Above the Dumb

“What the hell!?”

A ‘literate’ Paramount Pictures executive I was developing a screenplay for once told me that if she ever encountered a character in a script using that phrase, she would immediately stop reading and toss that submission. She explained that it was lazy, cliché, imaginatively bankrupt, and that it reflected those same qualities on any writer who would stoop to provide characters such trite, overused dialogue.

Characters in “Under the Dome,” the summer series on CBS use that phrase 11 times in the first two episodes. They use in it reaction to the dome that has suddenly entrapped their city of Chester Mills; and they also use it any time they are excitedly demanding an answer from someone else. And EVERY character uses it as if they all took the same brimstone Rosetta language course.

If that were the show’s only crime, it would merely be irritating, but the rest of the dialogue, plotting, staging and even the production choices are so dumb they are painfully laughable.

A stranger in town to collect a debt struggles with the man who owes the money and pulls a gun, and ends up killing him, and then secretly buries him. You’d think he’d want to avoid attention, but he befriends the dead man’s girlfriend who is a reporter, and stays at her house, gets in another fight with the (snarling villain) used car salesman’s creepy son, is spotted by a police squad car wandering near the woods and then, when they are suddenly called away to a house fire, turns up at the same house fire on foot helping put out the blaze. Way to keep a low profile, manslaughter man.

The house on fire is one of those cheesy temporary constructions Hollywood is so notorious for, with obvious gas jets spewing flames conveniently out all windows. But that doesn’t mean the preacher who has been trapped in there has already been asphyxiated and can’t be easily rescued by the woman town deputy. Oh, and the preacher is in some secret scheme with the used car salesman involving propane tanks, which is why he was in the police chief’s house trying to steal evidence after the police chief’s pacemaker exploded and killed him when he touched the dome wall.

What the hell?!

Stephen King’s novels have been adapted into some pretty classy screen fiction; including “The Shawshank Redemption,” “Stand By Me,” “Carrie,” and “The Dead Zone.” But there have been plenty of misses, as well. Count this corny adaptation as a complete whiff.

I get it; we’re not watching HBO. But if the scriptwriters adapting George Martin’s Game of Thrones can deliver viewers the rich experience of more than 30 characters with complex arcs, different speech patterns, complicated agendas, relationships and motivations, why can’t CBS do the same for the mere five or six characters who seem to be the only people that turn up at every incident in this small town? It’s lazy, unrealistic, unimaginative and just plain silly.

I’d call it a Maberry comedy, but even Barney Fife, who only ever had one bullet, never was desperate enough to resort to “What the hell?!”

– A. Wayne Carter


P. S. Here’s some alternatives for the “What the hell!” challenged.

“Jesus!”           (Lapsed religious version)
“Heh-suus!”   (Still religious Spanish version)
“Holy Shit!”    (R-rated version)
“Crikey!”          (Australian version)
“Golll-eeeee”  (Gomer version)
“Verrryyy Interesting” (Arte Johnson version)
“Whoah”        (Keanu Reeves version)
“Bloody Hell!” (British version)
“Fuucckkkk me!”    (NC-17 version)
“Gazooks!”     (Scooby Do version)
“Fascinating” (Spock version)

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