Dollhouse – Redux

February 14, 2009 at 3:46 pm (Uncategorized)

After two previous posts, I feel I have to say something about the premiere of Dollhouse last night. I’m still apprehensive about the time slot, but Fox has certainly done a better job promoting it than with Firefly. (Having The Sarah Connor Chronicles as a lead-in doesn’t hurt.

Watching a premiere is often the hardest thing about a TV show. In about forty minutes, a show has to establish a believable premise, introduce and interest us in the characters, and tell a story. Often a show doesn’t hit it’s stride, and in turn develop the fan-base essential to its success until mid-season – and by that point, the network has often pulled the plug. I really have no idea why some shows thrive, while ofters which are superficially similar simply do not catch the viewer’s attention. 

I’ve watched all of Joss Whedon’s other TV shows, read some of his comics and even regularly check Whedonesque , so I’m hardly neutral in wanting Dollhouseto be a success. The opening scenes unnerved me a little then. The motorcycle chase and Echo’s scene in the nightclub, along with the meeting between Echo ( called Caroline then) and the mysterious Adelle De Witt (Olivia Williams channelling Charlotte Rampling) seems stiff, and I had a sudden fear Eliza Dushka couldn’t carry the show. (It’s not as though she isn’t capable of different styles – witness the body-swap episodes in Buffy Season 4, and Tru Calling was credible too).

There were a few other moments: The overall creepiness of the show’s premise. The actives are volunteers, at least Echo is, but who would volunteer to essentially be a personality-less slave for any period of time. What was the alternative? There’s also the unpleasant hint that not all of the volunteers are that. The Russian mob is suggested as a possible supplier of actives, and there the voluntary aspect is probably a little more subdued. (the active known as Sierra seems to fall into this category). Topher Brink, the tech guy at the Dollhouse, is fairly unpleasant, but maybe that’s the point. Imagine a sociopathic version of Greg Sanders from C.S.I. But OK,  you’re not supposed to like these people.

The initial episode, besides introducing all of the above, deals with the case of the kidnapped daughter of a Mexican industrialist (I experienced severe house envy watching the episode). Echo is brought in as “Miss Penn” the expert hostage negotiator (afterwards it occurred to me to ask  – aren’t there qualified hostage negotiators available? Just part of the suspension of disbelief I guess).

Of course, the carefully scripted plan falls apart when it tunrs out Echo’s Miss Penn personality had been kidnapped and sexually abused by one of the kidnappers when she was a child. And so it goes to its enevitable conclusion.

If this sounds negative, it’s not meant to be. The show has Whedon’s clever dialogue, intriguing characters who have room to grow, and a good overall storyline. The episode is either a B or a B+ Whedon has stated that the shows will be stand alones, but part of a more subtle arc than in shows like Buffy or Angel. The real hook will as Echo’s personality surfaces, and people are forced to deal with a more conscious violation of humanity. If only the network  gives it that time.

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