It’s difficult to imagine a show with a higher concept than Under the Dome, which follows the small town of Chester’s Mill as it’s suddenly and inexplicably quarantined from the rest of the world by a huge quasi-visible dome that reaches from high in the sky to deep in the ground. No one in the town knows much about the Dome, though many assume its arrival to be the result of a terrorist attack, but they come to learn the hard way that it’s impenetrable: Limbs are severed, pacemakers explode, and tractor trailers are crushed against its surface like empty beer cans. Needless to say, this development causes quite a global stir as the military surrounds the cosmic enclosure on the outside while various personal and political resentments reach a boil on the inside.
Under the Dome is based on the sprawling Stephen King novel of the same name, and while the book suffered from the author’s usual problems, such as over-plotting, it’s still a forceful work that allows King to savagely parody the politics, questionable wars, and constitutional violations of George W. Bush’s presidency that are still yielding bitter fruit. King, seldom one for subtlety, turned Dubya into an obese used-car salesman called James “Big Jim” Rennie, and revealed him to be a hypocritical piss-ant tyrant who manages to nearly destroy all of Chester’s Mill inside of a week. King’s Under the Dome was essentially Lord of the Flies writ large, and it was an exhilarating display of the writer’s relevant and often unappreciated artistry.
Series creator Brian K. Vaughan’s adaptation is yet another tepid melodrama, in the tradition of the recent Bates Motel, in which every creative decision appears to have been made in a trendy bid to appeal to the viewer’s crotch. King’s true gift, for capturing the quotidian of small-town American life, has been disregarded by Vaughan and his collaborators. This Chester’s Mill is yet another Anytown that could only exist on television or in the movies, the kind of place in which every male inhabitant between the age of 20 and 40 is a blandly chiseled stud with three-day stubble, and every woman is a pouty-lipped hottie clad in a dress or T-shirt that’s ideal for hugging her ripe breasts. And these people don’t talk about small-town sports or work; they mostly stare into one another’s dreamy-glassy eyes, uttering their friends’ names aloud in a traditional TV contrivance that’s meant to help us keep track of all the characters.
Because we were never convincingly among Earthlings to being with, the impact of the Dome’s unearthly violation is obliterated, and the pulp force of King’s writing has been diminished because the characters are no longer distinct enough to spark narrative friction. Phil Bushey (Nicolas Strong), once a meth-addled phantom who quietly arose as the conscience of King’s book, is now a hip slickster cast from the mold of Lenny Kravitz. Deputy Linda (Natalie Martinez), once a fortysomething working-class police officer poignantly trying to hold her family together in the midst of disaster, is now a generic cutie-pie who appears to be all of 12 years old.
There isn’t anything inherently wrong with a producer taking liberties with established material, as pop culture is rich with works that are hobbled by a pandering fealty to properties that could stand a revision, as well as masterpieces that bear little resemblance to their initial source of inspiration. But Vaughan’s revisions speak only of a desire to gentrify a weird, troubling pop epic; he only displays interest in the title as a recognizable phrase to tie together a collection of derivative cliffhangers in between advertisements for shampoo.