Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A Review of "Under the Dome" Season 1 on Blu-ray

Well, here's a post that's officially months overdue.

The first season of Under the Dome was released on Blu-ray and DVD way back on November 5.  Remember, remember, the fifth of November, the gunpowder treason plot; I mainly remember the fifth of November as when this Blu-ray set was bought.

Well, now that that silliness is out of the way, let me tell you that I had not intended to allow the better part of four months slip by before posting a review of the set.  However, I didn't want to toss a review out merely for the sake of having one out; it made more sense to me to sit down and actually watch the discs, and base my review around whether my opinions of the season changed from the mostly-negative place where they ended up when last summer's run of episodes concluded.

The problem with that was that I didn't have much desire to actually sit and watch the episodes.  I've been watching other things: the final two seasons of Star Trek: Enterprise, for example, plus some Disney Blu-rays I got myself for Christmas.  Oh, let's be clear: I had time to rewatch Under the Dome.  I just didn't want to rewatch Under the Dome.

Hence, no review until now.

But I was finally able to motivate myself to tackle it, and so I plowed through the thing over the course of about a week, taking it chunks one disc at a time.

And guess what?

I still have all the same problems I had with it last summer.  But, that said, I did find myself engaged by it sporadically, and I'd be a liar if I didn't admit to getting at least enough enjoyment out of the rewatch to make it worth my time to have done so.

Before we proceed, here are a few photos of my Amazon-exclusive set, the one what come with the snow globe:

Here's an our-of-focus scan of the top of the box that housed the whole set.  It's out of focus because it's juuuuuuuust too wide to fit on my scanner's glass surface; so it's poised a few millimeters (or maybe less) above it.

Here's the "back," which is actually one of the side panels.

Uh-oh.  When you have to include instructions for how to get to the discs, maybe you've overcomplicated things a bit.

Here's an iPad photo.  You'd think it'd've turned out better.  But no; it really didn't.

If you look carefully and ignore how out of focus this photo is, you can sort of see Barbie's bloody handprint.

The halved cow was a nice touch.

As referenced in the instructions, you take the top of the globe off to get to the discs, which are housed in the chamber beneath.  Since I plan on actually playing them on occasion -- or at least wish to have them readily available should the desire to play one of them strikes me -- I took them out, put them in individual sleeves, and do not plan to ever put them back inside the globe.  If the regular Blu-ray set ever goes on deep discount, I might actually spend a few bucks on it just to have a more shelf-ready version; at that point in time, I'll put the discs back in their original housing.  Am I lame for thinking about doing that?  Answer: yes.  Yes I am.

Was this snow-globe set worth the money I spent on it?  Eh . . . arguably not.  The globe is a bit of a disappointment, and I really wish they hadn't decided to house the discs beneath/within it.  The thing to do would have been to have the standard Blu-ray set be inside the package, and for the snow globe to simply be a snow globe.  And maybe look more like an actual snow globe.  Just sayin'.  As is, the set presents significant problems for the collector in terms of where to place it on one's shelf.  I've got all my King DVDs and Blu-rays on their own shelf, and this set really doesn't fit anywhere with them.  Is that a problem?  No, not really.  But it is a minor annoyance, and I expect things that I spend $90 on perhaps NOT be describable as "minor annoyances."

But so be it.  Let's move along and not worry about it.

This review is not going to tackle the episodes one-by-one.  I did that last summer, and for those of you who may have missed those reviews, I'll now favor you with episode-by-episode links:

After I finished rewatching all of the discs, I sat down and reread my way through all of my reviews.  Found more than a few typos, corrected 'em; cracked myself up with some of my dumb-ass jokes; found a few opinions that made me wonder what I'd been thinking; but mostly found myself nodding and saying silently, "mm-hmm...nailed it."

Now, lest you misunderstand what I mean when I say that, I'm not claiming to have the definitive or final opinion on this series or its component episodes.  Nope.  When I say "nailed it," what I mean is simply that I feel as if I did a pretty good job of explicating the reasons why I was feeling what I was (and mostly still am) feeling about the show.  I write these reviews as a way of coming to know my own mind.  That's what this blog is mostly about, y'all, and it ain't by no means a given that I am always successful in achieving that goal.  So when I do achieve it, it pleases me.  That's what the "nailed it" means, and nothing more.  You are free to agree with me or disagree with and to go as far to either end of that spectrum as you care to go.

