2009-02-14

Dollhouse -- a good start

With Dollhouse, Joss Whedon returns to the network that attempted to drive Firefly into obscurity. The new show, starring Eliza Dushku is off to a good start. From the official website:

Joss Whedon, creator of the groundbreaking cult favorites, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," and "Firefly," returns to television and reunites with fellow "Buffy" alumna, Eliza Dushku, for a thrilling new drama, DOLLHOUSE.


ECHO (Dushku) is an "Active," a member of a highly illegal and underground group of individuals who have had their personalities wiped clean so they can be imprinted with any number of new personas. Hired by the wealthy, powerful and connected, the Actives don't just perform their hired roles, they wholly become -- with mind, personality and physiology -- whomever the client wants or needs them to be. Whether imprinted to be a lover, an assassin, a corporate negotiator or a best friend, the Actives know no other life than the specific engagements they are in at that time.

Dushku does an impressive job playing different characters in the show. In opening sequences the character she plays resembles tough-girl Faith, the Vampire Slayer, but after that, Dushku completely breaks away from her earlier role. She becomes Echo, and becomes whomever Echo needs to be.

The script doesn't sound like a Whedon script. Buffy and Angel both had the same fast paced, wacky dialogy. It worked great in those shows and matched the tone perfectly.

That became a problem with Firefly. Firefly, a space western, had a more langurous tone to the dialoge. Sometimes, though, it sounded like a page of Buffy dialogue showed up in the middle of it. That pacing would shift and then shift back. What I imagine happened is that Whedon naturally writes like that, and those jarring bursts are chunks of script that just didn't get through the revision process. Or they were last minutes chunks that no one had time to rewrite.

While the concept of Dollhouse seems like something Whedon would come up with, the dialogue and script don't sound like things he has written before. And that's a good thing. I loved the voice in the older scripts, but this is a different show and it should sound different. And it does.

The plot held together reasonably well. There were some unexpected twists to the story that bordered on the contrived, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. The other characters in the series are roughly drawn, but it is the first episode. I image most of them will be fleshed out in the coming weeks and step away from the card board cutouts they appear to be now.

A first episode in a show with a complex concept has a lot to do. Fleshing out and developing secondary characters can't really be a priority.

I'm looking forward to more episodes. The show starts under a cloud with rumors of trouble with the story. A movement was underway to save the show as early as May, 2008. The show is due for 13 episodes.

After one episode, the show strikes me as one that should go no more than two seasons. In fact, I would be quite pleased if Whedon and Fox came right out and promised the show would end after 36 episodes (or however many). Plan from the start to build a great story arc with a beginning, middle, and end. I'm not sure how well Dollhouse could due with an unlimited run.

If you've enjoyed Buffy, Angel, Firefly, or Dr. Horrible, check out Dollhouse. It's a great concept and it's off to a nice start.

5 comments:

Jon Clarke said...

I wasn't crazy about it. I missed the sense of humor and unexpected plot twists I always get from a Whedon script. Even Toy Story and his X-men comic have them.

This didn't feel quirky or unique enough to live up to the Whedon name. It was okay but nothing special. And all of Whedon's shwos have been special.

I'll keep watching in case that voice peeks through late repisodes.

Jane Doe said...

Sometimes I wish I still had cable. I love Eliza Dushku and was disappointed when they canceled Tru Calling. I also like Joss Whedon. Buffy and Angel were fanabulous shows. This sounds like a good one too.

Connect with your teens said...

I liked it, but it will take a few more episodes until I'm really sure how good this will turn out. I loved Firefly, Buffy and Angel so I have high hopes, but as you said, this is very different.

Muckbeast said...

I really hope this show ends up being good. My wife and I are going to watch the first episode tomorrow night. I have heard it gets better starting with the 2ne episode.

By the way, I recently moved my blog from Today.com to self hosted. If you are still interested in reading it, you might need to update your bookmarks and/or subscriptions.

Keep up the good work!

-Michael
Muckbeast - Game Design and Online Worlds
http://www.muckbeast.com

Cromely said...

@Jon Clarke: I agree it doesn't have the Whedon humor yet. I'm okay with that at this point; it's only one episode. During her appearance on Conan, Eliza Dushku said the most compelling aspect of it is how the show and story unfolds over multiple episodes. In some respects, that's a great thing to hear. On the other hand, it did sound a little like she was apologizing for episode 1. I'm optimistic, though.

@Jane Doe: I haven't seen (or noticed) Dushku in other shows so I was impressed at her acting skills in Dollhouse.

@Connect with your teens: I agree. Whedon's got a great track record. I would really have liked to see what he would have done with season 2 of Firefly.

@Muchbeast: Enjoy. Go in with modest expectations.