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Television Review

‘Under the Dome’ has some explaining to do

From left: Dean Norris, Alexander Koch, Natalie Martinez, and Mike Vogel in CBS’s “Under the Dome,” which begins its second season.

CBS Broadcasting Inc.

From left: Dean Norris, Alexander Koch, Natalie Martinez, and Mike Vogel in CBS’s “Under the Dome,” which begins its second season.

‘I think the dome is trying to tell us something,” says Junior Rennie (Alexander Koch) in a promo for the second season of CBS’s sci-fi drama “Under the Dome.”

That something is: A “limited” series loses that distinction when the first run is a great big hit.

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The television adaptation of Stephen King’s hefty bestseller about a bucolic small Maine town cut off from the world by a transparent but impenetrable dome was originally billed as an “event” series, the new way that networks define a mini-series. (Although these shows, even when actually meant as one-offs, often have many more episodes then mini-series of yore like “The Thorn Birds.”)

But when the show trapped an average of 15.06 million viewers, particularly mighty for a summer series, there was no way CBS was lifting the dome and the “limited” series was oxymoronically picked up for a second season, premiering Monday at 10 p.m.

That bait-and-switch was frustrating for viewers who hung in for the increasingly erratic first13 episodes, expecting tidy answers as to why this dome had ensnared the large cast of characters in Chester’s Mill. And readers of the book drawn in were in no better shape since the TV series deviated significantly from King’s story — with his approval as a producer — and the showrunners have stated that the ending also differs.

What started out as an intriguing mystery with supernatural elements soon became more problematic and silly. The dome came down trapping both everyday residents including siblings Joe and Angie McAlister (Colin Ford and Britt Robertson), power-mad car dealer-town selectman-meth kingpin “Big” Jim Rennie (Dean Norris), and newspaper editor Julia Shumway (Rachelle LeFevre). Passersby like Army veteran Dale “Barbie” Barbara (Mike Vogel) and Norrie Calvert-Hill (Mackenzie Lintz) were also stranded. Survivalist chaos ensued and convulsive visions were had, all of which was diverting escapist fun as an entertaining summer show always has some enjoyably ridiculous elements. But when heretofore unmentioned characters showed up running black market fight clubs things started going off the rails.

For those who hung in, and may be considering heading back “Under,” there are glimmers of hope for season two, which picks up two weeks after the descent of the cow-splitting enclosure.

The first potential piece of good news is that King himself penned the first episode, and also makes a cameo appearance. The second comes with the casting of country singer-actor Dwight Yoakam who will appear in the third episode as Lyle, the town barber. Plus, the promos promise that the dome is now magnetized, which should make things interesting for anyone standing near knives.

More worrisome is the addition of a couple of new regular characters including Eddie
Cahill, who shows up as Big Jim’s brother-in-law (and thus Junior’s uncle) Sam. Much like Natalie Zea’s character Maxine last summer, it makes you wonder: Why have we never even heard mention of this ostensibly-important-to-two-main-characters-person before when “Big” Jim has been running the show and everyone in this “small” town is trapped together and regularly having town gatherings?

Perhaps the dome will tell us (hopefully before season three) because viewers may be reaching the limits of their patience.

More coverage:

It’s summer, but TV is not on vacation

‘The Leftovers’: When grief goes large

‘Reckless’ is standard fare with a Southern accent

Jennie Garth, Tori Spelling lighten up ‘Mystery Girls’

Retro ‘Shovel Knight’ digs up treasures from the past

Sarah Rodman can be reached at srodman@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeRodman.
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