Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Joss Whedon's Dollhouse, Just Like Ibsen's Except More Yoga Pants

This place is way more sinister than the hell mouth.

My love for all things Joss Whedon is not a secret. Through masterful storytelling, he innovated the teen drama, brought new viewers to the fantasy/lite horror genre and gave us kick ass female characters and complex men to back them up. I can't wait for Cabin in the Woods written by Whedon and Drew Goddard (Cloverfield and Buffy writer) with Goddard taking the director's hot seat for the first time should put a new spin on the teens in peril pic - something that could use revamping. I've watched and re-watched the Buffy series more times than a normal productive member of society should. And what Firefly did in 14 episodes was amazing. Too bad Fox has a such a knack for killing off critically acclaimed shows before their time (see: Futurama and Arrested Development). But, will Whedon's new effort, Dollhouse, starring Buffy alum Eliza Dushku and an assortment of hotties get the chance to evolve over the next 4-6 years or will it be crushed by poor ratings and the deadly Friday 9pm time slot like so many others before?


Sadly, it's doomed. If it doesn't get canceled this season, it will have to change some structure and premise in order to sustain itself. When such a high concept show basically reveals the fatal flaw in its imaginary world in every episode, even Whedonites will begin to demand more.

But, let me back up and fill you in on the premise because the ratings tell me that you have not been watching. Dushku plays Echo, an agent for hire of sorts. Echo is basically a tool or "Active" used by a very discreet problem-solving tech firm that provides extremely tailored services to some Richie Riches who find them selves in need of oh, say...a date, a bodyguard, a safe cracker, or even a hot hostage negotiator. The company headed by a very svelte Olivia Williams (Rushmore) and employs handlers to oversee each Active's mission. But the catch is these Acitve's minds are filled in for each mission or "engagement" and then erased after it's over. The nerd behind the neuro-magic is uber-geek Topher played by Fran Kranz, who seems to to be the only one with the ability to remap or imprint these blank slates with the proper skills and back story and then successfully return the Active to an 8yr old's mindset dormant state whilst waiting for the next gig. Hmmm, hope nothing ever happens to him. Oh and did I mention that one of these Actives, Alpha, is on the loose having escaped from the company after precisely and brutally killing a whole slew of people and scarring up a few on the way out? Guess his mind wasn't exactly mapped right, but I'm sure that would never ever happen again.

Joss Whedon, Fran Kranz & Eliza Dushku presumably discussing the importance of always having your heroine wear a tanktop.

Sounds like a decent concept and don't get me wrong, I think it's really interesting. Where it fails is that a flaw in this company's operating procedures and general goals is revealed in every episode so far. I mean, wiping somebody's brain cannot be safe in the long run and Echo begins to act independently at times putting missions at risk. Another time she's remotely wiped and reverted to a helpless 8yr old that's supposed to be leading a high stakes heist. And then there's the rich dude that hires her not just to be his adventurous rock climbing girlfriend for the day but he goes all The Most Dangerous Game on her with a bow and arrow. In every episode so far, Echo's life has either been threatened or something so terrible has almost happened the result of which would surely shut the company down, forever. The world makes little sense and Dushku is not a strong enough actor to illicit that level of suspension of disbelief.

Writing negative comments on a show that is in peril is not such a nice thing to do, but since about 4.3 million people watch Dollhouse every Friday night at 9pm and like 100 read this blog, what harm can it really do? My secret hope is that the few criticisms that are out there might receive serious consideration by Whedon and his gang. Whedonites are a loyal bunch but we demand the same level of creative and innovative story-telling that we've become accustomed to. Nobody story archs like Whedon and perhaps mid-season is when Dollhouse will really get its legs. In spite of the sexed up promos and limited commercials, it's not really giving anyone much reason to tune in even after watching all the episodes so far. It also airs just after Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles - Can anyone tell me how the hell that show in its 2nd season?