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

TAGS: dollhouse

81 Comments

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  1. From this and what I’ve heard about FOX always tampering with movies, it seems like they are the hardest to work with in the business. Unless I had it in writing that what I envisioned the movie to be was what it would turn out to be, I don’t think I’d ever want to work with FOX if I was a director of a show or a movie.

  2. I definitely agree that dollhouse doesn’t scream whedon like most of his previous works, but it’s getting better. I like the balance.. but the shows missing some snark. Rather, it’s missing a lot of snark.

  3. As I self-described Whedon addict, I have had a very hard time attaching to this show, which is a first for me as I loved Buffy, Angel, Firefly from the beginning of each. Granted his previous shows got even better as they progressed (well Firefly didn’t have any time to progress) but even the first seasons of Buffy and Angel had something to grab onto in pretty much every episode.

    In Dollhouse, I don’t find myself caring about the missions at all. I didn’t care about the hostage one, the hunt of Echo, the bodyguard one, etc. etc. I want to find out about the inner workings of the Dollhouse and all the meaty mythology stuff. The rest of it has me bored to tears.

    For someone who has such a great track record, who else could be to blame besides Fox? Granted, Joss put his name on the product, and even if they imposed certain regulations, he and his writers, directors, actors are the ones creating it, so they’re not totally off the hook either.

    I will say that as a concept, this is much more complicated than Buffy or Angel, so maybe it’s also taking Joss some time to figure out how to pull this off.

    In closing I’d say the main reason that I loved all his earlier shows besides all the great dialog and quirkiness was that I loved and had an attachment for the characters, and up to this point I don’t have any feelings at all for the ones on Dollhouse.

    That needs to change.

  4. I believe we aren’t attached to the characters due to how the show has been reordered and hence, the possible progression of character build wasn’t there like Joss would have liked…

    At least FOX is consistent. Gotta give them that.

    Take a man who puts something together from his heart, then change it and his vision. Nice.. it’s almost like, what’s the point?

    Is FOX FOXing him again?

    So far, it looks that way… once we get past these front 5 epi’s, then I guess we see what Joss really had in mind.

  5. directing issues.
    i think also directing of this show is very flat. anyone else has opinions about directing and/or editing ?
    who is the director ? is it a different one every episode ? one the network brought in ? someone Joss had worked with him before (I also had directing issues with firefly, it just was not inspiring, at all).

  6. It’s certainly a Whedon thing to empower women, even in the fourth Aliens movie you can tell he wrote the script.
    FOX however….

  7. To be honest even with out Fox being involved I wouldn’t be in to this show. I love Joss and support his work, but this is the first time that even the idea is just terrible to me. The entire premise of the show is awful as far as I am concerned and the casting is pretty lame. It’s un-interesting and dull just reading the description of the show and yet even that is still better than actually watching it and it’s ‘supermodel’ cast. Wheadon normally goes for people the represent the world a little better yet the casting in this show has a very hollywood supermodel feel to it.

  8. Personally I LOVE the show so far, I just hope and pray that it doesn’t end up being hacked like Firefly was..

    Whedon might have to end up doing his own web-isodes off hi8s own site to circumvent certain editorial hazards.

    …..but that’s just my opinion….

  9. Watching BSG this friday,
    I will catch it next week.

  10. I am tired of saying this. Yes, ‘Dollhouse’ is creepy. THAT IS THE POINT.

  11. Yeah I gotta help drive home that bit as well, “it is the point.” This show is meant to be creepy, meant to be somewhat sexually exploitive with the skin. Don’t be so sure it was FOX and not Joss who pushed for that ;)

    He’s already stated it’s one of the darkest things he’s ever done, that he may have crossed the line and that the porn-lite promo pics of Echo/Eliza were intentional and meant to make you think.

  12. Last week was the first ep that I really liked, so am looking forward to #6. Fox does have a way of poking their dirty little fingers into shows and then canceling because of low ratings that they bring on. I will stay with Dollhouse until the bitter end because I am blinded by the Joss Whedon name and have loved ALL the other shows. I keep waiting for the Joss I love to show up in this series and want to be there when it happens. I think Buffy tVS was the best series ever on TV.

