Is ‘Dollhouse’ About To Get Good?

Published 5 years ago by , Updated March 19th, 2009 at 9:55 pm,

dollhouse03 Is Dollhouse About To Get Good?

“What was that?”

That is the last line uttered in the Joss Whedon movie, Serenity. It can also be applied to the new Joss Whedon show, Dollhouse, a show that seems to have been heavily tampered with by FOX, from what I can tell.

I envision that final line as being something Joss finds himself continually asking every time someone from a studio wants to change his vision. And it takes a strong kind of character for a man to have his vision he’s worked hard at, be mucked with.

DANGER, DANGER: CAST SPOILER ALERT IN THE SECTION: “Despite the Studio Interference” after the break.

Though the ratings for Dollhouse have been spiraling, that downward trend seems to have slowed: an estimated 4.42 million viewers tuned in to the broadcast last Friday. However, alhough this idea of Dollhouse might have spawned from the mind of Joss Whedon, this has not been his presentation style so far.

Joss Whedon himself says that the first few episodes were baby steps and that the episodes coming up, “Man on the Street” (airing March 20) and “Needs” (April 3), will be representing a stronger vision of what he himself considers the show to be about. I hope so.

If I am to read between the lines from this and other articles, I’d say that the show has been mucked with pretty badly from some other angle. In fact, the first 5 episodes were more from FOX than from Whedon himself, as they were formatted at the dictation of FOX… no… really… FOX mucked with Whedon’s show. Yea, I can hardly believe it myself. (Heavy dose of sarcasm dripping from my monitor right about now.)

My Clues To FOX’s Interference

I didn’t need anyone to tell me that FOX stuck their fingers in Joss’s cookie jar.

Joss Whedon’s style does not consist of heavily-glossed-over, sex appeal imagery of women. In fact he empowers them, not weakens them with cheap sex appeal that distracts from the story. Either that or he kills them off (IE: Cabin In The Woods).

In Buffy The Vampire Slayer or its spin-off Angel, it wasn’t all legs and bare midriffs. Dr Horrible’s Sing Along Blog didn’t have an overdose of skin. And in Firefly or Serenity, sex appeal was suggested in the classiest of fashions with the subtly hot Morena Baccarin (Inara), while Summer Glau is just a given: hot.

Yet, considering how much skin has been pushed onto the screen for Dollhouse, it feels like FOX had absolutely no faith in Whedon as they tried to snag the male viewer with whatever they could muster within limits. Thank god there are limits! Either way, this product on FOX can’t be his doing… of that I am sure, not matter what he says in interviews.

dollhouse scene 18pt 19 7210 Is Dollhouse About To Get Good?

Episode Order Mucked With Again?

Yet again, episode order is some sort of issue. The order of the episodes seem to be in question as I come across numerous sites where folks are pointing out how the numbering of the episodes are not consistent with their order of air dates. It’s been claimed that the episodes were written in such a way that order did not matter in the airing. Good thinking Joss!!!

Despite The Studio Interference

Despite the episode ordering, Dollhouse still confuses and creeps me out. The premise of the actives is weird; the processes behind how they program the actives is freaky, and their simple-minded existence between assignments just tweaks me out. Kind of reminds me of some dates I’ve had!

[BEGIN CASTING SPOILER]

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We have the Dollhouse. we have the renegade active, Alpha (Alan Tudyk), starting to step up his aggravation. We have the security chief Laurence Dominic (Reed Diamond), whose concerns are driving his actions in an insidious fashion as we saw last week. Now we’ve recently found out they have a high powered politician in the picture. And the most interesting aspect is that Echo (Eliza Dushku) is starting to remember things.

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[END SPOILER]

The show is interesting, but not interesting enough to nab a massive amount of viewers. I’m going to use my hindsight glasses and make some conjecture on what I would’ve done to make the show more digestible or interesting from the get-go.

How Would I Fix It? (If I had the chance)

First, I wouldn’t have hit the viewer up front with the Dollhouse. I would have focused on Echo’s assignments at first. I mean come on, the viewers didn’t get it with My Own Worst Enemy, and that only dealt with 2 personalities.

Next, I would’ve introduced Echo’s handler, Boyd Langton (Harry Lennix) and the odd way that she always recognizes him.

By the third episode, I would’ve introduced the process of a client hiring Echo. At this point, I would add FBI Agent Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett) looking for this missing person.

After that, I would have introduced the Dollhouse, the processes, and then all the cloak-and-dagger corporate stuff (IE: Alpha).

But that’s just me. I’m leery of the Nielsen families and their inability to absorb intricate details and I would have layered this story more slowly than it was.

tahmoh penikett Is Dollhouse About To Get Good?

On The Mark Or What?

