‘Under the Dome’ and Pop Culture’s Greatest Moments in Bubbles
CBS’s new series scored huge ratings Monday night and joins Seinfeld, The Wizard of Oz, and more great movies and TV shows about people trapped in bubbles.
Nearly every review of the CBS series Under the Dome comes to a singular conclusion: being trapped in a bubble with no way out is absolutely terrifying. That’s what happens to the residents of small-town Chester’s Mill, whose lives are upturned (perhaps “inturned” would be a better description) when a mysterious invisible barrier—a dome—forms around their town, preventing them from leaving. As chilling as the concept may be, we as a culture seem to be obsessed with the idea of being trapped inside a bubble.
Over 13 million people tuned in to the premiere of Under the Dome, making it the first bona fide summer hit on network TV in a long, long time (really, since Melrose Place in 1992). It's also the latest in a long line of movies and TV shows centering around the simple idea: what would life be like if we were trapped in a bubble? In honor of Under the Dome’s success, here’s a look back at the greatest bubble moments from pop-culture history.
Under the Dome
Stephen King’s 2009 novel was already a bestseller when Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks Television picked up the rights to it for a cable miniseries. After a series of stops and starts, the show eventually found a home on CBS, where it became, after its premiere on Monday night, a big fat hit.
Jake Gyllenhaal starred in the 2001 film about a boy born with no immune system and therefore confined to living in a plastic bubble. But when he discovers that the love of is his life is about to be married, he fashions himself a portable bubble suit and ventures across the country to stop her. While the trapped-in-a-bubble conceit is downright eerie in Under the Dome, it’s played farcically for laughs in this film, which was derided as “tasteless,” “inappropriate,” and “the most anti-human movie to surface since Showgirls” when it was released.
The Boy in the Plastic Bubble
Though incorrigibly mocked in Bubble Boy, the phenomenon is actually real. The true story of David Vetter, who lived his life in the incubator-like conditions of a bubble because he lacked a proper immune system, inspired this ultra-serious 1976 made-for-TV movie starring, of all people, a pre-Grease John Travolta in the title role.
The Wizard of Oz
Living in a bubble isn’t all gloom and doom, as Glinda the Good Witch proved while making one of the most glamorous entrances in film history, descending on Munchkinland by flying through the air in a pink bubble. The almost cloying whimsy of the vessel made for one of the best one-liners in the Broadway musical Wicked, in which an embittered Elphaba (who’d become the Wicked Witch of the West) snaps at Glinda during a fight, “Well, we can’t all come and go by bubble.”
For decades, coverage of “bubble boys” had been sympathetic to what must be a tragic plight—living life in ultimate confinement, devoid of human contact—portraying those afflicted with the immune disorder as heroes. Enter the brilliance of Seinfeld. A 1992 episode of the sitcom imagined what it would be like if a bubble boy was actually kind of prick. Turns out, it would be hilarious.
To call the finale of St. Elsewhere merely surprising would burst any proper TV fan's bubble. The mind-blowing episode revealed that six seasons of drama that seemed to take place within the walls of St. Eligius Hospital actually all took place within the mind of Tommy (Chad Allen), the autistic son of Donald Westphall (Ed Flanders). The final scene begins with an exterior shot of St. Eligius with snow falling outside, then cutting to the interior of an apartment where Tommy is playing with a snow globe. Tommy then shakes the snow globe and the camera zooms in to reveal that the building inside the toy is St. Eligius, hinting that the whole serious was imagined. It was such monumental television that 30 Rock even paid homage to the scene in its own series finale.
Bubbles for the win.