So, if we're not to tackle this sucker episode-by-episode, what are we going to do?  My impulse is to go character-by-character instead, and after that look at some of the broader-scope topics.  I can't swear that I'll stick to that format 100%, but it seems like a decent jumping-off point.

And so, we begin.  And who do we begin with?

With Dale "Barbie" Barbara, of course.  Who else?

If you think some other character ought to be getting top billing, though, I understand why you'd leap to that conclusion.  The fact is, considering that Barbie is ostensibly Under the Dome's main character, he sure is given short shrift by the show's first season.  Sure, he's in every episode.  But does he feel particularly integral to any of them?  I'm not sure that he does.

Without resorting to book/series comparisons -- something I'd like to continue to mostly avoid -- I can at least mention that the television Barbie is a much different character than the Barbie of the novel.  In the novel, he is essentially a drifter, one who has been working in town for a while as a short-order cook; in the series, he is an enforcer who has just finished accidentally killing a guy from whom (we will eventually learn) he was attempting to collect gambling debts.  In the novel, he is a reluctant hero, because he's really just trying to keep himself out of trouble; the series, he begins in trouble -- fairly deep trouble -- and is just trying to avoid being found out.

However, by virtue of the role being cast the way it is, Barbie has the look of a moderately clean-cut heroic type, and he saves a character from death early on.  So clearly, the series wants us to think of this fella as a potential hero, if not quite yet an actual one.

If the series had had any interest in doing so, it could very easily have made this a compelling journey.  Instead, the writers and directors mainly seemed interested in having Barbie stand around looking inexpressively incredulous at his situation.  Mike Vogel is a good actor, and he deserves better than to have been saddled with an entire season's worth of episodes wherein Barbie essentially does nothing.  He tells the occasional lie; he complains about Big Jim once in a while; he infrequently comes close to murdering someone.

But so what?  There is no arc here.  He begins as a vaguely shady fellow burying a body in the woods, and ends as a vaguely heroic fellow who may or may not be about to be hanged by the neck until dead.  His arc is from one type of vagueness to another.  It isn't interesting, or compelling.  If you're a big Mike Vogel fan, you might be able to drum up some interest; but that's it.

The series has not yet gone to a few of the places where the novel went, of course, so perhaps the second season will rectify Barbie's shortcomings as a character.  The potential is still there, and Vogel is up to the challenge.  Are the writers?

We'll see.

Barbie might arguably be the show's (poorly utilized) main character, but I don't think there's much doubt in anyone's mind that the REAL main character is Big Jim Rennie.  Played memorably by Dean Norris, Rennie is a fascinating figure who keeps the series moving even during most of the serious down times.  Of which there are plenty.

That's the idea, at least.  We're supposed to find Rennie to be a fascinatingly complex and complicated villain, at least.  I'm not sure if it actually works.  It worked for about half of the season, I'd say.  I spent the first . . . oh . . . eight or nine episodes convinced that the show's writers had pulled a fast one on me, and that the series version of Big Jim was going to be more of an anti-hero than an actual villain.  In the novel, he is a villain.  Boy, is he.  He's arguably one of King's least successful major characters, one who comes close to being an out-and-out cartoon.  I've heard people say that that is purposeful, and satirical, and that it therefore works; and maybe they are correct.  However, the series is decidedly NOT a satire, and the producers wisely avoided having Big Jim be cartoonish.

However, they seem to have felt that there was no way to avoid having Big Jim and Barbie lock horns, so they made sure to take the show in that direction.  But at what cost?  The Barbie of the first few episodes doesn't really feel to me like the kind of guy who would immediately feel antagonistic toward Big Jim.  Not toward THIS Big Jim, certainly, because the Big Jim of the first few episodes really doesn't seem like all that bad a guy.  Even when we find out that he and the Sheriff conspired to supply the gangsters in Westlake with plenty of propane, he doesn't seem THAT bad: I mean, he's made a deal to keep his town as free of drugs as possible.  That's bad, I guess; but as badness goes, it's forgivable.

