Feb 18 2009 2:48pm

(Welcome to the) Dollhouse

So, the three day weekend is done, giving every geek who actually has a social life on Friday nights a chance to catch up on the night’s influx of genre TV.

The big event was the premiere of Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse. The basic premise is thus: Echo (Eliza Dushku) and a bunch of other gorgeous men and women are “dolls,” void of personality until the shadowy Dollhouse organization imprints them with skills, memories, quirks, etc. that will best suit the tough jobs rich people need to hire dolls for. The first episode primarily involved Echo being imprinted with a personality ideal for negotiating the return of a kidnapped girl. We were also introduced to some of the Powers That Be at Dollhouse and an FBI agent (shirtless Tahmoh Penikett) who’s chasing the fairy tale of missing people turned into secret agents.

My first impression of this show isn’t a very good one, to be honest. The biggest flaw in Dollhouse is that you really need a great actress as the lead, to play all of the different personalities. Putting aside her kickass performance as the evil Slayer Faith on Buffy, Dushku is really uneven. She does a good tough chick/sex-kitten, but her wide-eyed naivete is really bad. Echo wandering around the Dollhouse in her sweatpants and talking like a three-year-old should add a creepy factor to the violations being perpetrated on the dolls, but here it only made me snicker. I did enjoy the opening flashback to the Bronze, watching a bunch of white people awkwardly dance to bad club music. However, it had me asking myself a question: what happened to Echo’s pants? She was wearing them only moments ago! Did she take them off in the bathroom after her bike race? Then I remembered I was watching a Fox program.

Fox is my other big problem with this show. From the early buzz, Dollhouse was doomed before it even aired because Fox network execs tampered with Whedon’s ideas too much and Whedon himself is so soured by the experience he just wants to make cool webisodes now. Hence the pants-off dance-off and communal showers that work in Starship Troopers but make the Dollhouse organization seem extra creepy. (What? Could Fox not retrofit what looks like a new and improved Wolfram & Hart set with a few more walls?) Supposedly, the suits’ input becomes less apparent after the first three episodes which is why I’ll give this show a few more watches before calling it. Stupid Fox. I didn’t like Firefly’s “first” episode either, until I watched the DVD and actually got to see the show in its intended order. Then I fell in love. I don’t know if Dollhouse can be elevated about the kinda icky, mostly dull center, but it’s Whedon. I’m willing to give the man a long grace period and hope some of his humor and liveliness brightens up this show a little more.

And there were some bright spots: I’m curious about how Dr. Fred got her scars, and Echo’s handler, Boyd, is great. Harry Lennix was the ultimate devious mastermind in Julie Taymor’s Titus. Here, he elevates Boyd into a nuanced father-figure for Echo. You can tell he’s become uncomfortable with the whole Personality On Demand service. Also, more Tahmoh Penikett, please. I remember when he used to be on Battlestar Galactica. He was really good there. Who are the other dolls? I’m curious enough to want more.

As it stands, more of you watched Dollhouse than Terminator. Shame on you! Terminator is so good it is very nearly great. Except for Riley. I’m clearly no network programmer but maybe airing two hours of Dollhouse would’ve been enough to get viewers more interested in the story, then do the Terminator/Dollhouse team-up the following week. While it’s still got decent numbers to lead into Terminator. Neither show performed particularly well. Maybe more geeks have social lives than Fox counted on.

Dollhouse airs Fridays at 9 P.M. on Fox, right after Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

Amy Sisson
1. amysisson
I'd have to say you captured my impressions pretty closely here. I'm just hoping the show can survive through enough eps to let Whedon's original vision shine through. I'm willing to give it a lot of time. (Heck, I suffered through all of Heroes season 2 and at least 6 eps of season 3 before I finally gave up. So I can be patient.)
2. SeismicMike
I noticed some weirdness as well. The shower thing is just dumb. The no pants thing makes a little sense - she wore the outfit to be sexy, but needed pants on during the race to protect her legs, so she put them on. I wonder why she left them there though....?