I never want to say that I’m trying to second guess Joss Whedon. No way, no how! I’m just having fun conjecturing. How do you feel about how poorly Dollhouse is doing in the live viewing ratings? Is it FOX or is it the premise of the show?

If you had to pick one, which would it be? I’m not saying it is one OR the other, but just for fun. And please folks, let’s keep the banter to the fun stuff! We all have perspectives to share and seeing them is really the fun stuff!

Sources: Media week, TV Guide

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  1. I dunno, Longfellow, we might have to send you to the attic. ;-) Apology accepted. That’s very interesting about writers being frustrated by viewers’ interpretations of what they are doing. (I do get this a bit… I remember being at a Buffy conference where a fan bitterly complained about the character of Buffy’s mother leaving the show, and I said, “Well, the actress wanted to move out of the country!” The fan did not want to hear about how reality was impinging on the show). My point was just that Whedon fans are generally well-informed, and a lot of what they say isn’t “guesswork” but based on reading interviews with the people behind the scenes.

  2. And some of it is how we, the viewer may interpret or relate to what we think we see in a story, character or visuals presented to us also.

    Attic… ouch. Then Longfellow would be no fun if he didn’t have an opinion! We like different opinions here. That’s the fun of it. Being presented with different ways people perceive things and maybe seeing something in a different light other than your own… even if mine is right all the time…

    [ that was humor... thought i'd say that before i got sent to the attic! ]

  3. Yikes–the attic! Ouch. Spare me MaryShellye, I know what your namesake did with spare parts…

    : )

    Thanks, Bruce. Now I know better. Uh, maybe..

    Let’s get back to the show, shall we?

    I am admiring it. What I find maddening is the see-saw in script quality–don’t know how many total writers they have, but there seem to be a lot, and some are better than others. A lot better.

    Would love to get my hands on the show’s Bible and see how much leeway they’re given. Seems like some episodes affect the DH universe and others are stand-alone stories without resonance for the overall story–those are the ones I like the least.

    I’m not a Whedon Universe guy–if I tell you what I thought of Firefly (the feature film) you’ll DEFINITELY send me to the attic!–but I am curious to know if he generally weaves in endings. If DH is canceled, will he wrap it up?

    And as for Eliza: the girl likes to show off, and men everywhere are grateful. She has a nude photo in ALLURE magazine and a startling near-naked moment in the NOBEL SON trailer, for those interested. (It’s not like I follow her or anything.) I like the idea of strong women embracing their beauty and sexuality instead of being victimized by it. Of course that assumes I can tell the difference. What say you?

  4. Yes, there are definitely many writers, but a lot of them – Craft and Fain, Tim Minear, and Steven DeKnight – are people who wrote for Joss on Angel. There are also some names I don’t recognize.

    I totally agree with you about the stand-alone eps being the least interesting. I thought the first four were surprisingly formulaic, and I suspect that had more to do with the tug-of-war with Fox and the show finding its feet than the strengths of the various writers. In my mind, Joss’ specialties are wit, humanity, addressing moral issues, major shifts in tone within episodes, and the development of complex mythologies. None of the earliest episodes exhibited any of those qualities, but we have started to see them emerging over the season. It almost feels like a different show at this point, doesn’t it?

    For more on the Fox tug-of-war, check this out: http://whedonesque.com/comments/17945

    I didn’t care much for Serenity (the Firefly movie) either… it’s one of my least favorite Joss projects. The place to start is with Season 2 Buffy, when it has hit its stride. (Season 1 has great stuff but is a little too campy). Both seasons are available free on Hulu.

    To answer your question, yes, Joss is conscious of endings. Buffy was originally a mid-season replacement, and because he didn’t know if it would be picked up again, he wrote the season so that it could stand on its own if it got cancelled.

  5. Lots of interesting points in this discussion :)

    I dont like Dollhouse personally, trying to explain why is more difficult, at least if trying to keeping it short, hehe.

    I’ve seen the first 5 episodes, and its been a rather bumpy ride. Eliza Dushku is in my opinion just an average actress, with far too much of “oh look at how sexy i am” to manage to take her seriously. Even playing characters of vastly different personalities, i find her very one dimensional, and she just..well.. cant pull it off i guess.

    The rest of the cast (that i’ve seen) is very stereotypical, the other dolls that have emerged (Sierra and Victor) are lacklustre and badly portrayed.. rather, their screen presence is (actors are second rate, at best). This is something i’d expect to find in your average Arnold movie (all muscles, no brain), not in an ongoing TV series.

    The head of security is on a personal vendetta, and spewing out bad one liners while doing it (while failing of course).

    The “genious” behind the programming is a bad copy of the lab guy in CSI: Las Vegas (cant remember his name), just switched from medical machinery to the “programming chair” used in Dollhouse.