So what we mostly get early on is that Big Jim is kind of a dick toward his son, and that he's vaguely shady.  What sort of Big Bad is that?!?  Especially if he's being fought by Barbie, a hero so vaguely heroic that his superhero costume may as well have a photo of a guy shrugging on it where the big "S" would normally go.

Eventually, the show resorts to having Big Jim start just flat-out murdering people and restricting civil liberties and whatnot, but the transition from the more nuanced (and more interesting) Big Jim to the fascistic Big Jim is poorly-handled at the scripting and plotting level.  Only Dean Norris salvages it; he puts forth a fairly titanic effort to keep Rennie feeling like a consistent character, and thanks to his efforts, it almost works.

I like to think of my hypothetical readers as my friends, and I prefer to be honest with my friends.  So I may as well tell you this: I think Rachelle Lefevre is approximately as hot as microwaved lava.  Not only is she gorgeous, but she also seems (based on interviews with her I have seen) to be extremely intelligent.  If there's one thing that can make a beautiful woman even hotter, it's smarts.

I mention this so that you understand why, exactly, I can tolerate Julia Shumway.  Hell, not only do I tolerate her, I like her.  See, like, she's a super-hot redhead.  Why wouldn't I?

Well, if I didn't have those inclinations, I'd probably be a lot less kind about Julia.  If I step outside of myself and look at her objectively, I have to admit it: she is about as poorly-written a character as any I've ever seen not named "Jar Jar Binks."

Julia is an absolute disaster of a character, in fact.  Lefevre plays her well, and this is the only thing that saves the character even a little bit.  Julia is meant to be an ace newspaper woman, albeit one who has fallen slightly from grace and ended up in a small town.  Do we ever one single time see her at her alleged newspaper?  We do not.  Do we see her writing anything?  Interviewing anyone?  We do not, except briefly in the first episode; if it ever happened again, it skated past my attentions.  If you took an actual journalist and put them inside a supernatural -- or, possibly science-fictional -- event, it seems likely to me that she might, you know, take some fucking notes on the whole thing.  Because there IS a Pulitzer in her future, assuming the situation is resolved.

Having her do that -- i.e., behave in a manner consistent with her stated profession -- seems to have been to much to ask of the show's writers, though, so her main concern seems to be figuring out why the complete stranger she just invited to live with her seems so mysterious.  What is this guy hiding?  Do you think he'd fuck me?  I wonder where my husband is?

The Barbie/Julia relationship did not particularly bother me when the episodes aired last summer.  Watching the series an episode per week over several months gives it a sort of subliminal feeling of elapsed time that can add depth to character relationships, and theirs felt at least vaguely plausible to me, given how attractive they each are.

However, when I rewatched the series on Blu-ray, I did so within about a week's time, power-loading three or four episodes in a row.  And let me tell you, watching the season in that fashion does not make this relationship more palatable.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  What on Earth are these two people thinking?  Why would Julia even consider asking a stranger into her home?  Why would she turn into an adulterer almost immediately?  Why would Barbie sign up for that, knowing that he is potentially stuck in the same town for the rest of his life?  If he's trying to keep a low-ish profile, would shacking up with a reporter seem even vaguely like a good idea?

The writing does nothing to make any of this work.  Not for one single second.  Making things worse, Vogel and Lefevre have virtually no on-screen chemistry.  This is not a relationship between these two characters; this is a bad impersonation of a relationship.  It's like hearing a drunk accountant who cannot sing butcher "Let It Be" at a karaoke bar: you recognize the intent, but wish more common sense had been involved, or, failing that, talent.  Instead, you witness something which merely demeans everyone involved.

Apart from all that, Julia ends the season, implausibly, as the character on whom the dome's controlling forces seem to have settled as the person best-equipped to be in charge of things.  Julia is their Monarch, whatever that ends up meaning.  Are these entities aware she hasn't interviewed a single person about what's going on in town?  She's a shit journalist; how promising a Monarch can she really be?

