Remember the pilot for Under the Dome? That was pretty good, wasn't it? There was this dome thing, and then trucks and planes crashed into it and exploded and blackbirds broke their hollow bird neck vertebrae smacking into it. Not so much last night, though. I'm no television scientist, but there may be some correlation between the quality of an Under the Dome episode and how much dome-related destruction and death it contains, and last night's episode "The Fire" didn't have much of either.
I know we can't expect every episode to feature trucks smashing into an impenetrable membrane and crunching like a soda can or farm animals being halved, but it's reasonable to expect more of an appropriate reaction from the people trapped under the dome. Everyone in Chester's Mill seems to be pretty calm and cool about their new terrarium except Policeman Paul, and when he delivered the obvious truth—"It's not going to be okay! This thing [editor's note: the "thing" he's talking about is the dome] is never going to go away and we're all going to die!"—all of a sudden he's the crazy one? Okay maybe he's the crazy one for firing off a couple rounds at the dome, I'll give you that, but there's more than a kernel of truth to what he's saying and if everyone else freaked out like he did, we'd have ourselves a more entertaining show. This is only the second day of Domedom, after all, so being trapped like a wasp at a picnic should still be fresh in people's minds.
Also maddening was the silly amount of time the citizens of Chester's Mill spent trying to name the dome. They referred to it as "this thing," "this damn thing," "this barrier thing," and "some magical bubble thing" before confirming via eavesdropping on the military that it is, indeed, just as the title of the show says, a... wait for it... DOME. Sure, naming it may be important for the town's residents, but from the standpoint of an audience watching a show called Under the Dome, it's about as boring as it gets. Imagine if Charlie from Lost rephrased his famous line and said, "Guys, where are we? I think we're... LOST." No shit, Sherlock. That's the title of the freakin' show. Yet the phrase "under the/a dome" was muttered by Under the Dome characters THREE TIMES in one minute and 18 seconds, and each time they said it I spit-taked my chamomile tea. Storytellers have a responsibility to not spend too much time showing us what we already know, but that concept was ignored here. The citizens' overwrought journey of discovery became a source of unintended comedy for me, but at least it opens up the possibilities for drinking games (everytime they say "dome," dunk your head in the rum-punch bowl).
There was also a Stupid Contest between a trio of characters. Winning the championship for Most Academically Inept was Joe's friend Ben, who reasoned that if water could penetrate the dome, then humans and our 70-percent-water composition could also get through. He was also extremely excited about the dome's presence probably canceling his upcoming trigonometry test, but equally bummed about not being able to ever make out with Mila Kunis. I suppose there was some opportunity for humor here, but it fell flat without the delivery of a capable actor. If you're going to be that stupid, at least be charmingly dim.
Winning the prize for Stupidity Under Pressure was the newly introduced, drugged-up Reverend Coggins (Justified's Ned Bellamy). Big Jim ordered him to retrieve incriminating propane-smuggling documents from the house of recently deceased Sheriff Duke, and nearly Darwined himself. "The lord works in mysterious ways," he said as he set the docs aflame. However, fire does not work in mysterious ways. In fact, it's a pretty simple concept. But the this escaped Coggins, so he put the burning papers into a trashcan, bumped the bin into some extremely flammable curtains, tried to smother the fire with a very burnable jacket, and then panicked and threw the engulfed outerwear into another portion of the house that could easily combust. I must have watched this four or five times in a row, and it got funnier with each take. I'm just not sure it was supposed to be funny. This show has become an unintentional domedy. (Okay, I'm not that funny either.)
Winning honorable mentions in the Stupid Contest were the dozens of onlookers who had to be told by Barbie that some substance called "water" was effective in putting out fire. A bucket brigade (YES, A BUCKET BRIGADE) was formed and hoses were used to fight the flames, but it wasn't until Big Jim and his borrowed bulldozer showed up to flatten the flaming abode that the greatest threat to Chester's Mill (no offense, dome) was finally extinguished. Nevertheless, journalist Julia still was impressed with Barbie's mad firefighting skillz. "Bucket brigade, pretty clever," she told him while admiring his man-pecs. Well, Mrs. Extremely Lonely Lady, first of all, a bucket brigade isn't that clever, and second of all, his plan didn't even work. And don't be so obviously horny for Barbie. You don't even know that your old, unsexy husband is dead yet. Yeesh.
But most frustrating of all the stupid characters in this episode was the character who was the stupidest. And I don't mean stupid as in unintelligent, I mean stupid as in whyyyyyyyyyyyy!?!? Junior, the mentally challenged and obsessive kidnapper, please step up and claim your grand prize. There's nothing interesting about Junior holding Angie captive in his dad's underground shelter. Nothing. You know what is interesting? THE DOME. To rush into this storyline so early when we still don't really know any of the characters and there's still a huge dome to be interested in was a G.O.B. Bluth-sized huge mistake. You could literally remove every scene featuring Angie and Junior that we've seen so far, and the rest of the show wouldn't change a bit. Yeah, Barbie and Junior got in a fight, but what was the result for Barbie? He just strolled out of the woods. And has Joe not noticed that his sister is missing? Has anyone noticed that Angie is missing? Was Junior always this crazy, or did it take a huge dome to send him into a fit? If he was always this crazy, what's a hottie like Angie doing sexing him up? Is Junior Patient Zero for dome-afflicted insanity? I'd actually buy that over everything else at the moment, based on what we have to go on to explain his behavior, which is nothing.
Under the Dome's pilot was entertaining, but it did show signs that it wasn't the start of a great series. Junior's kidnapping of Angie, the episode's stress on non-dome side stories, and broadly painted characters really dragged down the second half of the premiere after a pretty solid start. Those problems solidified in "The Fire," and it looks like Under the Dome likely won't be the great summer diversion we hoped it would be. It might even be terrible. So, did anyone watch Siberia?
– "We're under a dome, Dodee!" might be my favorite line of dialogue ever.
– DJ Phil, if THAT's what you think is face-melting rock n' roll, then I don't want to party with you.
– What grade would you give Policewoman Linda's acting skills? F-minus? Or F? And what's with the very casual talk about where her man was going to take her on their honeymoon? "That dog said I had to settle for Niagara Falls!" Hello? Look above your head! THERE'S A DOME! He can go to Hawaii if he wants, but you're honeymooning solo UNDER THE DOME.
– The science portion of the series is going to be left to a high-schooler with some trigonometry skills? Is he really the only person who's trying to figure out what this dome is?
– After DJ Phil's report from "WYVS, your only source of news from under the dome," goth seizure girl explained what that meant: "It means we're all going to die under here!" CUT TO COMMERCIAL! And then we got no explanation of what she meant. That's some totally obvious and heavy-handed pre-commercial doomsday hyping right there, lady. It's also really bad writing.
– One big flashing neon sign that this show might not be very good: the lazy episode title "The Fire." And guess what happened in the episode? A fire!