After months of preemptive scrutiny and speculation Joss Whedon’s newest show is up for inspection.

By Paul F. Montgomery
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 8 | Posted Mar. 10, 2009

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Fridays, 9pm, FOX

After months of preemptive scrutiny and speculation Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse is up for inspection. Eliza Dushku reunites with Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel) to play Echo, a fully programmable human-for-hire. Call it a genre procedural with Echo (and Dushku) taking on a completely new role each week, from hostage negotiator to pop star bodyguard to art thief. Between shifts she’s degaussed and free to wander through the secret facility with other blank-faced, pajama-bottomed “Actives.” It’s a twisted zombie slumber party. Meanwhile, federal agent Paul Ballard (Battlestar Galactica’s Tahmoh Peniket) scours the underworld for information about the covert organization, largely considered an urban legend.

Visually, Dollhouse gleams with a polish rarely seen in a Whedon production. It’s slicker. Sexier. Four episodes in and we’re looking at a Malibu Dream House in all it’s pink plastic glory. But it doesn’t quite feel like home. While I miss the mutant mayhem and otherworldliness of his previous offerings, what I really long for are those cheap foam costumes and crappy sets.

What’s lacking here is that handmade quality that lent shows like Firefly and Buffy a kind of intimacy; the focus was placed squarely on the characters and performances.

Of course, there are cracks in the veneer in Dollhouse, from the facial scarring of Dr. Saunders (a visibly bored Amy Acker) to those brief instances of Echo’s recognition in her supposedly vapid tabula rasa state.

Even with these hints of departure from the status quo, I’ve never been hungrier for a show to break down. Not cancellation, but a complete collapse of its own high concept. Echo’s weekly reinvention sounds amusing on paper, but in execution it’s already getting stale. It’s still early, but I wonder if this slow burn has any slack left in its fuse. The breakdown is inevitable, but are we (or the network) willing to ride it out?

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Comments 1 - 8 of 8
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1. Caroline said... on Mar 10, 2009 at 09:19PM

“Excellent review! I'm enjoying the show for what it is, but I think you're right on. The subtexts are intriguing, but right now the surfaces are dominating everything.”

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2. Dave Carr said... on Mar 10, 2009 at 09:23PM

“I agree. I miss the sense of overarching narrative in the show. I'm also not sold on Dushku as a lead. There is a part of me that believes she's been cast out of equal parts loyalty and sex appeal. This is not to say that she isn't trying; the effort is here the craft and maturity isn't.

One of the hallmarks of the Whedon experience is the ensemble nature of his casts. That too, is missing here. A cancellation might be best. At least then the ideas, which are provocative in premise, can be retooled in a future project.”

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3. Paul W said... on Mar 10, 2009 at 09:25PM

“Well said. I am a die hard Whedon fan and Dushku fan and Amy Acker fan and well you get the point. However for some reason this show has had a hard time ropeing me in. I think as you say its the show's weekly reinvention and the longing for cheap foam costumes that keeps me at a distance.”

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4. cmwnyc said... on Mar 10, 2009 at 09:28PM

“Interesting review! While I do like the show, I can't disagree with much you have written. I also agree that the show needs to leave it's starting premise behind fairly quickly in order to really succeed, but I think that it is going to happen sooner rather than later. Four episodes in and there are already cracks in Echo's tabula rasa state, and, interestingly, the "Uh oh, her imprint got wiped during a mission!" twist that would seem an obvious plot point to happen eventually has been gotten out of the way already. I'd be very surprised if the status quo of dollhouse and imprinting wasn't upset by the end of this first half season. I just hope it makes it long enough to see.”

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5. Dan said... on Mar 10, 2009 at 09:32PM

“You pretty much sum it up. Good concept, poor execution...I think the idea would have worked better as a feature or mini-series, rather than a full-blown series, although time will tell.”

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6. Casey Retrop said... on Mar 10, 2009 at 09:35PM

“Top notch review. I've not watched the program myself but I've considered checking it out.”

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7. brainhound said... on Mar 10, 2009 at 10:05PM

“What is up with the Amy Acker thing? Yes, she is playing traumatized and afraid or bitter but I agree she comes off bored and pointless. Angel, Buffy and Firefly all had a bigger picture component but they grabbed us right away because we fell for the characters. The big picture was great but in the end didn't matter as long as we had Whedon's peeps. In Dollhouse (at least at this point) there is no one to like let alone love. The answer to the last question is the network will not and we will not get a chance. Fox may order round of seven because of the Firefly failure and some commitment to Whedon but 14 will not be enough.”

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8. Conor said... on Mar 11, 2009 at 12:49AM

“Joss Whedon's greatest strength? Casting. This show's greatest weakness? The cast.”


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