Is ‘Dollhouse’ About To Get Good?

Published 6 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!






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.






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
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  1. I didn’t know about Alan either. :-(

  2. I haven’t hated DH. It’s not a bad show, it’s just not a standout show. But it has gotten better. It seems as though its gotten better the closer its gotten to the original idea Wheadon was looking for.

    I’m still really curious about the backstory, the rest of that universe and Wheedon’s continuing statements that things are about it kick into high gear.

    Truth or hype, though? Truth or hype?

  3. Jody: Your closing inquiry is indeed, a good question to ponder.

  4. Thanks, Bruce. I appreciate the change. (Too late for me, heh, but maybe someone else will be glad for the warning.)

    I think it’s because Joss has made such a big deal about keeping the character a secret in the episodes I’ve seen thus far. Alpha’s back is always to the camera, face never seen. That led me to believe I shouldn’t know about it ahead of time, that it was going to be a big reveal eventually (which would be ruined for me as a viewer if I knew about it ahead of time).

    I do get Gary’s point about how it probably isn’t as big a deal to people who aren’t Firefly fans, because they don’t know Alan’s history with Joss, but I do think knowing too much ahead of time can spoil (hence the word) the fun of viewing such a ‘who’s it going to be when he finally turns around?’ in the moment, you know what I mean?

    Plus, I tend to avoid articles (or sections of articles) that contain spoilers, so even if it’s been all over the ‘net, I haven’t seen or read about it. I know it must seem like such an oddity to even try to avoid news like that, given how much such topics get talked about and analyzed to death online these days, but I find the more I know ahead of time, the less I enjoy the episode. I like to be surprised. And sometimes I think the more we know ahead of time, the less we’re able to really connect and get in deep with the characters and what’s happening on screen because we’re too busy waiting for the ‘big moment’ we heard was going to occur in that night’s episode.

  5. Folks, take notes! Sherry put it eloquently enough to now make me feel guilty about it… Dang!! I didn’t think I had a guilt nerve in me.

    Nice write up Sherry… I’m going now, head hung low… feeling bad that I messed it up for everyone.

  6. Oh no, Bruce! I didn’t mean to make you feel guilty! Now whose head is hung low? ;)

    If I may press my luck (and the point itself) one more time, however, I will say that I’m amused by some people’s posts regarding how this info is all over the ‘net (so clearly I should already know this stuff, heh). Even though we may want to, not all of us have the time to check out every single site and every article, or even have the knowledge of everything that’s available out there. For example, this is my very first visit to I didn’t know it was here before! I just happened to click to this specific article as it was mentioned with a link on another site, and I thought it might be an interesting read. (It was, by the way.)

    In fact, because I forgot to say it before, I thought it was a thought-provoking article that raised interesting questions. I’ll be curious to see what you have to say as the series continues (I’m hoping it will continue!). And I’ll definitely be coming back to this site because I like your writing style.

    And Rob? Nice Lindsay analogy. I know what you mean.

  7. Well then, welcome to Screen Rant Sherry!

    Everyone – say hi!

    And that’s another good point you make – despite this info being all over the net, not everyone sees that because they only go to specific sites.


    Fascinating – I am writing an article now on spoilers and that is an interesting new wrinkle in my thought process… thanks!

    -And thanks for the kudos Sherry.

  8. I think Paterick’s added some really good comments to this article, and agree with most of what’s been said.

    Adding to the problem with the lack of even hint of backstory of these characters – with the other shows there was so much intrigue. Gyles’ backsstory in buffy that never got told, the way the blue-hands were introduced in firefly, the mysterious senior partners in Angel. There’s not a single character yet that I’m intrigued about.

    But for me the biggest problem so far is the lack of wit. Whedon’s dialogue in his other shows is I think some of the best TV dialogue we’ve seen. The bantering he had his characters do with each other was enough to keep watching them.

    Nobody’s bantering, nobody’s funny. I don’t want this to be a comedy but the promise of some witty dialogue is what made me start watching this show in the first place.

  9. This just in


    ELIZA DUSHKU is in this show.

  10. Daniel F. You are such a smart ass. ;)

  11. I get headaches everytime I sit down.

  12. If anyone got here from Whedonesque it said there was a cast spoiler.

  13. Mmm…I thought about it and I get the big deal about the spoil. I mean, I’ve been allergic to everything that’s sad spoiler on it half, because I want to give Dollhouse every opportunity to move me or surprise me. If I miss an episode…I’m done reading Dollhouse news until I come correct.

    It would have been incredible to get the big reveal for alpha at the end of the season, not to say it won’t have weight to it, but with the lack of familiar faces in this show, it (probably still will) would spearhead a ’1 MORE YEAR’ chant across all us Whedonites.

    *sighs* and the best show on television ends Friday…on my 21st birthday.

  14. I agree with Dave about the lack of intrigue and the lack of wit. For example, the story of the FBI agent searching for the Dollhouse would be interesting, except that we already know all about the Dollhouse, and we’re just waiting for the guy to catch up with us. There’s no intrigue for us to connect with. Since the “dolls” are completely programmed, it’s hard to feel curious about them. They don’t seem like people with emotions or desires. And the lack of wit is a killer.

