Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Under the Dome 1.05: "Blue on Blue"

Earlier this evening, I got on YouTube in hopes of finding a video of this past weekend's Under the Dome panel from San Diego Comic Con.  No dice.  I found the Hannibal panel; I found the X-Files panel; I found the Marvel movies panel and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. panel.  All have been bookmarked for later perusal.

I also, somehow, found a video about Koko the "talking" gorilla meeting Robin Williams, and hey, look, how could I not watch that?

Anyways, long story short, I ended up watching animal videos on YouTube for the better part of an hour.  One of 'em was about a lioness that adopted a baby antelope.  A BABY ANTELOPE!  Another was about an orangutan whose best friend is a hound dog.  I'd've watched that one for several hours just on its own, probably.

My point is, maybe it's the animal-cuteness overload getting to me, but...damn, y'all, I really dug that episode of Under the Dome tonight.  If it had had a cat who was best friends with a crow in it, I'd've liked it even more, but even without that sort of thing, I thought it was pretty damn good.

We'll talk about that more in a sec, but first, here are a mess of photos of Suriya the orangutan and Roscoe -- Roscoe!!! -- the hound dog:


This might be the single best thing that I've ever seen.


"But I don't WANT no 'nanner..."






I mean, come on...!  This is preposterous.  Nothing should be that cute!  And yet, there it is.

One final photo.  In trying to find some images of Suriya and Roscoe, I Googled the phrase "orangutan hound dog."  In addition to the photos above, the following image popped up, and you'll likely understand why it gave me a WTF moment:




Say what...?!?

The image is apparently from this video; I have no notion what Barbie -- the doll, presumably, and not the character played by Mike Vogel -- has to do with it, and I didn't watch to find out, because frankly, it seems like it'd be a bummer.

But...yeah...the fact that that image popped up while I was looking for orangutan photos to use during a blog review of an Under the Dome episode weirded me out a little bit.

Right turn, Clyde...

Alright, so let's talk about "Blue on Blue," the fifth episode of Under the Dome, which CBS claims is being watched by 40 million people.  That's worldwide, I assume.  Given that statistic, I have to ask: what in THE HELL is the holdup on a second season being announced?

Because guess what?  I actually hope the series lasts for a while.  Yep; I've grown attached to it.  I've still got my nitpicks (some of which are most definitely going to be mentioned), but they are seeming increasingly like nitpicks and less like outright complaints.
 

Overall, what's working for me here is that the characters continue coming into better focus each week.  In fact, I found myself responding positively to not one, not two, but three characters tonight who I'd previously gotten close to hating: Lester, Phil, and Benny.

Lester, in my opinion, was so poorly portrayed (and not just by the actor, but by the writer and director as well) in the second episode that he single-handedly wrecked the whole thing.  Big Jim riding that bulldozer didn't help, but without the horrendous Lester scenes, I'd have been more forgiving of those bullzdozing-the-fire scenes.  I thought he was better in the subsequent episodes, mainly because I thought Ned Bellamy's performance was better, but I still had concerns, because I assumed that the character would be sticking around, and that he would serve -- for who-knows-how-many-more episodes -- as a religious pied-piper of sorts, calling townsfolk to his side as the situation under the dome became increasingly dire.  Because of that, I didn't put much (pardon it) faith in the tension between Big Jim and Lester; I just assumed that Big Jim would end up on Lester's side.

Consequently, I was genuinely surprised when Big Jim blithely pressed Lester's head up against the dome, causing his hearing aid to...well, I don't really know what it did, but the end result is an additional checkmark on the town's Dead Lester inventory.

I like it when a show can surprise me like that.  And it wasn't just that Big Jim killed Lester; I was already becoming more invested in Lester on his own, simple because he seemed like someone who'd found a purpose (other than annoying the piss out of me, I mean).  Purpose is interesting.

