The Telephonoscope

TV. Probably also cats.
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Very curious about CBS’s new “hey, Lost worked really well that one time, right? Why don’t we give it a whirl” show Under the Dome, which seems more capable of being an interesting entry in that genre than some of the previous candidates (The EventFlashForward, etc). On the one hand, I am buoyed by the fact that it has some well-established source material (the Stephen King novel), and that both King and Brian K Vaughan are involved with the series. At least in comics, Vaughan has a good history with this genre - Y: The Last Man is just great

I haven’t read the King novel, but the most interesting thing for me will be to watch what happens if Under the Dome does or does not get the go ahead to become a full-fledged series rather than just a 13-episode one-off run. It’s a thing I think all serial narratives struggle with - how do you proceed with an indeterminate end - but it’s particularly tricky with this genre, which is all about balancing how much of the plot is about the mystery and how much about the characters. By the end of Lost, Lindelof and Cuse were perpetually insisting that the show was really about the characters, which was less a testament to how much it was actually about the characters, and more a reflection of how impossible it is to spin a consistent mystery for six years. 

Under the Dome, at least in its pilot, is really a mystery. “Hey, what’s the deal with the giant dome?” Although it’s helpfully packed full with linked, successive mysteries (“How’d it get there? Who put it there? Why? How do we get rid of it?”), it’s going to have to figure out how to be more than a mystery in order to live beyond these first 13 episodes. Because mysteries want to be short. After about three or four weeks, each episode or serial part that puts off finding the answer until next week requires increasingly skillful artifice in order to delay audience frustration or boredom, and absent some truly masterful storytelling, it’s very easy to lose the thread. And even if the storytelling is stellar, answers cannot be delayed ad infinitum without turning into Gilligan’s Island. The gifs I made to accompany this demonstrate the problem: even if your premise is creepy and fun, there are only so many times a plane can go smashing into nothing before it gets dull. If Under the Dome can’t shift itself toward more open-ended questions, it will run into all of the same problems that plagued its predecessors.

I’m not without hope. Although I found the presence of a teen psychopath to be completely unnecessary, the pilot was otherwise strong. It could become some really twisty, fun scifi programming. Or it could become Gilligan’s Dome. Fingers crossed for the former.

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