Sunday, March 15, 2009


I've finally caught up with Joss Whedon's Dollhouse, thanks to, and I'm not sure what I think of the show.

On one hand, it's nicely crafted (as are all of Mr. Whedon's creations) with a sense of place & style that immediately mark it as a cousin to Buffy, Angel & Firefly. It's good to see Amy Adams & Eliza Dushku again (both had big roles in the Buffyverse). The plots don't always go in the direction you'd expect and there are Whedon-esque moments of humor.

On the other hand, it's a show about wiping people's personalities & hiring them out to do darn near anything, legal and illegal. There are some pretty heavy duty ethical, philosophical & theological problems raised - which, to their credit, the writers & creators are attempting to grapple with in small, bite-sized pieces. As I'll refer to at the end of this post, I'm not sure they're going to be given the time to work through all of that - which makes the show feel more exploitative than their intentions.

For long-time fans of Joss Whedon, a lot of this is familiar territory. The Dollhouse reminds me of a cross between Angel's hotel and the offices of Wolfram & Hart, while the cast mix of butt-kicking central character surrounded by a variety of supporting characters with a multitude of agendas plus someone on the outside searching for that central character feels like an echo (ha! unintended show reference) of earlier Whedon works:
  • River & the crew of the Firefly + the Alliance bounty hunters
  • Angel & the crew of Angel Investigations + Wolfram & Hart/Daniel Holtz/etc.
  • Buffy & the Scoobies + any number of "Big Bad"s

Is this a bad thing? I don't think so. The reason Whedon returns over & over to this formulation is that it allows for a wide variety of story angles & arcs. He can flesh out both good & bad characters, allowing for gradations of motives & actions that give an unreal situation real resonance.

The problem for Dollhouse is that the mythology is developing too slowly for people to give it a chance... back in the day (see: the first couple of seasons of the X-Files), off-beat shows were given appropriate time to grow & flower. But when shows as wonderful as Firefly or Pushing Daisies get bumped off the air and/or relegated to crappy time slots (like 9 pm on Friday nights, where Dollhouse lives), it's unlikely that this newest show will be given the opportunity to shine.

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