WILMINGTON, N.C. — Inside a 10-foot-tall cylinder a few miles from the beach, actress Britt Robertson is chained to a bedpost.
The petite 23-year-old is being held captive by her (fictional) ex-boyfriend, a possessive young man named Junior who's played, with a kind of hair-swooping spaciness, by newcomer Alex Koch.
"I brought you some eggs," Koch tells Robertson in the scene, sounding at once nurturing and creepy.
Her wrists tightly bound, Robertson nonetheless lets her face soften from anger to seduction and helps him dress a wound. Koch replies with an attempt at reassurance. "Everything will go back to the way it was," he says, "as soon as we get out from under this dome."
"This dome" — dramatic device, title conceit, mystical force — refers to the nearly invisible bubble that literally drops out of the sky one day to trap a small American town in "Under the Dome," one of the splashiest and most scrutinized summer series of recent years.
After a wave of promotion that began at the Super Bowl, CBS premieres the first of 13 episodes on June 24. The network is not only entering a scripted summer space it has until now largely avoided but is also attempting a tricky creative feat: big-budget genre storytelling with intimate insights about humans in crisis.
"We don't want to be preachy, this is still pulpy and fun," declared Jack Bender, the "Lost" veteran who executive-produces "Dome" and directs several of its episodes. "But the show does have something to say about our social structures."
With Bender, Stephen King, Steven Spielberg, the comic book writer author Brian K. Vaughan and longtime "ER" writer-producer Neal Baer among its executive producers, "Under the Dome's" credit sequence has enough star power to light up a small city. Which, incidentally, this electricity-sapped town could use.
Based on King's phone book-sized novel — and with a serious-mindedness that diverges from a similar premise in, of all things, "The Simpsons Movie" — "Dome" showcases an ensemble of characters cut off from both the world and many essential resources by the inexplicable dome, which, when it first falls, also crushes anything it lands on.
Among those trapped in the town (Chester's Mill, Maine, in the book but in an unspecified state here) are Julia (Rachelle Lefevre), a persistent journalist with some skeletons in her closet; Barbie (Mike Vogel), a mysterious military man with some secrets of his own; Junior's father, Big Jim (Dean Norris), a town mover-and-shaker who promptly begins taking advantage of the situation ("The thing about Big Jim is, he thinks what he's doing is right," Norris says with some glee); Junior (Koch), who sees in the chaos a misguided way to win back his ex, and Angie (Robertson), a pretty waitress and hospital volunteer who in the early episodes finds herself in the shackled predicament.
"Someone said she was being a [jerk]," Robertson said, using a harsher word. "And I said, 'Do you understand the circumstance?!'"
There is also a wide assortment of teenagers, police officers, diner patrons and other denizens of King's America.
All of them must solve the mystery — possibly supernatural, possibly conspiratorial — of the dome while negotiating the paranoia and in-fighting that sets in during a hometown emergency. Think "Lost," only this time the island comes to them.
Though there are many genre overtones, actors say they think the show will resonate because its world is in fact familiar.
"People have been saying we're like 'Revolution' or 'The Walking Dead,'" Lefevre said, kicking off her flip-flops as she sat on a part of the set built to look like an independent radio station. "But this isn't a post-apocalyptic show. These people are in their homes the same way they were before anything happened. It's more like, 'What if you were stuck in your house and the door was glued shut?' What kind of bad choices would you make, and would they be different from the bad choices you make during normal life?"
Baer and Vaughan see in it something even more global. Though there are few explicit environmental themes in "Dome," the idea of a civilization facing shortages aligns with the real world.
"It's a parable for our times," Baer said. "We're running out of fuel and water, and a lot of things that are happening on the show are happening to us — just slower, so we don't notice it."