  13. I don’t like that Dollhouse doesn’t really have a sense of history, definable enemies pushing against it or goal.

    And I really don’t like that it’s an Eliza Dushku show before it’s a Joss Whedon show. The whole set of ideas behind it put you off to it. It’s been what? more than a third of a season through and I still struggle to explain to people (even Joss fans) what the hell the show is about.

    This show just isn’t moving that much at all. It has so much to say, but the things it’s saying just don’t really tend to build right.

    I think part of that is FOX’s limited commercials ruining the episodes. They have to add about 10 more minutes of episode to each one, but story arcs are story arcs…it feels like Joss didn’t want to push things on a quicker pace or anything, so you’ve got 10 minutes of filler and dragging storylines every episode.

    But there’s no charming character in the show. It’s only really shown it’s heart maybe once or twice and is trying it’s best to stay cryptic every episode.

    I think the biggest problem is that joss couldn’t help but have a big cast and couldn’t help but put them to work day one.

    So now we’re left with a bunch of characters who have nothing to do but bide their time until they’re relevant.

    The cop storyline is annoying, because he takes half a baby-step every episode, but gets enough minutes compared to a 40 min show (not a 50) that something should have happened by now.

    Sure echo is making some movement, but…uh…here’s a good example. What if South park the movie was said all the same things it said, but was another half hour longer.

    The show starts choking on pacing, because the filler scenes show. You start checking the clock and wondering what happened. I think, kind of ironically, the longer the episode the more narrow the focus should be.

    I feel like this isn’t a show that needs to check in with everyone. I don’t think every mission needs 35 minutes to itself, but nothing has been built other than them that’s strong enough to merit a longer runtime.

    The saddest thing about Dollhouse, is that if you really took out the parts of the episodes that will move along to the next, affect other characters consistently and matter enough to the overall plot. We’re treated to about 5 minutes per ep (save for #2), which as spaced out as it is, means we still know very little about this show.

    Another good counter-example is cop procedurals. They’re a lot like Dollhouse: a different external plot pulling the story and the characters, fulfilling itself, but not living outside the confines of it’s own episode.

    —The Problem—

    Those episodes have a common nature to them: it’s usually partners who work them. And the whole time you’re finding the limits and strengths of their relationship. It’s only then you stretch out to the other characters, but this is just one person, doing something mostly alone with people who probably won’t be back or affect the rest of the show.

    I hate Dollhouse a bit, but I’ll watch it, because I can feel a strong (or at least better) Season 2, whether it happens or not.

    Will Joss please get Eliza a partner or two, who actually interacts with her??

  14. That’s a well thought out statement Paterick. Thanks for coming by and adding that to the conversation.

    Adam: As far as being exploitive, I am honestly asking this: Did Joss Whedon say that was how he was going to approach the show beforehand, or did this start popping up after the show started getting the pace going?

    I find the timing of some of his statements to be along the lines of a good company man who is toeing the line for his company, making everyone look good. It’s a finicky balance, that’s for sure.

    As far as being creepy, then he’s definitely doing his job at that.

    Now, if we could somehow manage to get Rupert Giles on board as some sort of overseer, or watcher… Hmm, then there’d be a character we’d care about!

    Bring Oz back! They could use a good werewolf story! Oh, oops – I’m merging mythos’ again! Sorry.

    So for the rest of the season, let’s see where this takes us! Who do we end up caring about, or as Paterick notes, still don’t care about?

  15. Mmm…I wouldn’t exactly say that I don’t care about the characters. I mean you see people operate under some heavy situations you got to feel something. Especially since I’m not allowed to stop watching a Whedon show that’s actually still on TV…

    Obviously her handler is the most kick-ass character on the show.

    That’s another thing I didn’t expect. I think my lack of really caring about the characters or maybe just their lack of interaction with one another….either way I couldn’t remember their names for my life. Except for Echo…and Topher. I really dislike Topher, but know he’s a tragedy or two away from changing that.

    Then there’s Amy Acker who I’ve loved since Fred on Angel. I couldn’t even tell you her name in this, past Doc, but she’s been the most solid behind her handler (I lied I’m pretty sure his name is Boyd).

    Anyways the boss…Adelle?…has been real solid, but she just doesn’t have much of anything to do. I feel like any of the characters in the show could reallllly open up once they, i dunno, follow one of these people home.

    There are so many things I never expected in place in this show, that just keeps these characters from opening up. The fact that we only ever see most of them in one of two ways: inside the Dollhouse or panicking [[by themselves]] to deal with Echo’s new problem.

