In real world terms, the TV series adaptation of Stephen King’s best-selling novel “Under the Dome” held CBS viewers captivated for 13 weeks last summer and pretty much rewrote the book on network programming strategy during the “off season.”
In the show’s setting of rustic Chester’s Mill, Maine, however, it’s only been two weeks since a mysterious transparent dome slammed down on the town, cutting it off from the world around it. As the thriller returns Monday, June 30, events pick up at the same fever pitch where they left off at the end of Season 1.
As fans will remember, that means the show’s de facto hero, Dale “Barbie” Barbara (Mike Vogel), is standing on a scaffold about to be hanged after being framed for a murder actually committed by power-mad city councilman “Big Jim” Rennie (Dean Norris, “Breaking Bad”). Barbie’s execution is interrupted, though, as the Dome goes nuts, emitting a series of high-powered magnetic pulses that causes most of the townspeople to lose consciousness and draws anything magnetic — like guns, and nails that are, you know, holding buildings together — irresistibly to its invisible walls.
During a break in production on the show’s set near Wilmington, N.C., Vogel tells a visiting reporter that he’s happy his TV alter-ego escaped the noose, but he assumes nothing as the show continues to unfold.
“There’s always that thing in the back of our minds that it’s a Stephen King show and anyone at any time can go anywhere,” Vogel tells Zap2it. “There’s a lot of secrets coming up this season, which is exciting for us, because that’s the rich stuff we get to play with.”
The actor may be especially mindful of King’s influence because the horror king is on the set that day to watch the season premiere — which he wrote — being filmed.
“After the first season, I went to Neal Baer and Brian Vaughn, the producers of the show, because I was fascinated with what they had done, especially with Mike Vogel as Barbie,” King says. “So I asked, ‘Would you like me to write the first episode of Season 2?’ and they said yes, and I said, ‘OK, well, tell me what’s going to happen. How does the arc go?’ And they said, ‘We have no idea.’ To me that was like a blank check. So we sat down and started to figure it out.”
King, who also has a tiny cameo in the season premiere as a diner customer seeking a coffee refill, says he also wanted to be a part of this particular episode because, on top of several other surprises, it includes the death of a couple of very popular characters. That’s par for the course, however, in this TV world that’s the shared vision of King and executive producers Neal Baer and Brian K. Vaughan.
“We all saw it the same way, that nobody should be safe under the Dome, that everybody was eligible to go,” King says. “We talked very, very seriously about hanging Barbie at the end of Season 1, and CBS said, ‘You can’t do that, because we all love him.’ That was a great vote of confidence in Mike, and I’m glad he’s stuck around.”
King says the show’s central premise — that Chester’s Mill is hermetically cut off from the rest of the world — poses a creative challenge in terms of continuing to introduce new characters. This season, those newbies include Sam Verdreaux (Eddie Cahill, “CSI:NY”), a recluse with ties to the Rennie family, and a town barber (the producers are wooing Dwight Yoakum for the role, King says).
“Actually, Sam got introduced, in a way, in the first episode of the first season,” King says. “Sheriff Linda says, ‘Sam Verdreaux says he heard a hell of a bang.’ So he was sort of there (already). … But you’ve got to bring new people in and you have to do it in such a way that the audience doesn’t say, ‘Now, wait a minute! I haven’t seen him under the Dome!’ “
In other new developments, look for Julia Shumway (Rachelle Lefevre) to grow into her role as the new Dome-ordained “monarch,” which the actress finds very exciting.
“One of my favorite quotes is that ‘Power is best used in the hands of those who don’t covet it,'” Lefevre says. “She’s a reluctant hero, I think. I’m really excited about allowing a female character to take the reins in a more physical role. Last season Barbie was the action hero on the show, and Julia is going to take a lot of that role this season.”
King says he’s more than happy to consider other projects for television, although he finds trying to anticipate network constraints to be “like working for the Kremlin.”
Vogel is totally in tune with King’s desire to break some rules as the creative team moves forward with the series.
“To have a little window into Stephen’s head is pretty darn cool,” the actor says. “The things that he is envisioning and wanting for this season’s characters is exactly what we want. It will come down to whether we can convince CBS of it. This is not a typical show [for CBS]. For a network drama even to be able to compete with cable drama, they’re just going to have to push the envelope a bit. It’s impossible to stay squeaky clean and keep up with a ‘Breaking Bad’ or ‘Homeland.'”