I spent much of the first season going back and forth on whether I thought Alexander Koch was doing a good job as Junior.  Rewatching the season, I'm not sure why I was conflicted; he's pretty good, and is so from the first episode through the last.  If you disagreed, and thought he was kinda bad, I don't know that I'd argue with you much; but I'd insist that if he was, he was such for the entirety of the season.  And yet, I initially (last summer, that is) felt he was inconsistent at the beginning and took a few episodes to grow into his role.  Looking back on things, I am a bit mystified as to why I had that opinion.  Hey, it happens, I guess.

Like the older J. Rennie, Junior is a massive improvement on the novel's version of the character.  Here, we don't quite know if he is a nutbag or not; in the novel, there was zero room for doubt.  The writers of the series have made Junior over into the sort of guy who may be crazy, or who may be behaving crazily due to the dome's interference, or whose craziness may have somehow helped cause the dome, or toward whose lunacy the dome's creators may have been tipping him for years and years.

Bottom line is, with Junior, we just don't know yet.  But in his case, the inconsistency feels less like an inconsistency and more like an actual mystery, one possibly integral to the greater mysteries at the heart of the series.  Do I have faith in the writers to pull all of this together and have it make sense eventually?  Nosir, I do not.  But compared to other failed facets of the series' overall concepts, I thik it's got potential, and I think Alexander Koch is doing well with what he's being given.

I'd say much the same of Britt Robertson as Angie McAllister, except with a proviso: that I wish the writers would find a way to write her as being less shrill.  Because so far, they've given her a LOT of shrillness, and unfortunately, Robertson CAN do shrill.

Much of the season finds her wearing extremely skimpy clothes, which is fine by me, especially so when her cell floods and said skimpy clothes get very wet.  Sorry 'bout having that opinion, y'all; but since the show actively courted it, I may as well admit to it.  Honesty, best policy, so forth.

It is well know by now that Angie dies almost immediately in the novel.  Junior kills her and rapes her, not necessarily in that order, and not necessarily just the once, either.  But producer Brian K. Vaughan has produced with benevolence toward Angie, and he allows her to live, and then eventually integrates her into the show's larger mythology as part of the quintet of characters who seem to be able to communicate with the dome in some way.  Where this will go in the future, I do not know, but I avidly hope that it calls for less screaming from Britt Robertson.  She's a natural at it but in the way ole Jar Jar was a natural at stepping in Bantha poo-doo: in the unwanted way.

[Sidebar: it has come to my attention that there are people who have begun actively trying to make a case that Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Meance is not, in fact, a piece of shit, but that it is instead a very well-made and vital piece of cinema.  Well, it's a piece of something, alright; and of the two choices, I'll continue to stick with "piece of shit."  The acting is mostly awful, the editing is mostly awful, the story is ineffective, the dialogue is awful, and the pod race sucks.  Yeah, I said it: the pod race sucks.  I bet I've seen that miserable excuse for a movie a dozen time now, and while there are certainly things about it that I enjoy, the pod race ain't one of 'em.  Worst Star Wars movie ever, hands down.  Apologies if you yourself love it, but the quicker you learn to separate nostalgia from objectivity, the better off you are going to be.]

Here's Colin Ford, who plays Joe McAllister.  I was occasionally rather unkind toward him in my episode reviews last summer, but I found that his performance bothered me less during the rewatch.  He's still a bit to gape-faced and slack-jawed for my tastes, but those qualities seem to fit the character relatively well, which makes his performance appropriate, if perhaps not particularly inspired.

Here's Mackenzie Lintz, who plays Norrie Calvert, a wayward youth who gets trapped in Chester's Mill on her way to being dumped in a rehab facility -- or a camp for wayward youths, or something -- by her parents.  She's pretty good.  But as with Julia's non-journalism, the show suffers because Norrie never really shows any signs of whatever behavior made her mothers want to send her away for disciplining.  We never even find out what, exactly, her bad behavior consisted of.  Was she a drunk?  A druggie?  A slut?  Did she simply misbehave?  As the show presents her, she seems more or less like a normal, intelligent young woman.  She seemingly has a tendency to not let her moms know where she is, but apart from that, I don't see much evidence that she needs to be sent away for brainwashing, or whatever the hell the plan was.

Dale Raoul plays Andrea Grinnell, a hoarder who lives across the street from the facility where Big Jim is storing all his propane.  At some point, she sees her seemingly-dead son on the other side of the dome.

