“Under the Dome” brings thought-provoking Stephen King thriller to CBS

Small towns are often referred to as being isolated and cut off from the rest of the world, but that expression takes on a horrifyingly literal meaning in CBS’ Under the Dome (premiering 10pm ET Monday).

The tranquil hamlet of Chester’s Mill is going about its Norman Rockwellian existence one day when suddenly an invisible dome emerges and encapsulates the entire town, not letting anyone in or out. That’s when the 2,000 or so residents become a microcosm of society, with the major players including Dale “Barbie” Barbara (Mike Vogel, Bates Motel), an ex-military man now making his living as a waiter; Big Jim Rennie (Dean Norris, Breaking Bad), the town’s powerbroker who owns a popular car dealership; and Julia Shumway (Rachelle Lefevre, Twilight), the feisty newspaper reporter.

The origins of the dome — Is it a government conspiracy? Aliens? Supernatural? — make for the major mystery in the first batch of 13 episodes, which use Stephen King’s 2009 doorstop of a novel as inspiration. But it will be watching how society breaks down in this new reality, setting off a conflict between those who use the situation to become more powerful and those who would rise against them, that will provide the true drama.

It’s an ambitious series from some of the creative team behind Lost (Brian K. Vaughan), and word is Under the Dome will feature the same sort of complicated mythology that enthralled viewers week in and week out.

Vogel says he took special pleasure playing his role, seeing it as a tribute to many friends he has who have served in the military.

“To play a guy like this, it’s an homage to their professionalism,” he says. “I’m intrigued by the guy who in situations of chaos is probably most at home. The great thing about the show is how we frame things. Everyone is not who you think they are. When we open on Barbie, you think, ‘Oh, wait a minute. Bad guy. Bad, bad guy.’ And you look at Big Jim and you go, ‘Good guy. Town savior.’ But we quickly see that appearances are very deceiving throughout all the characters. That’s what I love about it. It keeps mixing it up, and keeps you guessing.”

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Vogel also showed appreciation for getting to play in the giant sandbox that is the Stephen King universe. He was able to talk to the author during his visits to the North Carolina set and get input on the character, even though the TV adaptation differs dramatically from the source material.

“It’s an honor,” Vogel says. “The guy’s imagination is unbelievable, and he’s given us a fantastic framework with the book for this show. The guys have done a fantastic job of adapting it. That book takes place over the span of several days, and we’re now dealing with a show that potentially could go several years, so how do you then stretch things out? We take that book as the foundation for what this show will ultimately be.”

Because the two versions of the story are so different, Vogel actually stayed away from reading the 1,000-plus-page novel.

“I did the same thing with The Help,” he says, referring to his role in the acclaimed 2011 drama. “Once you hear they’re doing a strict adaptation of something, it certainly helps. But if they’re not, if there are a lot of things changing, if there’s a lot of things that are going to be different, I don’t like having the preconceived notion of what’s supposed to happen for who I’m playing. You get this thing in your mind that you’re playing toward, only it may never happen when you get to Episode 20. So certainly Stephen set the bare bones of this thing and set everyone in the direction they’re going, and worked very closely with Brian K. Vaughan. We will stay true to his vision, for sure.”

Mike Vogel Under the Dome CBS Stephen King

Photo: © 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Credit: Michael Tacktt