Thursday, June 27, 2013

Under the Dome: Does Setting Matter?

The new CBS sci-fi show Under the Dome started this week to record-breaking viewership. It has some solid pedigree: the showrunner, Neal Baer, is a veteran of ER and Law & Order: SVU. The show is written by Brian K. Vaughn of the excellent Y: the Last Man. They've mined the cast from cable, with recognizable actors from Bates Motel, True Blood, Breaking Bad, and even a Lost alum in the pilot. And the biggest name of all attached is Stephen King, author of the book that Under the Dome is based on.

Like many Stephen King stories, Under the Dome takes place in a small Maine town; this one is called Chester's Mill. The TV show shoots in North Carolina, which is approximately 1,000 miles away from Maine. That's equivalent to shooting a story that's set in London, UK in Florence, Italy.

Yes, TV shows and movies shoot in strange places pretending that they're other places all the time. Notoriously, a lot of shows shoot in Canada and pretend to be everywhere from Georgia to New York City. But at least they try to pretend.

Under the Dome isn't even trying. There are no attempts at Maine accents, or even Boston-y accents (which is generally actors' fallback for New England). The buildings and flora don't look right - there are almost no pine trees. There's even spanish moss hanging from trees at one point. Spanish moss. If you've ever been to Maine, you know how ridiculous that is.

Granted, most people who watch the show have never been to Maine. In fact, many people probably don't know that Maine is a real place, and not just an imaginary state that Stephen King made up for his books. It's been portrayed so many different ways in film and television - shot so many places that are not actually Maine and not similar to each other, either - that it must exist in the imaginations of many as an amorphous, omni-climated, manse-ridden land of a million small towns beset by monsters.

Let's set the record straight! Maine is a real place.

Look, you can google map it:

But does it matter?

Some stories have a very specific place or time that matter to the plot, or the mood of the piece. King's the Shining would not have been the same set in Florida; Pet Sematary wouldn't have been the same without Herman Munster's Maine accent. Is Under the Dome one of those stories, or is it the kind you can put just anywhere?

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