And that's about all we know about her.  She's pointless.  This is not Dale Raoul's fault, either; maybe she'll get more to do in the second season.

I would argue that the most successful bit of casting in the entire first season was Jeff Fahey as Duke Perkins.  Just like in the novel, Duke bites the dust almost immediately.  Casting a strong actor like Fahey really hammers that home.  I wish the producers had saved it until the end of the first season, though.

Nicholas Strong plays Phil Bushey, the town's deejay.  He has very little to do during the course of the season except dress eclectically, get completely taken in by a few Big Jim Rennie lies, and agree to build a hangman's scaffold.

Jolene Purdy plays Dodee, Phil's producer (I think), and of the two, I'd much rather have seen Phil get killed off.  Dodee's murder is meant to serve as a catalyst for turning the town against Barbie and toward Big Jim, but it's handled so ham-handedly that the idea barely comes off at all, much less successfully.  Purdy does a fine job with what she's given; she deserved better treatment.

Samantha Mathis plays Alice, Norrie's mother.  She's Samantha Mathis, so she's pretty good, but again, it's an underwritten role.  She dies eventually on account of how she can't get insulin, and that episode is arguably the best of the season, one which seems to have actual human emotion in it.

Aisha Hinds plays Carolyn, Norrie's other mother.  Hinds is good.  She doesn't look like anyone else on television that I know of, and she's got a fairly forceful presence.  But boy oh boy, does she get underutilized.  Carolyn simply isn't in about four episodes, allegedly grieving after her wife's death.  God forbid you show that grieving process in any way, or try to integrate it into the story meaningfully.  As far as television-series construction goes, it doesn't get much worse than that.

Again, I am left hoping she'll have more to do in the second season.

John Elvis plays Ben Drake, one of Joe's schoolmates.  He's a stoner skater kid.  He aggravated me on occasion last summer, but I thought moore of him during the rewatch.  He, too, is underutilized, and disappears for episodes at a time.

I don't know the name of the actor who plays Lester Coggins, and I am unmotivated to find out.  There is a vaguely comparable character in the novel.  Neither of them works especially well.

The new sheriff, Linda Esquivel, is played by Natalie Martinez, and it is not her fault that Linda is arguably the show's worst character.  Has there ever been a dumber law enforcement officer than Linda Esquivel on a major television show?  Yes, I am including Barney Fife.  I don't think there has been.  I'd vote for Barney over Linda; twice if they'd let me.  He's an intellectual giant compared to this moron.

The season's best episode (#5, "Blue on Blue") also features its worst moment, the one in which Sheriff Linda orders Barbie not to let anyone touch the dome, then immediately proceeds to try and kiss her fiance, Rusty, who is on the other side.  If the scene was intended to show how dumb she is, it'd be a success; but the series doesn't seem to want us to think Linda is dumb.

Boy, she IS, though.  And she only gets dumber as the season progresses.  She may as well be named Sheriff Derp Aderp.  At one point, she discovers that Big Jim has been part of a criminal enterprise, and then about ten minutes later, she completely buys into his lie about Barbie having murdered Maxine.

Speaking of whom...

Forget what I said about Linda being the show's worst character.  She's the show's worst series-regular character, but Natalie Zea as Maxine Seagrave is the worst overall.  Just awful, and her appearance had people crying "jump the shark" almost immediately.  (I can't swear that that is true, but it ought to be.)

Max is a drug dealer and all-purpose criminal from neighboring Westlake -- which, we also know, has a popular new Denny's restaurant, and must, therefore, be a really swingin' town -- who employs Barbie as a hitman and has been buying propane from Big Jim.  The series wants us to think she is a criminal mastermind, like Walter White or Gustavo Frings.  We are also expected to believe that she has been hiding out, keeping a low profile since the dome came down.  And here's the kicker: I could buy that.  Seriously, I don't much trouble buying it as a concept.

