Tonight CBS will air the premiere episode of the second season of Under the Dome. This wouldn’t be big news if it wasn’t the first episode written by horror master Stephen King the man who wrote the book the series is based on. I haven’t read Dome, but I am a big fan of King’s writing for the most part. Oddly enough other writers wrote the first season episodes. King chose to stay out of it, but maybe since it attracted so many viewers, becoming CBS’s number one hit show, he has decided to get involved and penned an original script for the series.
Reviewers say that the series has strayed far from the basic ideas of King’s novel, and maybe he’s trying to steer it back on track. It wouldn’t hurt. I tried to stick with the show during the first half dozen episodes, but as with most TV series the multiple subplots with all the different characters I thought diluted the tension and horror of the main idea, which is: what’s that big transparent dome doing here and where did it come from? With subplots involving the mayor’s idiot cop-son who kidnaps his girlfriend and chains her in some kind of underground bunker, a boy-model hit man who falls in love with a half-baked female reporter, a radio station with some kookie people working at it, a mysterious stockpile of propane tanks and what all, the show seemed to be spinning out of control. I just lost interest and quit watching.
Putting together a television series with multiple characters and their various problems is now the norm. The single, stand-alone story with a beginning middle and end all in 60 minutes (less with commercials) is a thing of the past. Recently Beat to a Pulp editor David Cranmer under the name Edward A Grainger, has been reviewing weekly episodes of another popular series, Longmire, which airs on A&E. He’s a big fan of the show, and thinks its one of the best things on TV these days. But in his latest review even he seemed to find some fault with the multiple plot ideas contained in the episode. There was just too much going on. “So many storylines, so little time,” he wrote.
I posted a comment on his review in which I wondered if the format of modern TV drama, which is basically the format created by daytime soap opera, was a symptom of the Attention Deficit Disorder age we’re living in. I’m talking about format, not content. Daytime soap content is very different from that of prime time series, but the multiple character/plot concept is the same. I noted that with most of us addicted to our cell phones, constantly hopping around between Facebook, Twitter, blogging and gaming, maybe we as individuals just cannot sit still for a full 60 minutes (less for commercials) to watch a single story line, based on a single thought, developed and explored with some depth and insight. As I said in my comment to Cranmer’s post, that kind of in-depth drama was once watched by millions together all at the same time, when there was no DVR or Netflix. Dramas like Route 66 and Naked City, written by Stirling Silliphant, Howard Rodman, and many others managed to keep us entranced on a weekly basis, with deeply moving explorations of the human condition. Before that Rod Serling wrote meaningful 90 minute live dramas that explored the themes of betrayal, selling out, and how human beings should treat each other.
What we get now is just the opposite. Today’s TV dramas go only surface deep, and deal with characters like serial killers, rapists, mass murderers, and other sundry psychos and the obsessed cops who are after them. They’re full of cynicism and despair. I don’t expect things will change soon. Nevertheless, on Cranmer’s say-so, I’ll record Longmire tonight, while watching Under The Dome. Maybe Stephen King and a crusty Wyoming sheriff, who doesn’t like cell phones, can make a difference.