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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Show Review: Dollhouse (Ep. 1)

I was skeptical of Dollhouse, not because of Whedon (I'm a huge Firefly fan), but because it's science fiction television on a network station (FOX). FOX has done a fine job destroying good science fiction shows for a while, and even killing a few that weren't great, but still deserved to have a good run. Then, of course, there's the fact that I find the vast majority of television in general to be mediocre at best, including some shows folks have praised as great. (Minor spoilers ahead, although, to be honest, if you're at all interested in this show and haven't seen the first ep., then you probably already know what I'm going to talk about)

Dollhouse, I think, is a show with an enormous amount of potential. The first episode does a fine job establishing all the major elements Whedon wants us to know about. The Dollhouse is a facility where people are implanted with personalities to perform tasks (called "engagements") and where, once finished, these same people are essentially wiped of those implants and returned to the facility where they are monitored and kept in relative bliss--free massages, free healthcare, and presumably free happy time. Echo (Dushku) is our protagonist, whose reasons for coming to the facility are, as of yet, not clear (I get the impression that she did something bad, but this could be twisted in so many ways based on the introductory moments). On one particular mission, Echo begins having flashbacks of something she witnessed back at the Dollhouse and flashbacks from the personality she has been implanted with. This, of course, raises a lot of questions about the memory-wiping/implanting process and the facility in general.

Underneath all this there are several subplots:
  • A detective (Penikett) investigating the existence of the Dollhouse (who seems somewhat, well, obsessed?).
  • The conflict between Echo's handler (Lennix) and the director (Williams) of the Dollhouse.
It's hard to say for certain whether I truly like this show based on one episode. As of now, I am excited to see what Dollhouse has in store for me. It could turn out to be my replacement for Battlestar Galactica, a show that is inches away from ending and subsequently turning my life back to the TV-less boredom it once was. Perhaps Dollhouse will become the next great science fiction show, or perhaps FOX will kill it like they did Firefly.

What I can say about the first episode is that it is expertly crafted. Transitions are smooth, the acting is on par, the characters are interesting, the concept is fascinating and well drawn (leaving out a few things to make sure there's plenty of twists and turns later), and overall it's beautifully written.  Some part of me also wanted there to be more of the creep-factor in the Dollhouse. Don't get me wrong, it's somewhat of a creepy-everyone-is-the-same place, but I think Whedon could have stepped a little farther into the darkness of this entire concept. After all, the inhabitants of the Dollhouse, with the exception of the staff, are essentially slaves. Short of them going schizo on us, they're stuck there and could technically be kept there indefinitely without knowing about any of it. That's somewhat terrifying and it will be interesting to learn whether the Dollhouse is really all that secret, or if there's something darker underneath that we haven't learned about.

On the critical side of things, I think the first episode did leave a little to be desired, and that stems from having a bit much going on and not enough of a bang.  True, I loved the concept and I was intrigued and entertained, but I suspect that Dollhouse's future will depend on whether it can capture the vast majority of fans who aren't necessarily interested in science fiction that is "thoughtful."  This isn't meant to be an insult to those fans, but it does explain why Battlestar Galactica does not have the massive ratings it deserves; television viewers tend to want a bit more action or comedy (and this is based on the vast majority of stuff that seems to show up on TV these days).

My verdict is that this show is worth sticking with for now. I'm not on the fence about this, but I do have to reserve some of my judgment until I have seen two or three episodes. Episode two is coming soon and we'll see if Dollhouse can keep me interested, or if it will lose me like Legend of the Seeker did.

If you haven't seen the episode already, go to Hulu and check it out.

Edit:  I've added some bits to this review, primarily because I've had some different opinions swim into my head after letting things sit for a while.

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  1. I felt much the same about the show. It wasn't love at first watch, but it looks like a well-crafted show with a solid premise. I'll definitely be tuning in next week.

  2. Agreed. We'll see what happens :)

  3. I think part of the reason it wasn't as dark as you might expect in the first episode, is that people are really expecting it to be dark-and they're scared of that. THey don't want to watch a big bummer show, and when you read about the concept, it's a bummer. So, it sort of has to be light as possible, at least in the beginning.

    What I liked best, is the moral questions. Is the dollhouse really an ok idea? Before watching the episode I would have said it's messed up, but some of the points raised in the episode made me think about it more-and that's what will make me keep watching.

    And the fact that i'm one of those crazy whedonites.

  4. I quite enjoyed the moral questions as well. I think it's got potential, for sure, but I'm always hesitant to jump on the "omg dis iz awzum" bandwagon. If it takes some serious jumps in the right direction in the next episode or two, then I'll start saying that.