But in order to sell it to me, you've got to convince me of its worth.  In order to do that, you've got to cast an actor who is capable of commanding a room's full attention the second she walks in.  Natalie Zea does not have that quality, not so far as I can tell from her episode on this show, at least.  And Zea seems to know it.  She doesn't particularly try to act powerful; she acts more like someone who has been accustomed to purchasing power from others.  Which could theoretically make for an interesting idea, but the writers do not pursue Max in that way; they pursue her as though she is Walter White, and trust me (as someone who watched Dean Norris spar with Walter White on Breaking Bad, and therefore knows what that looks and feels like), when I tell you that she ain't no fuckin' Walter White.  The lack is apparent the moment she walks on-screen, and every scene she is in from then until Big Jim shoots her in the skull is a complete waste of the show's energy.  It is a disaster.

The show got better adversarial conflict from Leon Rippy as Ollie, a farmer whose well becomes the source of much attention once it is discovered that the town's water supply is in danger.  Rippy is great, and he does seem like someone who can genuinely be a threat.

Sadly, he is dispatched too soon, and his final episode includes a ludicrous plotline in which Ollie is suckered in by Junior's scheming ways.  A bad end to a good character.

Beth Broderick plays Rose Twitchell.  Rose has very little to do except get beaten to death with a baseball bat, but Broderick brings more to the role than that, and her death has more weight than it might otherwise have had.  Still, it seems like a waste of a good actor in such a small and relatively meaningless role; she ought to have been retained for a while longer.

Doesn't it seem like we ought to be able to read the water tower?  You do things like that so that new viewers know the name of the town, except here they can't, because they can't see the whole name.  Weird.

What else, what else?

We should talk about the dome, I guess.  The producers have sworn up and down that it does not have the same origin that it has in the novel, and if so, that's potentially a shame.  I liked that aspect of the novel, and would have liked to see it expanded upon in the series.

And who knows, maybe it will be?  So far, all we know is that the dome is being controlled by an intelligence of some sort, and that that intelligence claims to have put it in place to keep the citizens of Chester's Mill safe.  From what?  We do not yet know.

For me, this aspect of the series is successful so far.  But I get the feeling that the writers have little interest in actually moving that storyline forward very far.  I'm guessing we'll get one "revelation" per season, and a whole lot of hinting, and that it won't end up being much more satisfying than the resolution of the mysteries on Lost.  I dearly hope I'm wrong about that.  Given how wackily sci-fi writer Brian K. Vaughan's current comic-book series, Saga, is, the potential for out-there sci-fi is certainly present.  So who knows?

In any case, as presented on the series so far, the dome itself is pretty cool.  There are good visuals based on the idea of of how one shows something invisible: you have to show its effect on its surroundings.

This "handprint in midair" effect is very simple, but also very effective, and I suspect that its clarity was a big part of the reason why so many people tuned in for the first episode.

This is the season-ending shot, and I have no clue what it means.  Will the outside world no longer be able to see inside?  Will the inside world no longer be able to see out?  Hopefully, neither; either of those options would be changes for the worse, most likely.

I also enjoyed the subplot including the minidome, which if nothing else led to some good imagery.

There are plenty of moments in the first season where the series feels a bit cheap and rushed, but I have to say, rewatching it revealed a show that held together better than I thought, visually-speaking.  I watched the episodes on what a much larger screen than the one I watched them on during their initial broadcast, and the jump in size helped me appreciate certain aspects of the show.