    Don’t get me wrong, they are making strides to change that. They’re starting to get personal like Victor’s man-reaction for Sierra (maybe i know a couple names. sue me). And everything Amy Acker does is always personal to me. Boyd hit the ground running with the personal-ness.

    Echo has made some strong strides, but I just feel like this can’t be the Echo show. It’s about the Dollhouse and all of these people. She can be the star of the show, but the other characters NEED to be built up enough that when her character starts to really come together, you’re not wondering who are these assholes running around with their tails between their legs.

    That last little part, I don’t think I mean as much, because after the incredible episode #2, I think they could fix a lot of that in a couple episodes, if this show really is about to get good.

    Fox–err Time will tell.

  16. I can’t believe you gave away who’s playing Alpha. I’m an episode behind in my viewing so I don’t know if they’ve already shown his face at this point, but I’d managed to remain spoiler-free up until reading this article. GRR. Thanks a lot. How about a warning at the top of the article next time?

    That said, if that’s really who’s playing Alpha… Unbelievably Awesome. :)

    As for your question, I really do blame FOX. When are they going to learn not to tamper too much with his vision? Give Joss Whedon a chance. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, and that will be his to own up to, but if you tamper with his ideas from the very start, how will audiences ever really get to see the intended product? Maybe it would have wow’ed viewers more than what FOX insisted upon. I know that’s definitely the case for me regarding Firefly — I thought “The Train Job” (FOX’s choice for a ‘pilot’ episode) was generally entertaining, but if they’d allowed Joss’ original pilot to air first, I would have connected with the show a whole lot more than I did. “Serenity parts 1 & 2″ was a far better introduction to all the characters and what the world was about. I found myself falling in love with the characters after watching that episode; with Train Job I was merely amused and mildly confused.

    How will we ever know if people would have gravitated toward Dollhouse in higher numbers if they’d just left Joss alone to do what he’d planned? If this show gets cancelled, FOX network has only themselves to blame for once again jumping the gun and tampering where they shouldn’t.

    Give Joss room to be creative — he won’t let you down!

  17. Alpha won’t be revealed until the final episode of the season, so yes that was a MAJOR spoiler.

  18. Sorry, revealing a cast members actual name is not a spoiler.
    Its not like Bruce shoehorned Alphas backstory into the article .
    Good article Bruce .

  19. Um, wrong it is a spoiler if Joss is doing everything in his power to keep it a secret.

    Did you happen to notice how AT’s name is never mentioned in the cast, and Alpha’s face is always hidden?

    Do you think this is accidental?

  20. Mmm. I think the problems with the show is that none of the characters have a history that the show is willing to explain at all. It kinda feels like when someone says, “Oh you don’t know what that is?” and then proceeds to not tell you what ‘it’ is just past the point where it’s funny anymore and slowly moving towards starting to get really annoying.

    It’s the reason people slowly either stopped watching Lost or only feel like watching the whole season once the DVD is out.

    Firefly had a big amount of history. If the show would’ve started day one when Kayleigh started out and Jayne just betrayed his way onto the ship, I don’t think it would’ve been that good. Angel had a ridiculous amount of history to start, but it still let it all set in, in it’s own time. Buffy didn’t so she started making some lore day one and kept pulling people into it until she had a crew.

    Dollhouse has none of those things.

    It would’ve been better if we had a sense for just how long Eliza’s been doing this, or better yet, if they had stolen Joss’ own idea and started her out like River where she re-pieces her past and takes you along through these different missions she did in the past. That way we’d know that the things that happened in each mission [[mattered]] at all in the future.

    It also would’ve been better if there was a leader. Mal, Angel, Buffy: all leaders. They didn’t have to be the center of attention every episode, but they were who you’d always want to get input from or turn to in a time of need. —So far Echo has to be the most compromised leader I’ve ever seen on a show.—

    I mean all the hype they say goes…well you see even though her character changes every episode, you get these glimpses that she’s one person more and more every episode…That’s a glimpse or two every 50 minute episode instead of a whole aspect of a character through a 40 minute episode: Brilliant.

    Alright, I’m gonna take a step back, because I’m getting angry at I show I want to promote people to start or keep watching, but seriously this is worst than the Lost effect. This isn’t asking 2 new and answering 1 question a week. This is asking a question a week and answering none, but somehow pushing 50 whole minutes out. ahhhhh.