    I also think the creepiness of the sex trade behind the Dollhouse makes it hard to root for anyone, even Boyd, who is supposed to be one of the consciences of the show. Because what kind of person would agree to work for a place that stole people’s minds and programmed them to have sex with strangers and walk into dangerous situations? Not a nice one, I’d wager.

    I am giving this show a few more chances because it’s Joss and Eliza, but I hope the next two episodes can change my mind about the show.

  15. I blame the lack of viewers on both really. I mean, this isn’t your standard kind of show with a lead character who is the same week in and week out who has funny altercations with co-workers and can kick some butt later on. It tries to toy with the conventions. But, that’s where the Fox problem comes in because they are marketing it as some kind of Femme Fatal thing here. Selling the sexual appeal of having a female lead, which is not what it’s about (as was mentioned in the article). So people go in expecting some kind of stupid, but sexy show. It’s hard for an audience to grasp something that can make you think a bit. It’s a good show and I hope it stays around.

  16. On Spoilers:
    I didn’t find this page till after the spoler alert was added. I think that was a great addition for those who want the surprise. As for me, when I say AT’s name as the spoiler, I got goose bumps. I’m so excited to see him make a comeback into Whedonia that I didn’t even think about how the surprise would have moved me as a surprise.

    I’m not likely to tell my wife about it, though. She says she hates surprises, but in reality, I think it’s because she loves them too much!

    On Dollhouse:
    Rocky start, sure… but sometimes when a story is profound, it takes a while to build up to the really interesting stuff. That makes it difficult for movies to really get deep, and though it’s easier for a tv show that is guaranteed to have 20+ hours to tell a full story… it’s getting the full 20+ hours that is tough. Firefly didn’t get the guarantee, so we ended up left high and dry (and thankfully Serenety got made… tying up so many loose ends).

    After the first couple of episodes I was doubtful about how much Joss had his hands in this show. Once it became clear, however, that Alpha wasn’t just a past mistake and that there was a lot more intrigue on its way, the story deepened dramatically for me (admittedly, my brain took the leap of faith in that direction all by itself) and since then each bit dedicated to Alpha’s involvement, and Echo’s own strange lapses makes stirs the pot just a bit more. I have high hopes for this show.

    Dollhouse is, however, missing the quirkiness that Buffy, Angel, and FF all had going for them. Topher is the quirkiest of the characters, in my observation, but I hate his name. The actor reminds me of Topher Grace, so when I hear his name in the show I get the wiggins, so-to-speak.

    Hopefully Amy Acker gets a more involved role. Fred was probably my favorite Angel character from the time she was introduced until they killed her off… and then Illyria stepped up to the plate and Amy’s acting chops truly showed. Love her. Would love to see more of her in Dollhouse.

  17. I have a new goal: proofread before submitting comments. I apologize for the painful typos in my last comment.

    Responding to Dave’s comment from 3/18: I agree that hints at interesting back-story are a must. I have picked up a little about Echo’s past, and I’m intrigued as to what brought her to the point that she volunteered for this Dollhouse life. The video clips, supposedly from before she became a doll, indicate a happy well-adjusted young woman. How did she come to the point that she gave up everything that she used to be and have in order to become whoever and whatever the paying clients need her to be. I imagine something tragic or devastating happened. Or maybe (this may be a stretch), she and Alpha joined up together, or he led her to make the decision somehow.

    But Mr. FBI guy is who I’m most curious about right now. Why is he (nearly) suicidal in his lust to uncover the Dollhouse? What is feeding his obsession? Is it nothing more than a need to uphold the law? Justice? Is he on a private contract to find Echo (or the girl she used to be)? Or did he know her personally? Is he her older brother? Ex-lover? I want to know more about him.

    As a side note, I wish there were room in this show for Nathan Fillion and/or Adam Baldwin. I’m happy for them that they both have current television shows going, and after Fox’s mistreatment of Drive, I wouldn’t blame Fillion if he never worked with Fox again… but still…

  18. One of the things that has been bothering me about the show is that Alpha, is still this unknown faceless character. It’s clear that Alpha is the nemesis of Eccho.

    The show’s pacing of episodes remind me of the pacing of another Eliza Dushku show that showed on Fox. That show was called ‘Tru Calling’. In my opinion, that show didn’t get ‘legs’ until the antagonist showed up, played by Jason Priestley. Before that point, tru calling was very episodic, mostly self contained stories and there was very little progress of the overall story arch. I had attributed the lack of an overall story arch as a problem with the writing.. but now I’m sensing that it’s perhaps a type of formula or pattern that Fox uses for this kind of show.

    The show definately does not ‘feel’ like a Joss Whedon series to me and perhaps that’s because Fox decided to re-order the episodes or meddle with the scripts.

  19. Cal, good compare to Tru Calling and yes, what you’ve suggested with FOX tampering with story lines seems to add up.

    And some of you previously mentioned the lack of the traditional wit…

    Many good points indeed.

