It's a bird. It's a plane. Duck and cover! What goes up must come down in a small town trapped — wait for it — Under the Dome, the title of an ingeniously warped conceit from the fertile mind of Stephen King, who believes that what you can't see most definitely can hurt you.
The much-missed network miniseries format is making a welcome if tentative comeback with CBS's high-concept limited-run series (Monday, 10/9c), whose story will be told in 13 weekly chapters, feeling like a fun summer happening. An adaptation of King's mammoth 2009 novel — which, though self-contained, could stretch to multiple seasons if successful on TV — Dome reflects one of the author's guiding principles, namely that human nature is best and most entertainingly studied under elaborately fantastical extremes. In this case, it's a "giant fishbowl," as one of the residents of Chester's Mill describes the "Why us?" situation after the sleepy hamlet is suddenly, inexplicably sealed off from the outside world by a transparent force field that arrives with an earthquake's impact.
The disaster-movie opening reel is thrilling, leaving some freaky and icky surprises for the perplexed populace when the dust settles. But there are traces of The Twilight Zone in this melodramatic parable's DNA, as the town becomes an incubator for festering madness and sociopolitical corruption — the latter embodied by Breaking Bad's Dean Norris as a glad-handing but ruthlessly power-grabbing councilman. Even before the dome drops, it's obvious Chester's Mill has issues and dark secrets.
Why is a seemingly heroic outsider (Pan Am's Mike Vogel, who also briefly menaced the inhabitants of Bates Motel) doing something that looks decidedly criminal when we first meet him? What's up with the town's clandestine and potentially dangerous hoarding of propane? Such juicy questions are that sort of classic hooks that compel us to keep watching. Under the Dome is TV as page-turner.
In the great King tradition, the weirdness is often cleverly grounded in the relatably mundane, as when a local DJ calmly observes, "The cable it out. It doesn't mean it's the end times." Speak for yourself, dude.
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SUMMER DRAMA: Try not to roll your eyes too much at the opening scene of TNT's disappointing The Closer spin-off Major Crimes (9/8c), which trots out the old cliché of an amateur ride-along with the seasoned LAPD crime squad. At least this interloper, a cocky young writer for a TV crime drama about corruption within the LAPD, is amusingly played by Ben Feldman, best known as Mad Men's mercurial Ginsberg and Drop Dead Diva's first guardian angel. Naturally, a routine drive with an irritable Sanchez (Raymond Cruz) and the show's consultant "Lt. Mike" Tao (Michael Paul Chan) gets a bit out of control. And as the tricky ensuing case unfolds, one of the better stories Major Crimes has presented, the upstart observer can't help pointing out troubling elements of racial profiling and civil-rights violations. That is, when he isn't busy lusting after Detective Sykes (Kearran Giovanni). ... On TNT's newest drama King & Maxwell (10/9c), so light it evaporates as you watch, Sean (Jon Tenney) will shed further light on just what caused him to leave the Secret Service under a cloud.
Guest-star alert: One of our favorite character actors, Lorraine Toussaint (Any Day Now, Law & Order, Friday Night Lights, most recently Body of Proof) appears on ABC Family's The Fosters (9/8c) as Lena's combative mom, who's in town for Mariana's quinceañera, which doesn't go off without complications. ... On A&E's quietly compelling Western-set mystery drama Longmire (10/9c), the death of a teenage girl leads to an investigation of illegal prescription-drug peddling. ... Can't those adolescent lycanthropes on MTV's Teen Wolf (10/9c) just get along? Apparently not, and it's all Scott can do to keep Isaac and the Twins from ripping each other's throats out.
DEFYING TRADITION: The inter-species wedding of alien DJ Alak of the Castithians and human cipher Christine — not quite Romeo and Juliet, no matter how hard they try to make it interesting — provides the backdrop for a fairly pivotal episode of Syfy's stubbornly somnolent sci-fi/Western hybrid Defiance (9/8c). I've tried to get engaged in this series, but there's a flatness to the writing and most of the acting that makes many of its episodes feel like an eternity of tired clichés. One of the duller characters, earnest Deputy Tommy, takes the lead in pursuing a dormant mystery when the skeleton of Kenya's long-missing ex-husband is found in the walls of the NeedWant brothel. There are plenty of suspects, and when both Datak and future in-law Rafe fall under suspicion, the wedding appears to be in peril — although the exotically calculating mother-of-the-groom Stahma Tarr (Jaime Murray, the show's best asset) keeps things on track, gifting her "heart daughter" (Castithian for "daughter-in-law") with a funky traditional headpiece that renders the bride-to-be blind. Happily, the solution to the mystery-of-the-week is an eye-opener that portends well for the remaining two episodes this season.
THE MONDAY GUIDE: Buffy's Anthony Head is the new Big Bad on Syfy's Warehouse 13 (10/9c), arriving as "Machiavellian alchemist" Paracelsus in a three-episode arc that will take the show to the end of its next-to-last run of episodes. ... As something of an antidote to Toddlers & Tiaras-style exploitation, HBO presents the uplifting documentary Miss You Can Do It (9/8c), about an annual Illinois pageant showcasing young girls with physical and mental disabilities. ... PBS's POV begins its 26th season with the documentary Homegoings (check tvguide.com listings), which examines the moving traditions of African-American funeral rites through the prism of a Harlem funeral home.
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