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Fox's "Dollhouse" Has the Feel of Joss Whedon's Fourth TV Triumph
February 11, 2009  | By David Bianculli  | 2 comments
 
DOLLHOUSE-returning.jpgIt's been five years since Joss Whedon has presented a show on network TV -- and much too long since we've enjoyed weekly doses of entertainment from the deliciously warped brain that gave us Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly.


Tonight, the dry spell finally ends with Dollhouse, a new Fox series premiering Friday night at 9 ET. Give it a chance, and then another one, because it takes two episodes for this new series to get up to speed. But once it does, it has the feel of Whedon's fourth straight TV triumph.

DOLLHOUSE-Dollhouse.jpg

Dollhouse stars Eliza Dushku, the bad-girl Slayer on Buffy, as a woman who is given a chance similar to that once given to the desperate young heroine of La Femme Nikita: Put yourself in our care, she is told, and you'll be absolved of past misdeeds in exchange for being specially trained for a series of top-secret missions.

The difference, in Whedon's vision, is that the young lady in question agrees to a five-year deal in which she becomes, essentially, an empty vessel -- a childlike, docile blank slate onto which is imprinted a composite lifetime of false, borrowed, very convincing memories. Presto: Like an actress accepting a new role and script, the very impressionable young woman (given the code name Echo) receives a force-fed mental download, and she becomes whatever she's told she is. A lovestruck woman. An outdoor adventurer. A master thief.

Very rich people pay to have her, and other men and women like her, embody the stuff of dreams, or supply a skill set elusive or missing in real life. All these "Actives," as they're called, live in a high-tech living quarters called The Dollhouse, where they're pampered between jobs like human Kobe beef. When they return from an assignment, their memory is erased, as are their skills, until they receive another job and download.

Except.

DOLLHOUSE-09-F13-pilot.jpg

Except that this is Joss Whedon we're dealing with, so Dollhouse turns out to have a lot more going for it than a cross between Fantasy Island and Cinemax After Dark. It takes a while to unspool these plot threads, so that's why embracing this show requires a bit of patience.

But stay with it, because the intriguing wrinkles include a former Active who's run amok and become a killer, an investigator who's closing in on finding the clandestine Dollhouse, and, most of all, Echo herself, who turns out to begin to retain certain memories and impulses, like a blackboard that's not quite erased.

In the three episodes sent for preview, Dushku gets to show some range: party girl, glum hostage negotiator, ultra-confident safecracker and so on. And among the supporting cast, the very supporting regulars include Amy Acker from Angel, Reed Diamond from Homicide: Life on the Street, and the very commanding Olivia Williams, as the operator of the Dollhouse.

DOLLHOUSE-safe.jpg

Given Whedon's track record, I'm more than willing to give him some time to spread his wings, and unfurl his latest TV series slowly. After all, he's made three excellent TV series already -- and that's not counting his Internet masterpiece, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog.

By the way: After 3 p.m. ET Thursday, you can hear my new interview with Joss Whedon on National Public Radio's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Just click here. 

 

8 Comments

 

Gregg B said:

I am already concerned about the commitment to this show. Friday night has become a wasteland for quickly canceled shows. This is not the days when we went out of our way to see Mulder, Scully and the Smoking Man on Fridays. It is the second lowest rated night after Saturday. Firefly was treated so badly by FOX, I hope this shows gets better treatment. I will DVR it but not optimistic that I'm still doing that next Fall.

Comment posted on February 12, 2009 9:58 AM


Roger C said:

I echo Gregg's comments. I wish a talent like Whedon would migrate to HBO or Showtime. While re-watching True Blood with my son who was a complete Buffy freak, I can't tell you how many times we would say, "Man, I wish Buffy could have been able to say that!"

Comment posted on February 12, 2009 3:41 PM


Lonnie Easterling said:

Maybe I'm missing something, but the premise of this show sounds eerily similar to My Own Worst Enemy, the canceled Christian Slater series on NBC. It also sounds like it has elements of the Matrix and Bionic Woman thrown in. Whatever. I think I'll stick with more original programming.

Whatever that is...

Comment posted on February 12, 2009 4:01 PM


Colleen said:

After the 10-minute preview at the NY Comic Con, I was very excited about this new series. I'm late to the Whedon-verse, but I sincerely hope that Fox gives Dollhouse the opportunity to establish an audience.

Besides, if I have to watch this show the way I had to watch Firefly, I'm going to be miserable next semester.

Comment posted on February 13, 2009 10:50 PM


Jon Delfin said:

You and me, Lonnie. Not only similar to MOWE, but with just as shaky a premise. The "why" of this is far from clear. It's Whedon, so I'm inclined to stick with it, but it's on probation already.

Comment posted on February 14, 2009 12:31 PM


Chris J. said:

I'll stick with it based on your comments. There are some annoying things that I'm going to have to get over. The first is the acting is a bit rough IMO. Hopefully the characters will grow into their roles, but they seemed to be "trying too hard" in the first episode. The second is the casting of such a young actor as the "mindwiper" guy. He seems to have far too much authority and control for someone his age. We'll see how it turns out I guess...

Comment posted on February 16, 2009 8:50 AM


Shanna said:

I watched the pilot and knew I would have to watch more. As most shows do it needs time to grow. Friday nights are rough nights but that is what TiVo and DVR's are for. They also have the episodes online at hulu and fox.com.

I did not watch MOWE. Not a fan of slater and the commercials just weirded me out. Now the base line story for Dollhouse brings up some ethical stuff for me but i'm still interested.

We'll see!

Comment posted on February 19, 2009 12:56 PM


MelissaD said:

I just finished watching the second episode, and I'm loving the show. I really hope that it makes it, and I believe it could draw a following just as Joss's other works have done. I do have to say, though, that some elements of the show remind me of BTVS. The dolls are like Slayers in a way. Their handlers are like Watchers. And the group in charge is like the Watchers Council and seem to care very little about the dolls except for what they can do for them. The Council just viewed the Slayers as soldiers and nothing more.

But, I loved BTVS, so I'm okay with the similarities (even if I'm the only one who feels that way). I'm excited to see how everything plays out with Echo beginning to remember some pieces from her real life.

Comment posted on February 22, 2009 10:46 AM
 
 
 
 
 
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