  20. I read something that really sledgehammmered the nail in about the way Eliza acts. It’s not necessarily a terrible thing, but they said she’s got George Clooney syndrome. It’s when an actor or actress has these inherent, imposing mannerisms and facial nuances that are damn near automatic.

    George Clooney’s probably the most famous actor who has it, and for the most part it’s supposed to stop someone from becoming an actor, because it’s not something they can help, but to bring the same acting traits to most of their roles.

    Eliza does that. And I think it makes watching her kind of exhausting sometimes. I mean, it’d be one thing if she had the one character, because even if it was annoying you could give in and say ok that’s how she is.

    But she’s a new person every episode, and brings the same mannerisms to all of them. I don’t think it’s to say she can’t act, but she’s got a strong flavor (let’s call it wasabi) and no amount of teriyaki, bleu cheese or pomegranate can really take it out of the limelight…and that’s exhausting.

    It makes her look like a worse actress than she is and when it’s all Eliza by herself for half and hour or more an episode…*sighs*

    I’m so ready for tonight’s episode.

  21. I love the show! The thing I love about it most is the scenarios and suprises it comes with. I’ve been a hardcore buffy and angel fan for the longest time and just because every frame doesn’t have the signature joss touch doesn’t bother me. People need to get over all the pickiness. This seems to happen with almost every fanboy property such as watchmen,the dark knight,x-men 3 and so on. The material faces a double edge sword in which people praise the material and put it down for things that don’t matter like seeing too much skin on a tv show. critiques like that are pathetic. Go to roger if you want to read what real critic sounds like. He reviews things with an outside of the box thought process.

  22. I didn’t say anyone bashing it based on it showing to much skin. Most of the talk against it are about a weak premise , weak story weak plot, unlikeable characters, boring dialogue, horrible casting and overall it just isn’t something that should be a show. It feels more like Joss was on LSD when he thought this up or at least on something to make him think this was a good idea.

  23. I am actually really enjoying it. Yeah its weird and not as Jossy as say FF but it still interests me. I agree about the slow pace about finding out background info though. And about the lack of Joss witty dialogue, we really can’t expect that all the time as shes often mindless and is always a different person, people have different senses of humour so to give all Echo’s or even Sierra’s characters that buffy-esque type of wit would make it unbelievable in the extreme. Topher I adore, he is so cute! He could do with some more interesting interactions with other characters but apart from that, awesome! And AT=love I am thrilled about it!

  24. I thought I read somewhere that Josh would never work with Fox again after what they did to Firefly. And sure enough, Fox did it to him again. It was stupid to put Dollhouse up against the final season of BSG, both vying for the same viewing population. Ratings should rise now that BSG is finished.

  25. These blogs can be very funny, sometimes unintentionally. All these learned opinions about plot, character development, even episode order! I mean, have any of you worked in television? You’re ascribing actions to “the network,” or “the writer,” or stating that “the direction is flat,” and so on…c’mon now. It’s fun to have an opinion, but let us not forget that unless you’ve worked on the inside, none of this is more than guesswork.

    And just for perspective: before you accuse the show of being Fox-mediated sexploitation, please note that Eliza D produces the show, and has near-total say over what goes out over the airwaves. What goes on concerning Dollhouse is far, far more planned than any of you realize.

  26. @longfellow

    Thank you so much for educating us poor, redneck, ignorant folks.


  27. Condescending much?

    While I agree that some things in the original article sound unlikely (particularly FOX pushing the sexy imagery on a reluctant Joss and Eliza), I would never underestimate Whedonverse fans and their knowledge of what goes on behind the scenes in making any of Joss’ shows. It is true that Joss screened the original Dollhouse pilot for FOX, and they asked him to make changes so that the first episodes would be more “exciting and accessible.” He then ended up scrapping the original pilot and using parts of it for other episodes. So Whedon fans really do know a good bit about the network, the writers, etc.

  28. You know what, my bad, I didn’t mean to sound like such a condescending a-hole——-it looked a lot worse when I saw it the next day.


    What I said was meant to be a lot simpler; I worked in network tv in 2004, friends have as well, and the process — while it varies from show to show — is both more complicated and i some ways simpler than most people realize. (I thought it would sound too pretentious to say this up front.) Anyway: a continuing frustration in the writer’s room is the vast misunderstanding both of process and intent out there in the real world. In the last few years, LOTS of writers have started blogging (as “civilians,’) to try and balance out what gets said.

    That was really my point all along; it may not be what you think. If it’s any consolation, the lower-rung writers (like moi) were incredibly frustrated by decisions made by people higher up on the food chain (from show runners to exec producers and often just by the head writers).

  29. Welcome to our world LONGFELLOW.

    Sometimes, there are things that can be said to illustrate points, but then an article gets too long for the savy web cruiser who doesn’t always have the time.

    or, one starts to explain one’s self, and then you find you need to explain more stuff that supports what you’re explaining.

    Then again, this is just a fun place where we express opinions and explore perceptions.

    Thanks for clarifying though. Much appreciated. When I first saw your comment, I got to the point where NOT responding was my better approach or my editor would have had to ban me from the site. LOL…

    All’s good!