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CBS Summer debut of ‘Under the Dome’ looks promising

Angie (Britt Robertson) residents Chester's Mill find themselves suddenly sealed off from rest world by massive transparent dome 'Under Dome.'

Angie (Britt Robertson) and the residents of Chester's Mill find themselves suddenly sealed off from the rest of the world by a massive transparent dome in "Under the Dome." The show is based on the bestselling novel by Stephen King.

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Updated: July 24, 2013 6:09AM

A young waitress complains about feeling stuck in the small town of Chester’s Mill, a place she longs to escape.

It’s an ominous bit of foreshadowing, given that the village is about to be trapped under a giant, transparent shell.

That’s the premise of CBS’ pulpy, intriguing new series “Under the Dome,” the most promising show launching on broadcast television this summer.

“Promising show” and “summer” generally don’t go together — unless you’re talking about cable TV, which long ago realized that people want to be entertained year-round. Broadcast networks traditionally have treated summer as a dumping ground for reruns, burn-offs (Fox’s “The Goodwin Games,” NBC’s “Save Me”) and cheap reality fare, like the dating show “3,” which didn’t even make it to that many episodes before getting axed by CBS last July.

CBS Entertainment head Nina Tassler vowed “to make some noise” this summer rather than cede the season to pay television. “Under the Dome” is how the most-watched network plans to make itself heard. It’s a big-budget, buzzy project — the kind broadcast nets usually trounce out for the fall schedule.

Adapted from Stephen King’s sci-fi thriller and 2009 bestseller, “Under the Dome” follows what happens when a massive force field suddenly falls from the sky, sealing off 2,000 folks from the outside world and slicing at least one unfortunate cow clear down the middle.

What is the dome? Where did it come from? Will it go away? These are the compelling macro-mysteries. But an equal amount of suspense is derived from what’s happening within the bubble, where secrets are percolating, loved ones are separated and inhabitants have to figure out a way to survive in this fish bowl that’s now home.

The expansive cast includes Dean Norris (“Breaking Bad”) as Chester Mill’s shady councilman “Big Jim” Rennie, along with Mike Vogel (“Bates Motel”) as a tough-guy stranger with an even stranger nickname: Barbie.

Rachelle Lefevre (“A Gifted Man”) does a turn as a redheaded (read: feisty) reporter, while Natalie Martinez (“CSI: NY”) is a young cop whose fireman fiance is stuck outside the dome, which doesn’t lend itself to Pyramus and Thisbe canoodling.

Britt Robertson (“The Secret Circle”) is the aforementioned frustrated waitress with bad taste in boyfriends, namely Junior, played with a sufficient mix of creepiness and charm by newcomer Alexander Koch.

“Under the Dome” originally was slated for the premium cable network Showtime, which ended up passing it along to sister network CBS. Licensed in 200 international markets, the series is made in association with Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television, with Spielberg serving as co-executive producer.

“Stephen King is traditionally thought of as seeing the worst in people and Spielberg, the best,” said Brian K. Vaughan (“Lost”), who wrote the pilot’s teleplay. “This is a nice blend of the two. There will be moments of great darkness in the show and moments of horror, but there’s also moments of triumph.”

Directed by Niels Arden Oplev (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” Swedish version), the pilot does a good job laying the groundwork for multiple storylines, although the romantic ones have the most potential for crossing into cheesy territory.

Pacing is brisk. The mood, generally eerie. The special effects — a fruit truck smashing accordion-style into a clear wall — don’t disappoint. It’s basically the television version of an entertaining beach read.

Fans of King’s 1,000-plus-page tome should expect some curveballs on the small screen, similar to variations between the print and TV renditions of AMC’s zombie hit.

“I love the ‘Walking Dead’ comic book and I’m so grateful the TV show isn’t just an exact adaptation; it feels like you get something new every week,” said Vaughan, whose writing credits include the comic book series “Y: The Last Man.”

While “Under the Dome” is “very faithful to the themes that Stephen King put forward” in his novel, Vaughan said, several characters are different and “we definitely take them to some new and unexpected places.”

Natalie Zea (“The Following,” “Justified”), for example, will come on board later in the series as an entirely new character named Maxine.

Despite the “we’re stranded” premise and Vaughan’s “Lost” pedigree, he said “Under the Dome” has more in common with “ER,” where showrunner Neal Baer was a writer and producer.

Baer agreed.

“We would have a mystery of who’s sick that week, but it was really about our doctors … and how they dealt with it,” said Baer, adding that the emergency room served as a dome of sorts to contain the action. “In ‘Under the Dome’ yes, we have this big dome that’s over us, but we’re really dealing with how these characters are going to get along and make a life together under extreme circumstances.”

King’s book unfolds over a few days. The 13 episodes of “Under the Dome” go beyond that time frame — and could go further, depending on this season’s success.

“It’s definitely our intention that if this does well,” Vaughan said, “we’d like to come back to the dome for many summers to come.”

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