Review: ‘Under the Dome’ – ‘The Fire’

A review of tonight’s “Under the Dome” coming up just as soon as I spray paint myself a door…

When I see a debut episode that’s interesting but uneven like the “Under the Dome” pilot, I tend to look to episode 2 for signs of which way the series will go. Will it emphasize the parts of the pilot I liked, or magnify the parts that were problematic? Are there hints of whether this is a concept that can function over the long haul?(*) Is my understanding of the characters and/or the world growing deeper?

(*) The pilot was the most-watched summer premiere on any network in six years, and CBS’ biggest summer debut in thirteen years. CBS has been very careful in the descriptions used for the show, in a way that would allow them to end it this summer and claim it was a miniseries all along, or renew it in success. TV is a marathon, not a sprint, and viewers could get bored in a hurry. but with those numbers as a starting point, the odds of more episodes after this summer seem pretty good.

“The Fire,” unfortunately, was a pretty uninspiring second installment. It gave us a bit more of crazy Junior (easily the show’s weakest, cheesiest link), introduced another hammy character in Big Jim’s clergyman sidekick, was much shorter on the weird dome-related imagery that made the pilot so memorable (explosions are cool, but they are not a patch on a bisected cow), and couldn’t make up its mind about how bad it wants things to get in Chester’s Mill, and how fast.

There was a palpable sense of panic in last week’s episode. Of course, that was when the dome had first gone up, planes were crashing, corpses were being discovered, etc. But the town and most of its citizens felt much too calm for only day 2 of the crisis – puzzled and annoyed by this giant invisible barricade separating them from the rest of the world, but (other than the gun-hording deputy who cracked and killed his buddy with a ricochet) the people reacted with the same level of concern as they might if the local diner sprung a completely new menu on them with all of the popular specials removed.

More troubling, though, is that I’m not sure I care about a single one of the characters we’ve met so far other than Big Jim, and that’s owing as much to the pre-existing awesomeness of Dean Norris than anything he’s being given to play here. All the characterization is fairly thin at this point, with everyone conforming to their basic types.

I’m not giving up hope here. Talk to any veteran TV writer, and they’ll tell you episode 2 is one of the hardest to write, particularly for a high-concept show like this one. But “The Fire” certainly did nothing to make me more excited for the future of “Under the Dome.”

What did everybody else think?