In Which I Play With Dolls

2 Mar

dollhouseOkay.  Okay.  Seriously, okay, people, everyone just settle down. Dollhouse is going to be awesome.  I have been assured of this.

There was a lot of build-up to the first episode, most of it scary and of ill portent. Fox was effing with the concept, forcing Joss to re-shoot the pilot and change the order of the episodes, adding a lot of brainless T&A and making him move the mythology-heavy episodes to later in the season, all while hanging the threat of imminent cancellation over the show… it appeared that, once again, we were going to invest in a wonderful show with a great premise, helmed by one of TVland’s all-time most beloved figures, only to watch it die before its time.  All this has happened before, and it will happen again.

And so, three weeks ago, the first episode of Dollhouse aired, to generally negative or at least ambivalent reviews. We’re now three episodes in, and the reviews haven’t gotten much better. To sum up what folks have to say, from harshest to most optimistic:

Penny Arcade’s Tycho Brahe:

Dollhouse is not an enjoyable television program. (…) There’s plenty of people to hate, and very few people to like. It’s a science fiction retelling of MTV’s The Real World, and it works about as well as you would expect.

The NJ Star-Ledger’s Alan Sepinwall:

…in the early going, “Dollhouse” feels less like a show that’s been a victim of network goonery than a show that had some basic problems in conception that still need to be addressed.

Low Resolution’s Joe R:

Still waiting for it to get good. Well, that’s not entirely true. It’s not a bad show, it’s enjoyable enough while you’re watching it. It’s just not compelling, and I keep hoping it will be.

Nathaniel at The Film Experience:

You know that geeky t-shirt that was popular some years ago “Joss Whedon is My Master Now”? I should have bought one at the time. We’re now 3 episodes into Whedon’s latest Dollhouse and even though I’m still not so sure about it I get excited each time. (…) but I’m into it for better and worse. Hopefully for better.

Salon’s Heather Harvilesky:

So if you “Buffy” fans feel slightly disappointed on Friday night, remember Paul’s words: “Nobody has everything they want. If you have everything, you want something else. Something more extreme. Something more specific. Something perfect.” If the fates cooperate, “Dollhouse” will be on the air long enough to evolve from something shiny and extreme to what Whedon and an unwieldy gaggle of fans want it to be: something more specific. Something clever and layered. Something perfect.

Slate’s Troy Patterson:

…if you can cleanse your mind of expectations, then Dollhouse stands all of a sudden as the best action show on network television.

So, yeah.  My two cents?  It’s going to get good.  Actually, there’s no question in my mind.  The only uncertainty is whether the show can remain on the air long enough to get there, but that’s kind of not something that should be taken into account when weighing the relative merit of something, right?  I mean, yes, if it ceases to exist, it won’t be very good, but since when has that not been the case about anything?

Assuming they can make it through the full season, I have absolutely no doubt that this show will become really fun stuff.  Hell, I’m already enjoying myself.  They’ve done a good job of working their premise under my skin. I mean, there is no way that anyone could watch the second episode – wherein Echo is sent into the woods to have lots of sweaty tent sex with a big strapping dude who then sets her loose in the woods and tries to hunt her down and kill her – and not be both titillated and totally grossed out.

Reprogrammed as she is, Echo is totally unaware of what she’s doing, and in essence is being raped before our very eyes – and not just her body, but her mind.  Repeatedly.  So immediately after the show cut to this super-hot sex scene, I though “Ha!  There’s FOX for ya, bam!” But then I immediately recoiled at what I was actually watching – a violation the likes of which we’ve never had to watch on TV, let alone network prime-time.

So, while the mythology is on the back-burner and the “mission-of-the-week” is the main focus, there’s still plenty of the old Whedon subversiveness to go around.  You just have to look for it in a slightly different place. The irony is thick – just as Buffy subverted the girl-in-distress vampire movie paradigm, Dollhouse subverts the “sex and death-drenched procedural-ess” that so many Whedonites have been quick to lament.



And that’s just a few episodes in – most everyone acknowledges that Joss is doing the old “have five pilots in a row so that people tuning in late won’t feel out of the loop” trick, and I would argue that far from a mistake, this move is necessary.  This show is going to struggle in the ratings regardless, and having the third episode already be deep in conspiracies, alliances, and betrayals would be a huge mistake.

It’s feeling that there is a whole world of people out there who really want to get into Joss Whedon.  But, if they’re gonna do it, they need to be made to feel welcome.  Dollhouse, so far, seems like it’s doing a good job of reeling them in.

And keep in mind that Buffy, one of the most epically awesome shows ever made, certainly did not feel epically awesome in the early goings. In fact, even in its best seasons, there were episodes that were so lame that, had I been showing them to someone who had never seen the show, I would have been deeply embarrassed for advocating for the show at all. Angel, another good one, lost me entirely in the early goings of season one. When I returned to the DVDs, I found that midway through the first season, it finally found its rhythm and got really, really good. But it certainly took awhile.

“But what about Firefly?” you ask. Firefly did indeed manage to create a compelling story and win over millions of die-hard fans in only fourteen episodes.   But I’d say that, more than anything, that was a testament to the show’s spectacular cast – previous Whedon ensembles never wanted for charismatic actors, but Fillion, Baldwin, Torres, Tudyk… I mean, that was, like, an epoch-shiftingly amazing cast.  It’s not a slam on Joss’s other shows to say that their casts weren’t as strong as Firefly’s – few ensembles on any program have ever been.

So, aaaanyway. I’m just sayin’. Provided the show is around long enough, Dollhouse will get good.  They’re going to break Echo out of the Dollhouse, she’s going to have a composite event and start remembering who she is (just look at the end twists in the last two episodes), and the whole idea of mind-reprogramming is going to be explored in new, uncomfortable, and likely awesome ways.  But don’t take it from me – take it from Joss.  Or from Eliza.

Who, at least according to the video below, is going to take over the world with her smokin’ hot awesomeness and eat our brains, so even if the show gets canceled, we won’t be around to complain about it.


2 Responses to “In Which I Play With Dolls”

  1. thesoniashow March 2, 2009 at 10:18 am #

    I’m not going to lie to you, I have been really disappointed in the show so far. I do think the second episode was better than the first, and I think that is mainly do to Echo’s handler, Boyd. The show finally gave me someone to care about.

    Sure, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” wasn’t a masterpiece when it first began, but it was always clever and entertaining. “Angel” had a well-established character that we cared about in the lead. And “Firefly” was was just kick ass from the start. “Dollhouse,” in my opinion, hasn’t been clever or entertaining, and I don’t really care about anyone yet.

    That said, I haven’t watched the third episode yet, but I will later today, and I am willing to give Joss Whedon the benefit of the doubt.

    • Kirk March 2, 2009 at 10:46 am #

      The third episode isn’t gonna win you over, I’ll say that much.

      But I really do think it’s going to get better. Maybe I’m deluded, but I hope not!

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