Under the Dome is certainly broadcast television’s most enjoyable science-fiction/fantasy series, a summer treat that, while sometimes silly and over-the-top, is never less than energetically imaginative and aware of the history of its genre.
The Thursday night third-season premiere — two hours airing on CBS if you can survive the second episode of Big Brother — is a showcase for all of Under the Dome’s strengths, and its forgivable flaws. Two notable actors have been added to the mix, and they add a lot: Marg Helgenberger begins her role as a therapist sent to Chester’s Mill to help survivors of the dome to heal, and ER’s Eriq La Salle debuts briefly but effectively as a dastardly villain who thinks he has some control over what’s happening under that dome.
La Salle is all silky villainy, and Helgenberger’s is all canny charm, implying by glances and small smiles, rather than her words, that she may have an agenda other than the one she talks about.
This week’s two-hour premiere is really two episodes shown back-to-back; the second, directed by Peter Weller and written by new showrunner Tim Schlattmann (Dexter), is particularly entertaining. It explores the power of the much-sought-after egg and what influence over the dome it has. I can’t really go into much detail without spoiling the premiere, but I can say that we see familiar characters such as Barbie, Big Jim, Julia, Melanie, and Junior in a new light, from different angles. There is a sly reference to the famous 1959 Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough at Last” that will resonate with many fans of Stephen King.
Indeed, the way the producers have built upon Stephen King’s source novel here is one of the most impressive things about the new season of Under the Dome. While retaining the novel’s general tone, characters and plot points have been altered and in some cases invented that have enabled the TV Dome to become its own creation. And that creation is cool, clever escapism that works well in the hot summer months.
Under the Dome airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on CBS.