    That’s the thing I can’t stand, everytime I think to myself damn, I’ve seen so much of this show so far and nothing has still come together.

    These episodes seem to only be as important as the characters who aren’t actives make them. That is why they’re so g-damn important. They’re the ONLY frame of reference we have.

    The wood hunting episode was so good, because Boyd was an incredible frame of reference. He did it again for the blind cult episode. He kicks @ss. Topher was the pivot (because he was supposed to validate the threat sent out by Alpha) of the botched heist ep and it got off on the wrong foot, because of that. Topher sucks.

    When Amy Acker’s Doc manages to pivot an ep, I got a good mind to think it’s gonna go great (with alliteration). I want this show to go great and it’s not enough to give answers. Even if they started revealing some of these secrets, I don’t think that would do it. It’s the unique relationships that grow between Joss’ characters that makes his shows great. And that’s EACH relationship. It’s not ok this is everyone in reference to how they serve, manipulate or govern over Echo. They gotta start interacting with eachother more considering Echo is gone most of the time.

    REVELATION?

    This is why Angel would’ve sucked if the whole thing was from Wolfram and Hart’s perspective -minus any Joss wit that you could expect.

    Dollhosue is a less personal Angel being watched from Wolfram and Hart circa Year One, maybe Two. It hurts.

  21. This supposedly big secret has been all over the internet for a month now.
    Including Alan Tudyk fansites.

  22. I’d make a blog about Serenity, if I was a bit more inspired. I think if this week’s episode goes as well as you say, I might just have to…

    But God help Joss if Dollhouse get’s canned after that happens, cuz I told you I’d be back. (When he was at the Apple Store in SoHo i got a pic of me punching him out, he’s the man btw)

  23. Yes it has been, and that’s the world we live in today where stuff like this does get out. However, every site where I’ve seen it has had a spoiler warning attached to these articles, so people could at least choose whether or not they wanted to read it.

    But the point is Joss did not want us to find out until he did the reveal himself, hence all the secrecy.

    I already knew, so no biggie for me. But it sounds like Sherry has been avoiding spoilers. So for people like her, it would’ve been prudent to include a warning. Especially since it was just thrown in so nonchalantly, and his identity had absolutely nothing to do with the topic of the article.

  24. I do apologize for the SPOILER. In my happenstance way, since I had reported the identity of who’s playing Alpha back in February, I overlooked the idea that anyone could be surprised by old news.

    And like it’s been mentioned, it’s everywhere.

    So sorry.

  25. I’m having issues getting to the control panel. As soon as that is resolved, I will annotate the spoiler warning.

    My curiosity is this though: How is an actor portraying a role, a spoiler? It’s an interesting aspect that I have never considered, considering how announcing who plays a role in a show is tantamount to generating interest with that actors fan base.

    Thanks for your patience gang…

  26. Like I said, I already knew it was Tudyk, but if I didn’t know it would’ve been a really cool moment when they finally did the reveal, hence why I’m sorry I found out early.

    Sticking with the Whedonverse, I could kinda compare it to when Lindsay came back in season 5 of Angel, and they did the big reveal at the end of the episode with he and Eve in bed together… if I already knew Christian Kane was in that particular episode, it would’ve totally ruined what was a really shocking sequence.

    And this would’ve been a surprise totally ruined by finding out the casting, hence it would be a major spoiler.

    I mean there’s a reason Joss didn’t put Alan Tudyk all over the promos and whatnot for the show. He had to know people would love to see Alan, so the fact that he totally kept it under wraps means he had a reason for doing so, and that’s all part of the storytelling…

    That’s just my 2 cents…

  27. Apparently its considered a spoiler
    because Whedon was trying to keep it a secret.
    But Whedon was probably keeping it a secret for the Firefly fans ,
    But to non Whedon fans the reveal will mean ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.
    so,I dont get it either.

  28. I think my mistake was that when I saw the news of who Alpha was, it was stated (paraphrased) “Now that XXXX is able to say so, he is playing… blah blah blah.”

    To me, that meant the studio gave the info release a green light to let it out of the bag.

    I adjusted the post to warn folks about the spoiler, just in front of the break.

  29. I agree. I didn’t know til about 20 seconds ago. Thanks…

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