Under the Dome: Mondays at 10 p.m. Eastern on CBS

It’s not very often that we see quality event-worthy television on the major networks during the summer months. This tends to especially true in weaker years like this one, where the major networks have been forced to go the bench earlier than usual and bury their dead shows (among them Zero Hour, Cult, and Do Not Harm) in sub-prime summer time slots. Mercifully, CBS is bucking this trend, debuting it’s science fiction drama, Under the Dome Monday evening.

Under The Dome, derived from the Stephen King novel of the same name, tells the tale of a small town cut off from the rest of the world as the result of being suddenly stuck under a large transparent dome. From there, the show takes a micro level approach, following up on the denizens of this new cordoned off world.

We open with a variety of scenes from a small town to introduce us to many of our local townsfolk in Chester’s Mill. Suddenly every bell goes off in town, as the titular dome drops onto our quaint little town. After a number of crashes by planes and cars into our large invisible deathtrap, we find out that the bulk of our emergency services are also trapped outside of the dome.

We return to Big Jim, Duke and Linda trying to assess a situation before our Julia tries to take photos only to find that her car will be commandeered. We then meet a mother and her two children whom are being driven to a “tough love” camp, only to find out that they are trapped under the dome and stop their car just in time (a truck going the other way is considerably less lucky). Linda gets to the dome only to find that the army has arrived and is shooing away a large number of journalists and other citizens.

It’s from here that things slowly start to descend towards peoples’ worse sides. Big Jim looks to add more police against Duke’s opposition before making an ominous mention of Duke’s heart troubles. Junior then finds Barbie and starts to menace him before Julia shows up, thwarting everything. We then shift a bridge party, only for Joe to get the same dome induced seizure we found earlier in the episode before cutting to Junior snapping, accidentally tossing Angie onto the floor, only to later find out that he has locked her in Big Jim’s fallout shelter.

So with that (admittedly long) recap of events out of the way, did this show live up to the hype? Well sort of: The special effects look uneven: The bloody hand on the done looked OK, as did Duke’s pacemaker exploding, while the gravity enforced vivisection of a cow or the CG of the plane flying into the dome looked considerably better. As a general rule, the physical effects look better than their CG counterparts, but for a show that’s intended to be an event show on a major network, I usually expect a little more.

What makes this show work, however, is not the visuals, but the acting. Alexander Koch does a particularly strong job portraying Big Jim’s son Junior, as he goes from nice guy about to leave for college to jealous longing psychopath. Dean Norris is magnificent as Big Jim, our town board member with questionable morals and a survivalist streak. However, many of our side characters also fit their roles well, whether it’s our radio staff (who exist for a little comic relief) or Jeff Fahey whom makes the most of his day in the sun as the “too old for this” cop Duke.

Another positive sign for the show comes from the way that it managed to sequence its’ disparate threads (and there are many disparate threads in the show). While it’s pretty different to parse the writing quality from a novel (that I admittedly haven’t read), Under the Dome works in this medium by giving our most important characters enough screen time that you can with ease determine whom our central characters are (Barbie, Big Jim, Julia, and Junior) while parsing out enough space for us to get to better know our peripheral characters (which is essential in a town small enough that it seems everyone knows everybody else). Furthermore, our pilot does an excellent job of establishing the story hooks and intrigue that are typically required of the first chapter for a serialized show.

The Final Verdict: With solid acting and an intricate story that looks to take turns in numerous directions, Under the Dome is the sort of show that is easy to become attached to during the summer doldrums. I can only hope that over time the visuals start to catch up in order to bring this show to the level of some of the other best dramas on TV (**coughHannibalcough**). On a weak night during a quiet time of the year, it’s the sort of show that’s worth watching while you wait for new seasons of your favorites.