(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.


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