    And so on and so on.

    Now to what i actually like.

    Echo’s handler is doing an excellent job acting his role, as is the doctor in the Dollhouse. They are two characters i find “believable”, other than that, i find the entire cast extremely uninspiring, and the stories told are also dull and predictable (there are a few twists, but by and large its very very predictable).

    Seeing Alpha would be very interesting though, if i make it that far (love the actor portraying him, and is interested in seeing his take on it).

  6. Can we stop drinking the Whedon Kool aide!!

    I love Buffy and Angel but even in those show I saw story structure flaws that proved that Joss doesn’t walk on water.
    Why is it in everyone one of these kind of posts it’s Studio’s bad Whedon Good. Could we step back and maybe consider that some of the blame could fall on GASP…JOSS WHEDON! Buffy was an idea that he molded over several years while Dollhouse was something he came up with in the bathroom and got immediately green lighted for development. Plus lets not forget all the time he wasted on that idiotic writers strikes that he could have use to flesh out his concept. It would proably be time better spent to focus less on FOX and more on the true problem with the show Eliza Dushku. Episode after Episode it’s become painfully obvious that she doesn’t have the chopped to carry a show and her supporting cast isn’t up to par either(I dare you to find a Spike, Xander or Willow in the bunch).

    I think the show has potential but so far this is not Whedon best work and it gonna to a lot more work (I’m looking at you Joss) and less finger pointing to make this show Buffy worhty.

  7. Haha, Dusty Stepp, you had me going there.
    “Maybe some blame needs to fall on Joss Whedon”, lol. Do you do stand-up too?

    Joss Whedon IS a God. The only reason Dollhouse is failing is because:
    A) Dushku is decent enough, but cannot carry a show that is DEPENDANT on incredible acting skills to make it successful. (I agree with you there)
    B)It wasn’t just Joss’s concept, it was Dushku’s too (In fact, I think it was HERS to begin with, wasn’t it?)
    C)It just needed time to get going, just like Buffy’s first season.

    And what are these flaws in Buffy you speak of? I’m intrigued…

  8. I disagree on Whedon being god, but we’ll just have to agree to disagree there i think, hehe.

    I see Dushku as an average actress, sure, she can play on a couple of strings, but when the role requires her to play on 10 different ones to make it in the least beliavable, she fails utterly. That the show mostly revolves completely around her just compounds the problem, and makes it glaringly obvious that she is, de facto, the number one show killer in the series.

    I seem to recall to have read that it was Eliza’s idea, that she pitched to Joss over lunch one day. I dont know any of them though, so thats very second hand info.

    The show doesnt “need time to get going”, its in fact been going downhill very steeply ever since they started airing it, hehe. In fairness though, the actors of Sierra and Victor have improved a lot, sadly the same cannot be said of Dushku. A lot of the writing i also find subpar.

    The one very positive thing in the series has to be Alan Tudyk. He did an absolutely magnificent job portraying Alpha.

  9. Yeah these show would work alot better if it was more of a essemble piece. To add to the FOX screwing Joss angle why dosen’t Joss just go to cable. The success of Battlestar shows that cable and syndication is far friendlier to sci fi and Joss seems a bright enough guy to figure that out(oh wait he supported the writers strike).

    As far as the flaws of Buffy well I give you a short list and the expand on them later in week. But I’ll give you just enough to piss you off.

    Here they are

    Willow going Gay(not that there anything wrong with it:)

    The wish wash way he handle xander( and most of the men on the show)

    the nearly cowardess way he avoided dealing with Christianity

    Little Sister Dawn

  10. Placid: By “get-going” I mean in terms of seasons, like Buffy season 1 was quite slow, but picked up momentum and quality in the next and later seasons. Which may be what Dollhouse needs and can do if given the chance.

    Dusty: I mean WTF? Those points are ridiculous, unless you expand on them somemore.
    Willow going gay? What’s the problem? It deepened her character.

    “Wish-wash way he handled Xander” – Please explain because I do not know what on earth you are talking about. He had a lot of his own episodes.

    Christianity? In an occult show? Please.

    Dawn – I agree with you there. After season 5, she was utterly intolerable.

    Maybe not a perfect show then but damned good – best I’ve ever seen for sure.

    Just enough to piss me off. Well done – mission accomplished :) (especially the Christianity thing…)

  11. I an mot a big Xander fan, I mean really, with friends like that who needs enemies.

    Dawn, get out, GET OUT, GET OUT, got very old, very quick.

    I did like Anya, loved her take on life in general, she was so clueless.

    If it had not been for Angelus in season 2 and Spike the last 4 I would not have stayed with the show. Loved the humor in 4, laugh out loud funny.

