Dollhouse has a chance to be great -- if its pornified promos don't kill it first.
When I pleaded several months ago for readers to watch and save Pushing Daisies and Lipstick Jungle, that was rational, or at least kind of rational, as far as "rational" is defined by a TV-addled entertainment junkie. Those are shows I loved and continue to adore in moratorium (and in limbo for Jungle); shows with season-long legs and existing--if miniscule--fanbases. Shows that had proven their worth, at least to me and a handful of ultimately ineffectual others, with some combination of quality writing, empathetic characterization and stunning visuals--in Daisies, the sets, costumes and cinematography; in Jungle, the designer fashions and Robert Buckley's freshly waxed six-pack.
When I begged readers to embrace Pushing Daisies and Lipstick Jungle, it made sense. Because I had watched those shows from the beginning, and knew them inside out. Now I'm begging you to watch Dollhouse. I've never even seen it. But I'm telling you, it's going to be good.
Premiering 9 p. m. Friday on Fox, Dollhouse is Joss Whedon's latest foray into television, and--before it's even aired--the show seems to be in trouble. Is it cynical to preemptively fight for Dollhouse? Perhaps. But is it warranted? Well, yeah. That's just the state of scripted TV these days, especially for shows that air on trigger-happy Fox (R.I.P. Arrested Development) and shows that challenge viewers' attention-spans and weekly allegiances more than foolproof, episodic whodunnits like CSI and Law & Order, which can be easily and profitably syndicated.
Fox already delayed Dollhouse's premiere once, ordering a rewrite. Now it's chosen to plop in the sci-fi drama as a mid-season replacement during a sleepy Friday night slot. The last time I watched TV on a Friday night, I worshipped D.J. Tanner and crushed hard on Shawn Hunter. I'm not saying no one stays home and boob tubes it at the end of a work week, but most of us, if we're feeling lazy and misanthropic, opt for a free On Demand flick or a DVR-ed Gossip Girl to accompany our exhaustion. Besides TLC's What Not to Wear, weekend TV is kind of a downer.
And for those of us who drink from the Joss Whedon Kool-Aid, Friday night feels especially foreboding. Firefly, Whedon's 2002 space cowboy series, died the quickest of deaths on the very same night on the very same network.
So what's Dollhouse got working against it? Seemingly, a lack of network support, a limited potential viewership (Whedon's always targeted the fringe nerd niche) and the same stuff that's threatening every other show--TiVo, Hulu, YouTube and reality fluff.
But why does Dollhouse deserve a chance?
Because this is Joss Whedon we're talking about. The man who brought us cult classic Buffy the Vampire Slayer, writers strike winner Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, the good parts of Toy Story and Alien: Resurrection.
Like all Whedon projects, Dollhouse is firmly rooted in fantasy, but like Buffy, it's about so much more than the incubi, succubi and everything you've ever dreaded was under your bed but told yourself couldn't be by the light of day.
Buffy alum Eliza Dushku, who hasn't done much with her doe eyes since playing rogue slayer Faith, stars as Echo, some chick who lives in a secret L.A. facility where girls' personalities are wiped clean, and they're reprogrammed and hired out as whoever a client wants them to be--lover, friend, assassin and so on. With its hyper-stylized genre, overarching theme of brainwash and Whedon's well documented feminism driving the action, Dollhouse is ripe for explorations of identity, memory, perversion, inversion and power. It's a fairly silly premise, sure, but then again so was a Valley girl who fights vampires. Great fantasy, after all, is not about the technology or monsters or villainous conspiracies that superficially drive the stories; it's about holding up a mirror to the world, and reflecting and magnifying that world in a very real, very grounded way.
Whedon's work has always bubbled with excitement at empowering the powerless--the petite blonde in the dark alley, the super-geek who can't talk to girls and, now, the blank-slated droid whose body, mind and soul are in the hands of others. So it's interesting the way Fox has chosen to market Dollhouse--in the porniest way possible. Eliza Dushku is all over Maxim, promo photos and banner ads wearing nothing but the skin she was born in, and sometimes, for the kick of it, some barely there skivvies. This makes the show out to be more of a Pam Anderson straight-to-DVD than an intelligent drama helmed by a man who's publically embraced the idea of "womb envy." By attempting to sell Dollhouse as some sort of skeeze-fest for Tucker Max types, Fox is handicapping a show that has the potential to bring in the same kinds of audiences that lap up its unlikely Monday night standouts 24 and House. It's like they're killing off Dollhouse before even giving it a chance.