Based on past experience I've learned not to judge a new TV series by its premiere episode, but I didn't really like the opening episode of Joss Whedon's new Fox TV series Dollhouse.
The concept always sounded creepy: An organization has a number of operatives whose minds are "wiped" in between assignments. They can be programmed with completely different personalities for each new assignment and left with no memory of who they were or what they did.
The premiere episode opens with Echo (Eliza Dushku) in the shortest dress I've ever seen on a woman. She's racing a motorcycle through the streets of LA with another rider - at one point she wipes out but is apparently not seriously injured. Turns out she was on a whirlwind three day weekend with some rich guy.
So right there the show bothered me - is the Dollhouse some fancy, uber-tech call girl ring? Program a hottie to hit it off with a multi-millionare for the weekend so they can tie each other up and the wipe her memory of having done it. Pretty vile if you ask me.
She seems to geniunely like the guy, but bails on the party to go back to the facility for her "treatment." The dispenser of these treatments (mind wipes, but apparently the patients aren't aware that's what's being done) is a young guy named Topher Brink (Fran Kranz) who frankly, I couldn't stand. There wasn't a thing I liked about the character - frankly, the word sociopath comes to mind. He's in his mid-twenties and apparently either without conscience, or more likely a master of rationalization who doesn't look at the "agents" as people.
I rolled my eyes at his response to Echo's handler's (played by Harry Lennix) concerns about Echo: There is no right or wrong, else our thinking makes it so. Ah, the old moral relativism schtick: I guess the child molester in the episode wasn't wrong as long as in his head he thought it was OK, huh? Sorry, but what utter crap - but I guess it fit the character. My hope is that this schmuck will come to see that what he's doing is wrong over the course of the series.
Echo's next assignment isn't sleazy like the previous one: A 12 year old girl is kidnapped from her (billionare?) father and he happens to be a client of the firm that runs the Dollhouse. He wants things handled quietly so they program Echo to be a kidnap negotiator. Dushku isn't very convincing and the whole thing seems a bit ridiculous - in the world of this TV show I'm sure they could have found an actual negotiator with years of experience instead of programming her overnight.
And then there's the silly concept of having to program weaknesses into the agents to make up for the strengths because "overachievers are compensating for something." Really, Topher? Maybe they're just not content to sit around and bitch and whine in dead end jobs and instead DO something about it. (Did I mention I can't stand that character?)
There's also Tahmoh Penikett as Agent Paul Ballard (aka "Helo" from Battlestar Galactica) - he knows about this Dollhouse operation but is having a hard time tracking it down or getting solid evidence about it. Rightfully so he equates what they're doing essentially to murder since the person's originality has to be wiped out for this to work and they cease to exist as a person.
There were other things that bugged me - a babe who busts in on a house like a bad-ass SWAT team member (Dichen Lachman, playing another programmed Agent) whose arms looked so thin I don't know how she was even able to hold an assault rifle, much less shoot it. Then they closed the episode with the evening ritual of a large open shower area, where both the buff guys and the hot gals showered together (maybe ol' Topher wipes their libido as well?).
I'll give this a chance as the opening episode of a new series is more about laying a foundation and it takes a while to get into the groove and figure out where it's going. I'll be curious to see the reaction of Olivia Williams' character (she runs the operation) and Topher's as Echo starts to fight the programming and begins to regain her sense of self. If there isn't some change of heart and self-examination there, I'll be bagging Dollhouse.