As for Phil, he has (so far) been a near-complete waste of space, but his scenes tonight -- unexpectedly playing Beethoven, talking about Skeeter Davis and "The End of the World," having a tender moment with Dodee -- made him seem like a sympathetic, unpredictable, interesting fella.  I'm not saying Phil Bushey is suddenly Hamlet or anything; but I won't roll my eyes the next time I see him, which gratifies me.

And hey-hell-hallelujah...!  I actually liked Benny the skater kid's scene tonight, too!  He's less annoying than in all of his prior scenes, and screenwriter Brian K. Vaughan put him to good use: delivering some highly tantalizing gossip from the outside world.  Turns out, like, in the days since the dome descended, China has been on the verge of attacking America.  They are acting under the assumption that the U.S. is testing some sort of super-duper new weapon, and according to Benny's info, the President has been busy preventing all-out war from erupting.

That's the sort of detail that is bound to hook a lot of people's interest.  It damn sure hooked mine.  Will the series follow up on it in any way, or will it remain merely a tantalizing tidbit of info from the outside world?  My money is on the latter, and I'm okay with that; that one little scene did so much to suggest the turmoil which would almost certainly erupt in the outside world if such an event actually occurred that it expiates the sins of the show's previous episodes (in which it kinda felt like nobody was freaking out at all about something that, let's face it, would eminently conducive to freak-outs on a mass scale).  Framing the situation so that it seems as if the world outside is on the brink of war as the result of what's going on -- largely freakout-free -- inside the dome makes the events inside the dome seem WAY more urgent.

That's good stuff, there.

Speaking of good stuff, let's get back to Big Jim, and while we're at it, let's rope Junior and Angie into the conversation.  In another development that flat-out amazes me, this plotline has become my favorite on the show.  The "why" of that, I guess, is that I simply have no idea where it is headed.  None.  BUT -- and this was not by any means a given -- it also has all made sense in retrospect.  That reminds me of what I love so much about, as one example, Mad Men, a show where I can never predict where it's going, but always feel like it makes complete sense once it has arrived there.  If Under the Dome continues to do that sort of thing, it's got tons of potential.
  
I had several theories on what would happen to Angie this episode, and every single one of them involved her remaining in that fallout shelter.  My favorite involved Big Jim agreeing with Junior to keep his mouth shut in exchange for Junior assassinating Lester.

Nope.

He lets her out, she runs home, and she and Junior -- in the face of what seems like sure death -- experience a measure of rapprochement.  Wha-wha-WHAT?!?  I dunno; maybe this stuff isn't working for everyone, but to me, it seems pretty damn rich.  Big Jim's dynamic with Junior is fascinating, because it seems real; he's stern with his son, to the point of nearly crossing over into abusiveness, but you can also tell without doubt that it comes from a place of love.  It's hard to argue that murdering Lester isn't a despicable act; but it's an understandable one, and that means that even when Big Jim is murdering somebody we can have empathy for him.  The result of that is that when he's in a more mundane context, like talking to his almost-certainly-crazy son, it's easy for us to feel like we know where Big Jim is coming from.

And the result of that is that I'm beginning to have real empathy for Junior, too.  Not sympathy, mind you; empathy, which is -- for me -- much more important for a work of fiction.

*****

Well, durn.

My alarm just went off, indicating that the hour I'd given myself to write this review has elapsed.  (I've GOT to get more sleep tonight than I got the past couple of nights, hence the self-imposed deadline.)  But...but...I had so much more to say!

Well, who knows, maybe I'll add more to the review tomorrow when I have more time.

For now, though, let me leave you with one of my nitpicks from the episode.  One thing I love/hate to notice in a movie or tv show is when dialogue is looped in to deliver information that somebody in the post-production process got scared might confuse viewers.  You can spot this because it'll usually be a very short line of dialogue spoken by one character in a moment when another character -- or, sometimes, an object -- is the focus of the camera.  Editors frequently use short dead spots in the dialogue to sneak in info that they think will lessen the odds of people being confused about some important plot point.  
  