Moving on, let's talk briefly about the bonus features that can be found on the Blu-ray set:
  • No commentary tracks, which is a shame.  I'm a sucker for those, and would like to have had King and Vaughan on the pilot, talking about the adaptation process.
  • "Under the Dome: Filming the Pilot," a half-hour look a the making of the premiere episode.  There is a good bit of King interview material in the various supplements, and this one is where a great deal of that can be found.  I've seen better behind-the-scenes documentaries, but then again, I've seen plenty that are much worse, too; this one is pretty good.
  • Three episodes have brief deleted scenes, only one of which is of any consequence: a two-minute scene that takes place after Big Jim has killed one of Ollie's guards in the propane yard.  It's a decent scene, but it won't change your opinion of the episode one way or the other, I'd imagine.
  • "Stephen King and Under the Dome," which is about twelve minutes of King talking about his concept for the novel, and some of its history and inspiration.  This includes a brief bit of King reading from the opening scene in which Claudette Sanders meets her end while flying a plane into the dome.  (This will undoubtedly make you realize just how much richer and more nuanced at least some aspects of the novel are.)  Much of what is contained in this featurette will be familiar to anyone who watched King's various media appearances at around the time of the novel's release, but if you've never seen any of those, this will probably fascinate you.  And even if you HAVE seen them, King is such a personable guy and a great on-camera presence that you'll probably still be entertained.
  • "Under the Dome: From Novel to Series," which is fourteen minutes or so, details some of the show's history in terms of how it got to the screen (it was originally a Showtime property, but CBS executive Nina Tassler stepped in and turned it into its present form). There is some talk of casting, and some shots of writer's-room conferences.  It's pretty good.
  • "The World of Under the Dome" runs about twelve minutes, and is mostly about the show's production design, costumes, makeup, and whatnot.  If you have an interest in that sort of thing (which I do), it's good; if you don't, it probably won't change your mind.
  • "Under the Dome: The First Season" runs a generous twenty-nine minutes, and touches on multiple story aspects of the first season, from beginning to end.  You may find yourself squinting a bit when some of your least-favorite topics are broached, trying to figure out if the various interviewees are actually as proud of certain things as they sound, or if, perhaps, you are being overly judgmental.  I leave it to you to decide.  Still, I enjoyed this feature.
  • "Joe's Blog" is a series of text posts, with a few video posts interspersed, where you get to access . . . uh . . . Joe's blog.  If you are a major Colin Ford fan, this may thrill you; otherwise, probably not so much.
  • A four-minute gag reel shows the cast having a bit of fun, and flubbing lines.  I usually enjoy gag reels; this one isn't particularly inspired, but it's still amusing.
  • All of the above can be found on the DVD set and on the standard Blu-ray set.  However, the Amazon exclusive set includes a fifth disc which is not available in the other sets.  It includes: "Stephen King Visits Big Jim's Car Dealership," a four-minute thingy of King visiting the set of the car lot; "The Visual Effects of Under the Dome," a very good eleven-minute featurette which is about exactly what it sounds like it'd be about; "Under the Dome: Executing the Finale," a nine-minute look at the production of the season finale; and "The Wilmington Pilot Premiere," a six-minute look at the pilot episode's screening in Wilmington.  These are all pretty good, but if you run the numbers, you find that the bonus disc only contains about half an hour's worth of exclusive content.  So if you're considering getting the Amazon exclusive set as opposed to the standard Blu-rays or DVDs, be aware that the bonus content is good, but not necessarily all that expansive.
And there you have it.  That's about all I have to say about this set.  If you're a fan of the series, you probably stopped reading this review long ago.  Sorry about that.  But if you've stuck around, I'd say the show is worth getting on Blu-ray, at least for fans.  For non-fans?  Nah, probably not.  Check it out on Amazon Prime, maybe.

My take on it is that I find myself looking forward to the second season more now than I was prior to rewatching the first season.  What does that mean?  Given how much certain aspects of the series frustrate me, I think it means that I have a complicated relationship with the series.

I think what it means is that whereas I cannot honestly defend it as a good series, in the objective sense, it is nevertheless a series that I like.  How else can I explain it?  It might seem contradictory, but it also seems true.  And the fact is that sometimes, you like things for no better reason than that you like them.

So it is that I find myself somewhat surprised at the end of my own review, in a state of actually liking the show again.  It's a great concept, and it's mostly a good-looking series, and the actors are mostly good (even when used poorly).  If the show's writers can figure out a way to live up to those elements, then maybe the second season will make me feel better about liking it.

For now, I'm conflicted about it.  But the Blu-rays, surprisingly, helped.

Who knows?  Maybe they'll have the same effect on you.

And now, here are some leftover screencaps:

I forgot to mention Mare Winningham's one-episode role as Maxine's mother.  What a waste of a good actor!

The bonus features show this painting being painted: by director Jack Bender!  It is unclear whether he directed some of the other prominently-featured paintings, but it seems likely, doesn't it?  Cool!

The season finale mostly sucked, but the shots of the "pink stars" rising to the dome to undo the darkening are very lovely.

See y'all next time!


  1. Oh, hey, that hit "publish" and comment-disappears just happened to me. Fun!

    Luckily, it was a short one, basically saying - you did a good job showcasing the visual appeal of the series. (I do love that bloody handprint one, with the rack focus.) I just wish the content appealed to me more.

