Catching Up With Dollhouse

eliza1Earlier, I was pretty hard on Joss Whedon’s new show Dollhouse, which airs on Fox, the network too stupid to make Firefly a hit.

My basic problem with the show was that, while it had a great premise with huge potential, the active structure of the show shoved the things that were interesting about it into the corners and filled the space with bland stories that had little permanent importance to the history the show was building. In other words, the intriguing people running the dolls, and the intriguing things starting to happen to the dolls (especially Echo), were serving as a framing device for stories that were a hell of a lot less interesting.

I wasn’t alone in my response. Many other Whedon fans (and I am, very very much, a Whedon fan) were finding themselves really not liking a show they’re preconditioned to root for. The ratings started weakly, and dropped. Messages came forth from Whedon headquarters, implying that Fox had been too heavy-handed and interfering at first (easy to believe, all things considered), but had loosened up after a while and allowed Joss and his team to start doing things the way they really wanted to.

Give us till the sixth episode, they pleaded. It’ll start to get good.

Well, the sixth and seventh episodes have aired at this point. Major things happened, game-changers. Echo went off-task a few times, which seems to be her hobby. The banal storylines that were unrelated to the main story arc went away, and the stories that replaced them had significant impact on the characters and the arc.

Know what? It’s getting good. It’s getting real good. It’s not quite Joss good, just yet, but I do see that coming, and I’m now enjoying the journey.

Unfortunately, the show probably won’t get to explore its full potential. It is on Fox, where shit thrives and great shows die young, and the slow crawl out the gate and low ratings won’t help. I read that Fox is committed to showing the full thirteen episode season, then won’t rerun the show during the summer. I’m thinking that also means they won’t be picking it up for the next season.

That’s a shame, as I think it has the makings of a great show. But at least we’ll have the thirteen episode story arc to enjoy…or the latter half of it, at least, since the first half kinda blew. And Joss can move on to other things, and those things will hopefully be Joss good. Maybe someday we’ll get to enjoy one of his creations for a bunch of years again. But it probably won’t be on Fox.

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My Thoughts on Dollhouse

I didn’t love it. I hope to. Maybe I will in time.

I have always loved Joss Whedon’s work. I’ll watch, or read, or listen to, anything he does. He’s a smart man, a funny man, and a master storyteller man.

I also really like Eliza Dushku. Not only is she a hotty, she’s brainy, and she’s a very talented actress who’s been underused over the years.

But Dollhouse. To be bluntly honest about it, if last night’s episode were exactly the same but not a Joss Whedon creation, I can’t say for sure I’d watch again next week.

The setup — Dusku and others are “Actives,” agents for a secret organization whose personalities have been wiped and are replaced in full by other people’s personalities when sent out on various missions-for-hire — is intriguing. On the meta level, it’s an interesting metaphor for the life of an actor, who (if they’re actually a good actor) goes from personality to personality for different jobs. I can see where Joss thinks he can use the structure to explore issues of identity, what it means, how we interact, how we use each other…thematically, it has a lot of potential.

To me, its great weakness (aside from the fact that it’s on Fox, and their meddling in the show is already as obtrusively obvious as a bumper sticker stuck in the middle of the screen) is that the setup might lend itself overmuch to Dollhouse being an anthology show of a sort, each episode a different kind of story that’s disconnected from the greater story arc, and Echo and the other Actives carrying the series on the weight of ever-shifting personalities. How much, week to week, can Joss make us care about the Actives, who are rarely consistently anyone, and when they are, they’re pliable dullards wandering around a pretty room?

So far, I’m moderately interested in the characters, but I don’t care about them at all.

The first half hour was burdened with exposition, which is to be expected in a pilot, but it also reeked of Fox’s network style. The motorcycle chase was ludicrous and boring, the sexy dancing was obvious (if not, truthfully, unwelcome), and the storytelling was patchy. I suspect the original pilot Joss wrote was superior, and the Fox execs wanted him to “cut to the chase” and “add the sexy,” and forced him to build a Jenga tower with some pieces made of pudding. Unfortunately, the Fox execs aren’t going anywhere, they’ll still be making demands as the show develops, and most of the demands will likely be stupid.

Al the same, it is a Joss Whedon show, so I’m here for the duration, unless it turns really bad. I do think it’ll improve, and I hope that Joss’s intentions play out effectively. There’s potential for all sorts of action and emotion and exploration of human existence and relationships, and I’m sure Joss has lots of twisty ideas to surprise us with. Here’s hoping it all gets really good.