A prime example happened during tonight's episode, during the scene when Norrie's supposed father was standing outside the dome.  He's showing her baby pictures of herself, and then shows her a photo of himself with Samantha Mathis's character.  The photo isn't shown particularly well, and Mathis looks rather different than she looks on the show (an obvious attempt to suggest that she was younger), and I would bet you a bean burrito that someone at the studio or the network was worried that nobody in the audience would get that we were seeing Norrie's mom.  So, helpfully, they suggested that Joe say "That's your mom!"

That way, nobody is confused.

On the one hand, it drives me a little bit nuts that the show is pandering to that extent.  On the other hand, I'm the guy who, a few weeks ago, was complaining that people might think Duke had been shot rather than that his pacemaker exploded.  (By the way, I'm 100% vindicated on that.  An episode of the podcast Under the Dome Radio included some voicemails from viewers, and one of them mentioned that he initially thought Duke had been shot.  So THERE!)

Either way, I love spotting looped moments like that.  They're awful, but fun.  Kind of like that car wreck that Troma always edits into their movies:



Oh, bless you, Troma; bless you.

Another such moment is in there, too, although this time you actually see the character speaking when he says it.  Phil sees someone he obviously knows outside the dome, and he perks up and starts walking over to her.  "Hey, it's my sister!" he says, to nobody except the audience.

Thanks, Phil.  Good lookin' out, bro.

Anyways, I've now exceeded my hour by nearly twenty minutes, so let's wrap this fucker up.

I leave you with a little Skeeter Davis:





Catch y'all next week.

12 comments:

  1. All I can say is thank Heaven they're actually putting some effort into this series.

    MY biggest shout out of appreciation goes to turning a frankly one dimensional Dick Cheney caricature into an increasingly complex three dimensional antagonist.

    There is, literally, almost little to no comparison.

    Yes, I admit, there are similarities. Both, so far, are shaping up to be villains and both are ultimately homicidal at their core.

    Yet the difference between Norris and King's Jim is that the original is pretty much impossible to take seriously as a threat, more as a kind of clown who overstays his welcome.

    With Norris's Jim you get a person who sits on a lot of secrets and play them close to the vest. That's the first aspect that makes this character interesting.

    Second, unlike the novel, this character doesn't spend his entire time pretty much walking around in his own head like the original, but actually does seem to have a kind of warped concern for others, even his own kid.

    The character shows all signs of going from Cheney parody to almost Shakespearian villain, sort of a cross between Macbeth and King Lear.

    Here's hoping everything goes well, and as David Letterman once said, "Why screw up a good thing?"

    ChrisC

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    1. I agree, Chris. I didn't like Big Jim in the novel at all (by which I mean that I didn't like the way King wrote him. Although I will say that somebody -- I'm almost certain it was Bryan McMillan, in his review of the novel at Dog Star Omnibus -- pitched the idea that the novel should be read as satire, and if it is read that way Big Jim makes more sense. That sounds like it has some validity to it, so I might well find myself changing my mind about those aspects of the novel whenever I get around to rereading it.

      For now, though, I'm with you. I think the television version of the character is a much more interesting and compelling fella. And, like you suggest, someone who is much easier to take seriously. You get the sense that he's been struggling with being taken seriously for most of his life, and that this dome situation is allowing him to finally step up and be the man who he wants to be. If he has to murder a crazy reverend or two along the line, he's okay with that.

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    2. I'm sure I'm not the only one, but I sure did suggest reading it as satire. It makes a lot of sense to me that way (as does Needful Things.)

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    3. I read (past-tense) neither as satire. But I suspect that was bad reading on my part. I'm looking forward to revisiting both at some point with those ideas in mind.

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  2. My God, those orangutan/ dog pictures are so ridiculously awesome.

    Sadly, I think both died in a crystal-meth-fueled shootout shortly after that last photo was taken. They lived hard. And fast. Brilliant stars that burned so brightly, consuming themselves too quickly. A cautionary cuteness. RIP.

