Monday, March 2, 2009

Buckshot: The Dollhouse Dilemma

The third episode of Dollhouse is available for viewing online, and I will watch it, probably at some point today. But I have to ask myself, why will I watch it, and why am I not tuning in during the initial network airings? It certainly wasn’t because the pilot (if you can even call it that, considering it was a completely reshot pilot based on network demands) grabbed me. There are some interesting concepts here and there, and I do like some of the cast members, particularly Harry Lenix. But the show forces me to ask myself if I’ll continue to watch solely out of support for Joss Whedon.

Anyone who knows me knows of my unabashed love for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly/Serenity. (Hell, I recently re-watched the entire run of Buffy and have a retrospective I’ll get posted if I can find 45 minutes to finish it and get it formatted with images.) I also believe Joss’s summer 2008 interweb venture, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog was a thing of minor genius. So this new show from the master should set my heart all a-flutter, right? Only it’s not. And I think I know why.

At the end of the day, Dollhouse isn’t really anything new. It’s Joss taking ideas we’ve seen before in other science fiction efforts and putting his own spin on them. That’s fine in theory, but Joss made his mark by turning genre conventions on their ear (the girl who usually dies in a horror movie is actually the strongest one around, a vampire gains a soul and becomes a hero, a western set in outer space), and Dollhouse isn’t really doing that.

Penny Arcade and Hijinks Ensue (among others) have given their take on the whole thing.

The second episode was actually a lot better than the first, due in part to a guest appearance by Matt Keeslar, star of last summer’s criminally under-watched ABC Family series The Middleman (seriously, check this out when they release the DVD). And Eliza Dushku’s not bad (not great, but not bad) in the role of Echo. If nothing else, the personality-imprint aspect of the show gives her the chance to stretch her acting chops and see if we can accept her as more than just streetwise damaged-goods slayer Faith.

So I guess I’ll give it a chance. Fox has said they’ll run all 13 (12? I'm not sure of the exact count.) completed episodes, and I will watch them all. But when Whedon’s been quoted as saying the entire experience has turned him off of television for good, it doesn’t bode well for the remainder of the episodes. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Joss made a heck of a mark on the television landscape, and maybe it’s time to move on. Write some more comics, produce some more great web content, maybe get another screenplay or two cranked out (besides the in-development The Cabin in the Woods). Heck, I’d even like to see him tackle a prose novel.

In the meantime, I’ll attempt to muddle through the remaining episodes of Dollhouse. Sources have said that once we get to the sixth episode, we get more of a mythology and Whedon's voice is heard more through the writing. We'll see.


The Den of Mystery said...

You know what? I started off typing a bit of a rant about Whedon and how he needs to own up to his underperforming creations, but having not watched any Firefly or Dollhouse I'll stay quiet.

That said, I hear Dollhouse is less-than-stellar. It looks like they used leftover sets, actors and plots from Dark Angel and changed brunette actresses. It also looks, from the previews, like it has stock character types in supporting roles. I might not be the Buffy/Angel apologist that you are, but I think the characters were decently drawn.


The Den of Mystery said...

I'll admit that I tend to view Whedon's past efforts through rose-tinted lenses. In all actuality, it took me a few episodes to get into Firefly. But once I did, I found it to be a very enjoyable show. The latest Dollhouse again, had some good moments, but ultimately wasn't that engaging.

Two more things I've noticed when comparing it to past Joss efforts:

1) Despite being for all intents and purposes dramatic shows, all three (Buffy, Angel, Firefly) really knew how to bring the comedy as well, and that's something we're not seeing on Dollhouse.

2) Buffy and Angel shared many of the same writers, and several of them contributed to Firefly's brief run. But except for an episode written by Tim Minear (who is no stranger to interesting yet failed series himself; Wonderfalls, Drive), I don't recognize any of the writing credits for the upcoming episodes of Dollhouse. Maybe that has something to do with it paling in comparison to the rest of the Whedonverse.