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