Thursday, February 19, 2009

First Impressions: Dollhouse

**SPOILER ALERT** This post deals with the series premiere of the television series, Dollhouse, which aired on Friday, February 13. If you have not yet watched and don't want any tidbits of information, it's best if you stop reading now. The post does not reveal any future plot points, since I don't read spoilers.

I'm going to say something that is, perhaps, more troubling to me than it will be to any of you. I did not love the series premiere of Dollhouse. The reason I find this troubling is that I am a Joss Whedon devotee (if that wasn't obvious from my recent Buffy marathon) and I have been looking forward to this show for months. Based on past experience and downright adoration for the man, I expected greatness.

I intentionally avoided reading anything about the show beyond the brief plot description. All I knew about was an organization that implants people with new memories, sends them on specific missions, and wipes their memories when their task is complete so that these people have no idea what they are doing. I also knew that Eliza Dushku was playing the lead character, an "active" who gradually starts to become aware of her situation. Beyond that, I went in knowing nothing, so I had no specific expectations as to storytelling.

Quality Concerns

On first viewing, I found the production quality is a bit too...I don't know, shiny? I don't quite know how to explain, but it looks different than most shows I watch. Everything is too crisp or something. A couple classmates and I confirmed for one another that it wasn't just their TV or my computer that caused the show to appear this way. Perhaps it will just take some getting used to.

Bring on the Funny

Where's the trademark Whedon wit?! Sure sure, the show is about an illegal mind-control organization and human trafficking, but Joss is the master of finding the fun in the darkest of situations, as evidenced from Buffy, Angel, and Firefly. The closest thing to a joke was, "She also has asthma," and it really wasn't that funny.

The Dushku Factor

Eliza Dushku portrays Faith in Joss Whedon's latest television series, DollhouseThough Faith remains my favourite Buffy villain, I question whether Eliza Dushku has the acting chops to carry this series and provide what her character, Echo, will demand of her. [It's really hard to say that while looking at the accompanying photo.] While she was great as Faith and as Missy in Bring it On, I get the sense that there is a lot of Eliza Dushku in both of those characters. [I admit that, like a lot of people, I have not watched Tru Calling, so I can't speak to her performance in that series.] While she seems alright at being a mindless drone in the Dollhouse, her acting was a bit strained at times while she was portraying Eleanor Penn. Up to now, I hadn't seen Dushku portray vulnerability in this way, so it may have appeared strained simply because I'm not accustomed to seeing her behave in such a manner.

However, we do get a glimpse of a Faith-like character in what I will call "pre-Dollhouse Echo" during the opening scene just before she volunteers for the program. It looks like the show will be structured such that we will see bits of Echo's pre-Dollhouse days. The pre-Dollhouse Echo we see on the video at the end of the episode is not as troubled, suggesting a somewhat rapid change in circumstances. If this at all resembles Faith's rapid descent from bad-ass slayer to evil-ass slayer, Dushku may be able to pull it off.

The Fringe Factor

Source: watchingdollhouse

Fox sort of paired Dollhouse and Fringe in many people's minds last summer with their "hot chick semi-submerged in water" print ads. In addition, they are the two big sci-fi shows of this season helmed by two modern geniuses of television (Whedon and J.J. Abrams) and their main plots are both based in science, rather than fantasy/horror or future space travel. So comparisons will likely be drawn, and the presence of one threatens the survival of the other. I have been watching Fringe since it's premiere and am loving it, but I'm hesitant to compare the two at this time because Fringe has a 13 episode advantage having premiered in the Fall, so I will hold off for the time-being.

The Positive

Okay, it wasn't all bad. There are signs of promise that should keep people watching, and I'm not just referring to the co-ed showers and the flattering, yet comfortable-looking attire worn by the muscle-toned actives.

With my limited knowledge of the show prior to viewing, I was unaware that Dollhouse would be an illegal organization being investigated by some law enforcement agency (it's not yet clear to me which one). I sort of assumed that it would be a legitimate program. Instead, we've got a storyline dealing with an investigation into human trafficking, missing people, and their connection to Dollhouse.

Amy Acker's Dr. Claire Saunders has potential. In the brief minutes she was on screen in "Ghost", it is made clear that Saunders has her doubts about the Dollhouse operation, and is concerned for the psychological, as well as physical well-being of the actives. Also, who doesn't love Amy Acker? Unfortunately, for the time-being, she's just a recurring character, so it may take some time to develop her story.

The show has a racially/ethnically diverse cast to rival that of Grey's Anatomy. Complaints were often leveled at Buffy for not being racially diverse enough. In particular, there was a notable lack of Asian students at Sunnydale High, despite it's location in Southern California. Joss made some amends for this in the casting for Angel and Firefly. That being said, the people in positions of power in Dollhouse are all white, so I'll be interested to read any commentary on this subject.

In conclusion, Dollhouse just doesn't quite feel Whedon to me, at least not yet. I'm certainly not giving up on it; my faith in Joss is undying. I just hope that the first line of the show ("Nothing is what it appears to be") is true because so far, Dollhouse appears to be less than stellar.

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