    I have liked Dollhouse ep 6 on, I just don’t think Eliza is believable enough to pull off all her different characters, same person, different clothes. There are actors that can change into the character and make you not even see the real actor, look at Amy Acker as Fred/Illyria and in DH or Alex O’Loughlin in Moonlight, Feed, and Mary Bryant, all totally different. I was never a big SMG fan, the only time, IMO, she was really good was when she was playing against David or James. The only movie I have seen with her that I liked was The Return, in fact I even bought that one.

    I just finished watching Firefly and Serenity again and if Spike had not been in Buffy I would be saying FF was my favorite Whedon series, but in any case I would be happy to watch water boil if it was a Joss show, just because you never know what kind of twist and turns you are going to get.

  12. I knew my points needed expanded I just didn’t haven’t the time to go into them.

    I have no problem with willow being gay it’s just how it was developed seemed contrived. There was very little in the three seasons before to indicated that Willow was anything but heterosexual. But then Seth Green decides he wants a film career and BAM…Willow a lesbian. If after Tara died they had play up Willow as Bi sexual instead of straight lesbian then it would have been more believable.

    Also just because it’s a occult show doesn’t mean you can avoid the elephant in the room. That didn’t have to be pro Christian but they had to at least acknowledge its existence especially since they used crucifixes as weapons

  13. @Steve : ahhh, oki :)

    Guess we’ll find out in a few days if it gets a second season or not :)

  14. Xander was Buffy’s strongest friend in my opinion.
    Look at all he did for her throughout the years, namely the speech in season 7, defends her from “unsuitably boyfriends”, always supports her etc. Not to mention he brought her back to life – TWICE!
    Oh yeah, and he had that little crush on her that time…
    What do you mean???

    Dawn – I can’t defend – and no-one should.

    Willow – It was just about embracing relationships – no matter how frowned upon they may be. It was Joss’s way of stating: If it’s love-it’s love!
    Really it’s also a positive message the show was promoting:
    1. Pro-Feminism
    2. Pro-Homosexuality
    3. Anti-guns etc etc

    I think the strengths of the show, why I like it so much anyways, was that on the surface, it’s just some midly scary teen drama. But it’s SO much more than that. If you look deeper, there is a metaphor in all/most of the episodes. Just listen to the commentaries if your unsure.
    The show went to places that no other show had taken the risk to go beforehand. It experimented with different styles and deviated from the same old dreck the other networks weere churning out at the time. (From the silent episode, to the musical, the peotics of Restless and beauty of Becoming/The Gift etc)
    Not to mention the colourful and rich cast of characters and top-notch actors. Seriously, the whole show is wonderfully cast (except for Graham, don’t even go there…)

    Best show ever, if only for the risks it took. Joss Whedon is a God.

  15. The thing I love about Buffy is you not only have to watch, but read between the lines. Like when Spike shows Buffy the handcuffs and ask her “Do you trust me” she says “never”, but later when she is talking to Tara you see her trying to hide the bruises on her wrist. Or when Spike & Buffy are setting on the porch after she had told him she did not want to talk about what was wrong, in the next ep Spike tells Riley he is surprised that he does not know that Mom is sickly and having test in the hospital. Spike tells him he knew about it since “last night”. Every time I watch this series I see things I missed the first dozen times I watched. Love the way they took William’s poem that was laughed at and made it a hit in season 5 of Angel. I watched Angel first and was getting answers to questions I did not have, so had to get Buffy.

    Sorry I just was never a Xander fan, he wanted her to kill Angel so did not tell her that Willow was trying to get his soul back. He was great to Buffy as long as things went his way. He hated Spike and let’s face it that would be enough for me to not like him.

    Joss can always find the best writers, directors, stunt people and actors..he does not mind telling a story that makes you think instead of being a zombie in front of the TV.

    Here is hoping that FOX understands that this time and will give Dollhouse time to get going. They screwed up with Firefly, don’t do it again.

  16. I agree, Eliane. You do see things/interpret things differently with each viewing, even after 6 years after the show finished!

    Xander hated Angel for good reason.
    And he didn’t tell Buffy Willow was trying to restore his soul because Angel was trying to open the gate to Hell! Of course, if Buffy killed him then the world, and she, would be better off. He was only thinking about the greater good. Plus he didn’t like Angel anyways lol.
    Plus how could you NOT like the Xand-man??? He had the best lines in th show and Nicholas Brendon is just naturally likeable. Just watch The Zeppo and The Replacement.

    As for Dollhouse, I do feel that it is the weakest Whedon show, merely because of the poor early episodes and Dushku. But I do hope it gets renewed. To have another stab at it – and of course another chance to see the manical Alpha!

    I am ashamed to say I have not yet got round to watching Firefly :( I just haven’t had the time…in 4 years lol.

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