Posted by Marisa May 1st, 2009 at 10:54am In General
When Dollhouse debuted, both Joss Whedon and Eliza Dushku begged us all to give it at least six episodes before decreeing it good or bad. With the show now only two episodes from the end of its inaugural season, I’ve given it a fair shot and I’m ready to hand down my judgment.
A little bit about my Whedon background: I’m not very Whedonesque. I went to the same college as him, though. When I visited the school as an accepted student, he was a guest speaker. His lecture took place in this section of campus with cement-bunker-like architecture, and before it began there was a line out the door full of goth kids dressed like vampires. I didn’t know that he was speaking, who he was, or why so many caped individuals were waiting in line outside this building that looked like a tomb. I thought the school was full of freaks. I went there anyway.
Turns out, Buffy did, too! Although it was masked as Sunnydale something-or-other, Buffy went off to college the same year I did, and there were a lot of marked similarities between her freshmen courses and mine. I’d never watched the show before, but I watched that whole season with a friend to look for references to our humble school. And, without the looking-for-references bit, I probably would have dropped the series early on. Many people have since told me that I saw the worst season, but I did watch the whole thing, so I can say I gave it a good chance. I just didn’t think that the funny parts were funny enough or that the scary parts were scary enough. I felt that spells were often used as a cop-out, and I couldn’t get into the mythology. (I know. I’m kicked out of the Cool Kids Club now. I’m used to it. I was once publicly shunned at a party for admitting I thought Xander was annoying, WHICH HE TOTALLY IS.)
Later, I saw exactly one episode of Firefly—the one where they visit a planet that had built a statue of Jayne—and thought it was totally hilarious, and I saw the movie which had parts I really enjoyed (Krumholtz!) and others I think were shoehorned in there for real fans. I did manage to watch all of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, and even my cold heart couldn’t find fault with it. That’s still probably my favorite 45 minutes of Whedon output.
So now, Dollhouse. I went into it knowing that people whose opinions I value love all of this Whedon stuff without being a squeeing fangirl myself. And my ruling is: the show is okay, but not great. (Warning: The rest of this comes with major spoilers.)
My main, major problem with Dollhouse is that it’s hard to like anybody on it. The whole premise is that the “actives” get their personalities wiped after every mission, so it’s not like you can get attached to the main characters. There’s nothing real to latch on to. When they’re not imprinted with a personality, the actives are actually kind of irritating. I think it’s interesting when they do unexpected things in their not-imprinted state—like glitch and get boners and remember each other—but they still only have the compelling personalities of Furbies at that point. (“Look! Put two of them together and they talk to each other in rudimentary English! How cute.”)
Then, for a while, the show went on a spell when it seemed like everyone was revealed to be an active—especially the characters I kind of liked. Paul’s Russian informant was an active. His love interest is an active. At this point, I wouldn’t really be surprised if Topher was an active, harnessing together the minds of every computer super-genius. (I wouldn’t care if that happened. I never liked Topher.) So they started with a slate of characters that had no personalities, then slowly sucked away the personalities of some of the people outside that blank-slate group. Then they killed or got rid of a couple others for good measure.
It’s also impossible to like any of the clients of the Dollhouse. By its very nature, it’s shady to rent out an active. Even when there’s sympathy (like poor Patton Oswalt’s character, tear), there’s an uncomfortable element underneath. Plus you can’t tune into the show for the clients, because they’re different every episode.
So, who’s left? There’s Topher, who is basically Xander II. (STILL ANNOYING.) There are two cops: Paul (who I liked for a while, but now that he’s become everything he’s ever hated I’m not so sure), and Boyd (who doesn’t bother me). There’s chilly, chilly Miss Cross from Rushmore, and the doctor with the slashed-up face who seems pretty nice but hasn’t done anything in a while. I feel warm towards a couple of these characters, but not like I’m really invested in any of them—and their numbers are shrinking.
I’m still watching it for now, though, and I’ll finish out the season. Currently, my main attraction to the show is the situations the actives are actually put in—it was pretty cool when Echo got wiped in the middle of a mission and they had to rescue her somehow—but, even then, I don’t really feel like Eliza Dushku disappears into her new personalities and acts like someone totally different each week. So I’m not sure that, if the show does return, I’ll be returning along with it.
Any Joss Whedon fans want to try and change my mind? (Or: Wanna mess?) Make your case.