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February 16, 2009

Welcome To Joss Whedon's "Dollhouse"

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Take a TV talent the size of Joss Whedon, put him together with an alum from his best work, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," add a high concept idea, and you might just have the recipe for an entertaining TV show. 

That's what Joss Whedon's fans hoped for when they originally heard about the new FOX show "Dollhouse" which premiered on Friday.  What they ended up getting was a bit of a mixed bag.

Eliza Dushku (pictured left), formerly Faith on "Buffy" plays Echo, a young woman who's turned herself over to the masterminds of the Dollhouse in order to literally wipe her slate clean.  But as she says in the first few minutes of the show, "You ever try and clean an actual slate?  You always see what was on it before."

At the Dollhouse people known as "Actives" have their entire personalities wiped clean and then are imprinted with the personalities and skills required by specific clients.  In the pilot, Echo is imprinted with the memories and skills of a hostage negotiator for a client whose daughter's been kidnapped.  However Echo falters when her new personality's memories jeopardize the mission.

The Dollhouse is a secret entity and the rest of the world considers it a myth.  All except Paul Ballard, played by Tahmoh Penikett formerly of "Battlestar Galactica."  He's an FBI agent determined to prove the Dollhouse exists and find Echo.

The premise of the show is interesting but ultimately, its fatal drawback may be Dushku and her limited acting range.  Though I like her, I don't see her as an actress with the kind of versatility this role is going to call for.

For example as the party girl in the opening of the pilot, Dushku was just fine.  But as the kidnap negotiator she was sorely lacking.  Part of that had to do with her being outfitted in librarian glasses, her hair in a severe bun and sporting a black power suit. 

Even if the outfit hadn't been so glaringly off the mark, Dushku's acting was as well.  She came across as an ambitious teenager trying to play a "power" grownup. 

The supporting players are fine enough, Harry Lennix as Echo's in the field handler, Olivia Williams as one of the leaders of the Dollhouse, and Fran Kranz as the computer bio genius behind the personality wiping process.

The entire concept of the show has the feel of an idea from a sixth season "Buffy" episode, "Dead Things."  In it three seemingly harmless geeks decide to use their gadgets and combined magic to take over the world.  Everything's quite comical until the leader of the group, Warren (Adam Busch) puts his ex-girlfriend under a spell, turning her into a sex slave.  Right before a private session with Warren, the woman wakes up so Warren kills her.

Dollhouse appears to expand on Warren's idea, encompassing a whole house full of lovely female Actives.  Though Echo's mission as a kidnap negotiator had nothing to do with sex, the underlying discomfort with her being manipulated for everyone else's benefit was a difficult one to shake.

I'm sure that's part of what Whedon has in mind and I'm thinking that down the road, there will be dire consequences for those who try to manipulate people in such a grotesque way.

Bottom line, I didn't hate the show, but I didn't love it either.  Worse though was the fact that I wasn't very entertained.  If I had to give it a grade, I'd give it a C-.

The blogosphere chatter about this show is at full throttle and here's a sampling:

StaceyG of Life Outside The Box also had issues with some things in the pilot.  Among them:

Stuffing way too much information into 50 minutes: It would have been nice to have an introduction to The Dollhouse, how the Actives got there, who runs the place, etc. And I don't understand what the purpose of Echo's first engagement was - to get laid, be a badass on a crotch rocket and dump a guy?

Danielle at Geek Girls Rule:

Although the dialogue could be sharper and the characters could be better defined, it's undeniably a Whedon creation. It's the first step on a journey he has mapped out for five seasons. While his other shows have all been about family, this one seems to be more about alienation, loss of identity, and objectification.

Michelle at Film School Rejects disagreed with StaceyG's desire for more detail:

As the show focused on Echo, it was logical to begin with hints as to how she came to be a doll, but of course provide no real detail. This theme followed through the entire episode, not quite to "Lost's" level of teasing but there were a lot of questions raised with no real answers. Fortunately it hasn't caused frustration yet, but it did leave me wondering whether I'd started the episode a few minutes in.

Joss is an amazing talent so I'll give "Dollhouse" more time.  The question is, will you?


Related Links:

"Whedon's 'Dollhouse' Moved To Timeslot of Death" by SJ

 A "Dollhouse" rant from someone who thought it "sucked donkey balls."

Photo Courtesy FOX

Cross Posted From BlogHer

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