An Under the Dome Community
Monday 10:00 PM on CBS (Returning June 25th, 2015)
Yes, I'm going to do it. I'm going to toss down the gauntlet between these two Monday 10/9 central shows which have a vaguely similar theme: people trapped in an isolated situation and forced to fight for their lives while dealing with the breakdown of societal institutions.
Up front I'll admit it: I like Siberia better. I've seen six of that, and eight of UtD. I think we can all come with an informed opinion by now. If anything, I went into the two shows with a more open-mind toward UtD. NBC has a horrible track record for "event" programming: Persons Unknown and The Event, anyone? And I'm not a fan of competitive reality shows.
On the other hand, I'm a Stephen King fan. That said, Under the Dome is my least favorite of all his novels, because it was the only one I couldn't finish on the first read. (I'm now rectifying that.) I know his track record for media adaptations is spotty at best, but I can usually forgive his mediocre efforts and understand that a lot of his stuff doesn't adapt well. For example I'd rather have It on TV, dumbed down, then no It at all.
Despite that, I'm giving the nod to Siberia. Why? It comes down to 5 reasons.
1) Working Against Expectations
People expect more from Stephen King than Matthew Arnold (who??). I'm among them. Even the worse King adaptations that actually followed the original story had something good to them. (Stuff that tossed the original story out entirely, like Lawnmower Man and Mangler, not so much.).
In this case, a good Matthew Arnold trumps a mediocre Stephen King. The problem is that we're getting Stephen King... but we're not. We're getting his high concept of the Dome, and some borrowing from the bones of his original novel. But then a bunch of generic Hollywood writers stepped in to write. If you're going to borrow from the Master, keep borrowing. King will be writing the season 2 premiere, but it seems like too little, too late.
Matthew Arnold (who??) is directing every episode so far, writing a couple of key episodes, and got people he apparently handpicked to write the others. You might agree or disagree with his vision for his show, but at least it's his vision.
2) Taking It Slow
UtD is a "start with a bang" novel, literally. It starts with a bisected ground chuck and an exploding plane. That works in the novel because King can describe the inner thoughts of his characters and do flashbacks. But what it means on the show is that we're swept up into the excitement and then it... stops. We could have used an episode, or maybe even a half-episode, to learn about what these people are like outside of a crisis. Then we can watch them deteriorate. But that's not what happened here. That's why we got the "crisis of the week" for the next few episodes.
Siberia starts slow and it's a bit misleading. It starts as a reality show, with all the garbage reality show interviews and "deep character moments on the camera" and so on. But we get to learn about the characters. They're not particularly deep or original, but at least we know what they are and we get to see them change once the crisis kicks in during episode five. So hey, we'll call it misdirection instead of misleading. :)
Siberia also builds up the suspense. Both shows have a mystery, but UtD's mystery just isn't that… suspenseful. Maybe it's that the UtD characters for the most part don't seem that interested in solving the mystery, except for Joe and Norrie. And now Julia as of episode eight. And that brings us to...
3) Proactive Characters
Now that the crisis is upon the contestants in Siberia, they're doing stuff. They're building signal fires. They're sending out a party to find that radio beacon. They're hunting for food. They're tipping over reward boxes. They're finding lockets and bracelets and skeletons and diaries and little girls. Heck, they're preparing to sue the producers when they escape and making sure everything gets filmed as evidence. (Which conveniently provides a reason for the cameramen to keep filming.)
Joe and Norrie are the only ones looking into the mystery of the Dome. And they're not doing much. They find the mini-Dome and the egg, and they... cover it up and walk away, keeping it a secret. I'd be out there every spare moment poking and prodding it, getting more images to appear and say cryptic things. Okay, Alice died and it might have been connected to what they did. But guess what? They're probably going to die if they don't investigate the Dome. Does anyone think the Dome is waiting for someone to find the egg and poke it before it starts manipulating people's lives?
Eventually Joe tells Julia, and she's kinda curious. She touches the mini-Dome once, gets a message, and walks away. Ugh. I understand not telling most people in town. But call in Dodee, she's got some technical expertise.
4) Believable Characters
Okay, the characters on Siberia aren't very believable. But at least they're proactive and seem willing to cooperate. Esther, the resident heel, actually regrets what she did to Irene and has a heartfelt conversion. These people realize they may not like each other, but they have to cooperate to survive. Except for Miljan, the Junior stand-in. But even he seems to be going insane, instead of starting insane and staying insane.
Big Jim and Ollie still carry on their feud. Junior is still chasing Angie. Okay, he's nuts, but does he have no sense of self-preservation? No one seems too worried about their long-term survival and they're going about their lives just about like they were before the Dome. Big Jim was a power-hungry jerk before the Dome, and he's a power-hungry jerk after the Dome. King's novel was about the fact that crisis brings out the worst in people. But because we didn't see Big Jim before the Dome, we don't get that fact.
Ditto on Junior. He's started by locking Angie up, and he's just as nuts seven episodes later. The only reason he can kill people is because they keep giving him guns, not because he's gotten any nuttier.
5) Dialogue
Siberia is no great shakes, but they have occasional bits of moving dialogue, and they mix in some comedy. There's a certain naturalistic quality to it.
UtD is an uneasy mix of King's dialogue, attempts at doing King's dialogue, and Hollywood 101 clichés. The former make the latter two stand out, and not in a good way.
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So overall, I'm giving Siberia the nod. I'll watch both, and we'll see how they go. Either one could yet surprise, but that's the mid-season or near mid-season assessment.
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