This summer, two Kentuckians from vastly different backgrounds are at the center of the drama in Chester's Mill, Maine, on CBS' Under the Dome.
Characters such as Big Jim, played by Breaking Bad's Dean Norris, and his leadership rivals Julia (Rachelle Lefevre) and Barbie (Mike Vogel) command center stage in the science fiction story.
But it's a country music star from Pikeville and a complete newcomer from Lexington who hold some of the keys to why the town is trapped under a mysterious, transparent dome that has cut it off from the rest of the world.
Or maybe Lyle Chumley is just a crazy sociopath.
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After appearing in two episodes, Lyle has been on the run and for the most part out of sight the last couple of episodes after attempting to kill several people in an effort to make what he believes are biblical prophecies come to pass. And did I mention that it seems to be raining blood during a portion of Lyle's rampage?
Played by country music legend Dwight Yoakam, Chumley is odd and successfully manipulative, persuading several characters to loosen their grips just enough to carry out his machinations.
Taking on a completely different role is 19-year-old former School for the Creative and Performing Arts student Grace Victoria Cox, who plays a 1980s teenager mysteriously come back to life. Her character, Melanie, was part of a group of teens, the others now 40-something adults, who initially discovered the apparently alien source of the dome. She died — at Lyle's hands! — attempting to protect the glowing and powerful egg at the core of the mystery.
Now the question is why she returned. And, as one of the four "protectors" of the egg, her life is in danger again from Lyle and Sam (Eddie Cahill) her old flame who late in last week's episode admitted he felt guilty that he failed to protect her and helped cover up her murder.
He did this before apparently committing suicide by falling off a cliff into a pit. We say apparently, because as we have established, death is not necessarily final in this show. And there's no body.
It all may sound intriguing, but the show often feels plodding and contrived with crises that don't make a lot of sense — blood-like acid rain a couple weeks ago, mysterious dust storm this week. Even with the characters portrayed by our home-state actors, plots have been irritatingly strung out; is Lyle that hard to keep in custody, and a love triangle between teens Melanie, Joe (Colin Ford) and Norrie (Mackenzie Lintz) seems to have been mercifully resolved. Also, neither Joe nor Julia are leaders, so there is a tiring see-saw of loyalties in the townsfolk.
But it always seems a surprise is around the corner, and that and the performances by our Kentucky actors keep me tuning in.
Like his performances in Sling Blade (1996), Panic Room (2002) and a couple dozen other shows and movies, this is a disappear-into-the part performance for Yoakam, who is invariably interesting to watch. Given a choice, I would still rather watch him play his guitar and sing. But Yoakam commits to roles like few others, with little regard for himself, and keeps us guessing. Lyle's darker side was immediately communicated from his initial scenes as town barber.
Cox told us in June that Dome directors were giving her a lot of latitude to shape her character, and Melanie is becoming a real person while remaining a wild card. She has moved from the vacant stares of the first few episodes to a young woman who wants a normal teenage life while she also takes a leading role in the mystery.
But there is still the huge question: Why is she here?
This is the first national stage for the Lexington native and it should not be the last.
Whether the show returns for a third season — its ratings are about half what they were early last summer when it was one of the buzziest shows around — it is fun spending some summer Monday nights watching Kentucky talent in the spotlight.