    I think this was a good course-correction episode, bringing things back to the reality of the Dome and giving us the glimpse of the world’s reaction. Both the MOAB and its build-up were handled pretty well. I liked the family-time, though it amused me that IMMEDIATELY after they set up the police tape, Natalie Rodriguez disregarded it so she could be cutesy with her fellow first responder husband. Shameless. I only wish someone else had been tasered for taking the same liberty, give the scene that extra “oomph” of reality. The big reveal of the world being in a heightened state of anxiety is definitely good and is an improvement on that aspect of the novel, which perhaps missed an opportunity to expand the story that way.

    (I can’t recall how much mention was made in Dreamcatcher of the beyond-borders reaction to the US govt. fighting Mr. Gray and all that byrus… anyway.)

    The reveal/ subplot with Norrie meeting her Dad is irritating. Frankly, this whole dynamic with the Moms and what not is just kind of ridiculous and pandering and culturally imperialistic. It kind of gives everything a Beverly Hills 90210 sort of sheen, which is not necessarily a bad thing. This show fails as Lost, but it’s fine as 90210. Actually, it’s GREAT as 90210. This is the last season of 90210 that SHOULD have happened. And I’m only half-kidding.

    But, some of the Lost-ness (not that it’s the first or only show to be so influenced by that one, of course; Lost was kind of a game-changer) worked better in this episode than it has in any other. I’m not really all that interested in any of the characters or dynamics, I have to say, but I hope they continue to play up the mystery of the Dome and the pressure-cooker inside.

    One thing: was that one lady saying she was talking to a son who’d been dead for ten years? Or just someone she hadn’t seen in ten years? It was quick, and I didn’t hear it all that clearly. But they made a point of showing Barbie with her and giving her dialogue, and it raised the possibility that the Dome can show people things it wants to see/ be some kind of medium with the dead. Unless, of course, I misheard it. I kind of hope I’m right, though, as that would be very interesting.

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    1. I've been watching the show with my parents every Monday night, and while we're mostly a silent-watching bunch, we did a little talking during two scenes last night. One was the scene in which the lady seemed to be talking to what she was potentially referring to as her dead son; it seems like I heard roughly as much of that as you heard, so I can't shed any light.

      The second was a scene underground when it sounded like Barbie was talking about a friendly-fire situation in the war. I missed virtually all of that.

      Oh, well.

      I'm glad you mentioned the thing where Linda almost immediately broke her own rule about nobody getting too close to the dome, because that was on my list as being THE worst moment of the episode. My theory is that she only warned Barbie about it so that the audience would understand what happens to Lester at the end. In other words, it's a case of the producers/network/studio/whoever assuming that there would be X-number of people watching who would be confused by the end if somebody, at some point in the episode, didn't explain it.

      Still, the thing with Linda was handled clumsily, and I found myself wondering why Rusty's tablet didn't blow up all over him.

      I think you're dead-on with the "Lost" comparisons. I didn't care for the way that series' final season went -- at all -- but for the first five seasons, it was easily one of the best things I'd ever seen on tv. "Under the Dome" doesn't stand up to that comparison. Not so far. But that's okay; it doesn't have to. And on its own merits, I think it's turning into a consistently good show. It just needs a bit more edge and a bit more subtlety, and it might able to turn the corner from good to great.

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  3. p.s. I meant to expand on that "culturally imperialistic" thing lest I give the wrong impression. I have no problems raising the visibility of LGBT folks on prime-time or elsewhere, of course, and I'm not attached to the professor/student couple they replaced from the book - who cares; what I'm saying is the way it's being handled here puts me in mind of 90210 or something rather than anything else. Dropping such elements into a soap opera environment that can't help but transform it all into a soap opera representation. Any "special episode" of 90210 / Saved by the Bell renders the topic soap-opera-y in other words.

    I don't know if I've been any clearer with this p.s. but I like to do a comparison of the character-changes and compartmentalizations as I watch and wonder at the conversations and decision-making that preceded them.