    I feel about the show how I ended up feeling about Lost. I'm vaguely curious as to what the end result and explanation will be, but not particularly in committing to the journey to get there. I wish everyone well. Godspeed, Chester's-Mill-ers.

    1. As soon as I hit the rely button here to begin typing my follow-up comment, it has put a message on-screen saying "Your comment was published." But, like, I hadn't even written anything yet. Buggy as a mug.

      The "Lost" comparison is a pretty apt one, although for my money, "Lost" was vastly better than "Under the Dome" in almost every way. But boy, you want to talk about a series that fumbled the ball right before getting to the end zone, THERE one is.

    2. Make that "reply" button. D'oh!

  2. I'm curious to find out how much of the show was planned, and how much the result of happenstance (in Hollywood, you can never tell). I'm also still just plain curious. We'll just have to see what happens.


    1. It feels to me as if at least some of it was happenstance. For example, they visited that "cement factory" location in something like five episodes, and it feels to me like they used it in about four of them simply because it was a big space to which the production had access. Production realities cannot help but shape the direction a series takes. That isn't automatically a negative, either.

      I see no particular reason not to believe Brian K. Vaughan when he says that they have the series' ending in mind. Whether it ends up being satisfying or not is another issue.

      But ultimately, I'm with you, Chris: I'm just plain curious. And I'm still at least moderately optimistic.

  3. The youtube ad with Steve on set posted this week was hilarious.

    The old lady and I are so invested as this as a drinking game that whenever the word Dome is uttered anywhere we both say drink on impulse.
    It's fun to watch this show even though I think it could have been a great tv show. There's been so many SK misses in recent years that I'd like to see something good come from Steve's works.

    I re-listened to "N." other day and I forgot or didn't notice the first time that Gloria Shumway writes an article about the deaths in the Chester Mills newspaper. i thought that was cool.

    1. Oh, yeah, the YouTube ad! I was gonna embed that, and forgot to do it. And now, I'm too lazy, so here's a link instead:



      I don't think I knew there was a lady reporter named Shumway in "N."! That's awesome!

      I can definitely see there being a crippling drinking game played based on that idea. Drunkenness might help the show significantly. I'll be very curious to see what the ratings are like for the new season. They never dipped much during the first, which means that people mostly enjoyed watching the show. Which makes it a hit, which means that no matter what I or others might think of it, everyone associated with it deserves congratulations on a job well done. But will people come back for season two? We'll see.

  4. Having the advantage of already seeing both Series 2 and Series 1, I enjoyed reading your comments. I have to declare that I am both a huge fan of the series, and that I have not read the book, although I want to.

    When Season 2 started, I felt like there was some huge disconnection from Season 1, so I got Season 1 and watched it through completely before continuing into Series 2.

    This had a similar effect on me as it seems to have had for you, Bryant. First, I noticed things that I had completely missed the first time through, and second, I liked the series more after the second watching.

    While I support your assessment of most of the characters and their lines and acting, I viewed Barbie in an entirely different way.

    I saw him first as shady, then ever more progressively as compromised, and then more and more as a person desparately trying to break away from a lifestyle into which he has been forced - mostly by his own bad decisions. This has a particular resonance with me, which may be why I identified him in that way.

    To me, this is reinforced in series 2, and makes his character far more believable to me.

    In a similar way with Junior, I saw his character as sheltered, damaged and fragile, but agressive and anything but niave. Again, The Dome seems to force changes in him, and he seems to me to be growing from his nasty ways into a more complete person.

    The end of Series 2 has me feeling somewhat disappointed. It seems fairly obvious that any continuation is going to be a dramatic departure from the reality that we have seen to date...

    Anyway, just my thoughts...

    1. Thanks, Paul!

      I like your thoughts about Barbie and Junior. I'd love to know what I thought of them if I wasn't familiar with the book.

      As for season 2 . . . man, I did not like most of it at all. I got excited by it when the show stepped outside of the dome, because it seemed like an interesting direction, but I felt like they did far too little with the ideas. But who knows? Maybe when I watch the whole season through again, it will play better for me.