I think you have a good point about Fox Suit intervention. Let's just hope Whedon can survive it. Is it really fair of Fox to interfere with him enough to make the show poor enough to drive enough people away to make them think it's not worth keeping in? Yeah, doomed from the start. But hopefully the Whedon Cult is stronger than it. They have sworn to prevent another Firefly, so we'll see.

I wouldn't overlook the factor that internet distribution plays into this. Apparently iTunes is selling Dollhouse like hotcakes, and I have no idea what the stats on Hulu are. I think this is an example of how "TV" as we know it is continually changing, and for the better. I think Whedon's desire to move to webisodes is not so much driven by a contempt for Fox (though I'm sure that's part of it), but more of a recognizing what the future is really going to hold and wanting to capitalize on it while he can. He's a pioneer

I just hope Dollhouse doesn't get Firefly'ed in the process.
3. Tenaku
I thought it was pretty good. As to the short skirt and motorcycle stuff, the client got what he paid for. It seems he wanted a daredevil sexpot, and he got that in spades, what's the problem?

The communal showers make perfect sense. If you've got the tech to wipe someone's personality we can safely assume you would wipe any sexual urges as well, in order to protect the merchandise if nothing else. So why not have everybody out in the open where you can see them? There is little to no privacy apparent in the dollhouse design, and that's on purpose. the dolls _don't care_ about privacy, and it's in the best interests of the organization to keep tabs on them at all times.

I'm not sure why everybody is jonesing to hate this show right off the bat. We all know Whedon takes his sweet time to get into the story arc, and that's fine by me.
Theresa DeLucci
4. theresa_delucci
I'm a huge Whedon fangirl. I'm jonesing to *love* this show. I just don't. Yet. It could change.

And I still maintain that open showers are dumb when you already have a place that looks like a luxury spa. What's a few more bucks on some curtains and security cameras? It's just needlessly silly.
Jonathan Flynn
5. Flynn
Looks like Tor hasn't had any posts on the Sarah Connor Chronicles. It really is one of the more interesting science fiction shows in recent years. How about going back and reviewing the season one DVD or something?
Dave Thompson
6. DKT
The Whedon Cult can save it and prevent another Firefly? What, like they saved Serenity?

Jury's out for me. I still need to watch the pilot.
Theresa DeLucci
7. theresa_delucci
I did review the first season of Terminator. I loved it!

It's one of my favorite shows on TV right now and yet I don't watch it regularly. I only watched the December midseason finale last night. (No spoilers!) It's the one show I really sit back and enjoy for its sheer entertainment value without my notepad nearby (well, Terminator and The Soup) so I haven't blogged about it since. However, this may change soon as I want to get more people I know watching what is a fun show, deserving of a bigger audience.
- -
8. heresiarch
I think the creepy sexiness of the dolls (every shot of Dushku framed to emphasize her curves, the shower scene, etc.) is deliberate ploy to make the audience feel a little complicit in the whole thing. I think Whedon is trying to Make A Point about sexual objectification.

It reminds me a bit of the Italian movie Malena, which did something similar.

P.S. Please, please blog more about Terminator. It's so good!
9. Patrick Rennie
So far, the story engine is “Rich shady johns hire mind-wiped sex toys temporarily reprogrammed to handle delicate jobs that the johns can’t use their usual thugs for.”

We’re supposed to get multiple seasons from that? And on a network, where they can’t even fully exploit the sex and violence value of following the villains?

I’m still on board for the moment, but I’m not automatically recommending the show to the Buffy/Angel/Firefly fans I know.
Jonathan Flynn
10. Flynn
Terminator is on the brink of cancellation, so if there were ever a time to blog it...

I guess the show is cheap to produce, so if they look at it as very expensive Terminator: the Movie marketing maybe it has a chance...

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