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    1. No, no, I get what you're saying, and I agree. It's been a ham-fisted use of a perfectly good lesbian couple, and it annoys me severely every time I see the two of them NOT kiss each other.

      I think I know where it's coming from, though. My theory is that CBS has had a fairly heavy hand with the producers, and has mandated that there not be an excess of affection between Alice and Carolyn, lest it offend the audience. CBS is watched by an enormous amount of older viewers, many of whom you have to figure (statistically speaking) are cultural conservatives who would turn the channel if a lesbian couple -- and an interracial one at that -- were swapping spit on a regular basis.

      It's worth pointing out that series producer/writer Brian K. Vaughan has included a LOT of sex -- much of it of the homo variety -- in recent issues of his comic book "Saga." So I don't get the feeling that it's him shying away from having Alice and Carolyn be more intimate. If it's not him, then it kinda HAS to be the network.

      With that in mind, the mere presence of lesbian characters feels like a small win. A very, very small one; but a win nonetheless.

      I can only guess that Vaughan must have, in the back of his mind somewhere, a plan for how he'd LIKE to use them, given the latitude to do so. And who knows, maybe he'll get to at some point.

      That's all just guesswork, of course, so don't read it as more than that. Seems logical, though.

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    2. What you say makes sense. Tho, I personally hesitate to approach these things as a win/ no-win situation. If they're good characters/ make sense to the story, then great; if they're there as missionaries to teach 'Muricans a lesson about how to think or are Rousseau-ian noble savages of the LGBT variety, that's less interesting to me. Anytime I feel talked down to like that - even when I agree - I bristle.

      Then again, that's not necessarily a bad thing. After all, I'm just one guy amidst a swarm of 40 million viewers, so whatever works.

      And also then again: the book is filled with stacking-the-deck satirical constructions, so it would be silly of me to not give the show at least the same amount of latitude. So mainly, I just feel like they're not quite compelling characters to me, and their teenage daughter/ this father showing up business, seems too soap-opera-y to me. And not fun eyepatch-wearing/ long-lost-evil-twin soap-opera-y. Ditto for this "Julia will end up with the guy who killed her husband" business. Less compelling, more constructionist.

      Or something like that. I feel I'm circling my points rather than making them. I blame this head-cold.

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    3. Yeah, "win" is probably the wrong sort of word (and philosophy) to use in this scenario. I just like the idea of uptight old blue-haired ladies being annoyed, but also being too lazy to change the channel.

      Either way, we're in agreement that the couple has not been used particularly well so far.

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  4. Wow, Lost, yeah I watched that ending, and for me, sort of the biggest complaint is this...

    The Stand? Really? That's all it was ever building up to? That's all you wanted to do originally, just get a chance to bring King's the Stand to either big or small screen?

    It's clear enough to me that that's all the final run of Lost really is. Therefore it's kind of a let down after all the literateness of the first season, although in retrospect, I think the book club in Lost is merely there to reference the same books King does in the Stand.

    Also, to be fair, I think Abrams deserves some slack. I think he always wanted to just bring out the Stand instead of any stranded island scenario, only he didn't have enough industry clout back then to get his dreams off the ground. Well, maybe he can realize The Stand as a TV series one day in the near future.

    Meantime, here's something I was inspired to put up by the photos on this entry, I just couldn't resist. IT IS APE LAW! (p.s. yes, this was actually made into a TV series):

    http://thatfellowinthecoat.com/vaultingplanetapes.php

    ChrisC





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    1. I recall an interview with some of the "Lost" producers early on where they mentioned that "The Stand" was a very specific inspiration, and that "Lost" would eventually adopt the one-camp-versus-another setup of King's novel.

      Abrams himself had little involvement with the show after the first season, though. It's less an Abrams show than a Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse show. So I blame them for fumbling the ball at the goal line with the final season, which isn't BAD, exactly...but certainly does not live up to the promise of the first five seasons.

      Thumbs up to "Planet of the Apes: The Series," which I own on DVD. It's kind of terrible, but in a kind of wonderful way.

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