The Dollhouse Takes Center Stage

Joss Whedon looking at the Dollhouse setThe deal with Dollhouse comes with the struggles it's been through, as much as with the show's concept itself. Before being given the Friday night time slot (triggering talk of whether it will even survive) and the pilot episode getting scrapped, there was Fox's decision to order the drama without the aid of a pilot, choosing instead to devote resources into construction of a set. Well, the show is called Dollhouse, so its namesake in the program should be given that much attention too, right?

It's a challenge that fell on Stuart Blatt, the show's production designer. He and series creator Joss Whedon went through many architecture books, getting inspiration from Asian styles and spas, before setting out to create the biggest set he's done in his 20 years on the job. We looked through everything, weeded out some ideas and came up with this world-class spa that's sealed off from the rest of the world and has a minimalist Japanese feel to it, he said. ''The idea of the dollhouse is that these people are being pampered like world-class athletes, kept ready for whatever the next assignment is . So whether it's a massage or a workout area or spa food being served in the dining area or calligraphy classes or yoga being done here, it's the best any of us hope to have anywhere we live, or are forced to live, or are brainwashed to live under one roof.

Despite not having windows - and being obviously enclosed in the studio's walls - the set still feels open. Rather than walls, it has Japanese screens, giving a sense of privacy - just that - to the Actives while still being observed. The center piece is a conversation pit with a fountain in the middle, working around with a pit that already existed in the studio - until, at the very last minute, Blatt decided to throw in a Japanese reflecting pool. Joss had been asking me from the beginning that he wanted to have a water feature that would be silent and yet always be there to look at, he said. Water is a calming influence. It's sexy and mysterious.

In the end, the set helps everyone, from the cast to the crew. I walk in there and I feel peaceful, Eliza Dushku, the show's star, said. I do feel child-like. It's so open, and it's such a safe place even with all the dysfunction - You feel like you're in a big, safe bubble, but that's where the germ of the show is: Nothing appears to be what it is.

Dollhouse hits screens in February 13 - that's less than two weeks - and by then will we all see the expanse that is the dollhouse itself. Or, you can view the photos on the Los Angeles Times' website, if you can't wait. But, still, nothing beats seeing it in fluid form. Or that's just me.

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