what the wall means as the sheriff touches the wall and collapses, his pacemaker seeming to have exploded in his chest.

I haven’t read the novel, so I can’t say how faithful the television adaption is. But the pilot episode has definitely succeeded in catching and keeping my attention. Stephen King is well known for writing ordinary characters dropped into extraordinary situations. I’m intrigued as to how Chester’s Mill residents will interact as the episodes progress and the stakes rise. The story, coupled with an atmospheric soundtrack created by W.G. Snuffy Walden, is very creepy and intense. The main characters, or what I assume to be the protagonists, have all been introduced. The acting is satisfying, though I had trouble believing Barbie would be so easily accepted and talked to by the townies. Hasn’t any film/book/play showed us that small towns are suspicious of new folk? If I was Julia, I might have steered clear of Barbie, at least for a little while. However, this is a miniseries about semi-invisible domes encasing whole towns, so some suspension of belief is required. That quibble aside, Under the Dome has a lot of potential for the summer season.

Under the Dome continues next Sunday on CBS at 10 pm EST.

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