WAS DOLL HOUSE THAT BAD

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"Would you like a treatment?" Yes please. Can I have the dire first ten episodes of Dollhouse erased from my mind forever, plus some compensation for the time spent watching this garbled mess. OK, that might sound a tad harsh but it's hard not to feel disappointed given creator Joss Whedon's amazing track record and the fascinating premise of the show. Clearly hindered by network interference, Dollhouse suffered from its own identity crisis for most of the season. Yet the final two episodes, with the arrival of the Big Bad Alpha and a shift in narrative perspective, showed distinct signs that all is not lost.


Tricky concepts require a clever way in for the viewer, almost like a tour guide. Just look at how Russell T Davies's reboot of Doctor Who skilfully used the character of Rose Tyler to introduce a new generation of viewers to the weird and wonderful world of the lonely Time Lord and his 'bigger on the inside' time machine. This only successfully happened in Dollhouse in about the eleventh episode, when suspended FBI Agent Paul Ballard found his way into the mysterious complex and made some startling discoveries. It really needed to happen a lot sooner.


The premise of the series was very bold indeed, with Eliza Dushku's character Echo having a new personality imprinted on her blank canvas every week for a new 'mission', whether that be business or pleasure-related. The obvious problem was that the non-existence of the heroine's personality meant that it was very tough to care much about her predicament or wellbeing, as opposed to the leads in the similarly identity-hopping likes of Alias and Quantum Leap. There is just so much of Dushku walking around a building with a vacant stare on her face that one can take.


Thankfully, we were treated to a couple of fight sequences along the way of her in Faith from Buffy mode, most memorably in an intense, taut streetfight with Ballard. Dushku, to her credit, handled the various personalities fairly well, too. The structure of the season was to blame for the lack of concern for Echo's wellbeing and not the actress.


It's no coincidence though, that Alpha's resurrection of Echo/Caroline's memory imprint ramped up the intrigue late on in the season. We finally knew who we were supposed to take an interest in. The supporting characters were also largely dull until the closing episodes, although the nerdy Topher and his British boss Adelle provided some hilarity while under the influence of an inhibition-shedding drug.


By contrast, Alpha's entrance was well handled from the start. Signalled as the Big Bad from the beginning, his initial disguise as a seemingly harmless stoner was brilliant, with Alan Tudyk's portrayal expertly disarming the viewer before shockingly unveiling the character's face-slashing malevolence. At his best, he evoked the twisted yet childlike mania of Rutger Hauer's similarly man-made creation in Blade Runner.


Initially, the episodes eschewed an ongoing narrative in favour of being standalone entities - and suffered as a result. While witnessing Dushku prancing around playing make-believe in a variety of skimpy outfits does have some merit, some of the plots (like the stereotypical diva popstar needing a bodyguard) made the storylines of Murder, She Wrote look groundbreaking. Interest was definitely aroused whenever Echo was deployed for sexual reasons though, as it brought into play numerous ethical questions. After all, we now live in a world where escort agencies offer something called 'the girlfriend experience' to their clients (the subject of a forthcoming Steven Soderburgh movie), so such a concept as the 'Dollhouse' is scarily plausible should the technology become available.


Good ideas and noble intentions definitely lie at the core of Dollhouse, but the disappointing first season took far too long to tease them out. It was easier to emotionally invest in the fortunes of Ken and Barbie dolls than the 'dolls' in this show. There were some strong signs of recovery by the end though, so let's hope that those who have stuck through the series are rewarded with a much more impressive second outing.




I REALLY LIKED THIS SHOW PLEASE ADD YOUR COMMENTS

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Aug 17, 2009 10:08AM EDT

I agree that the start of the season was rather dull and I felt that it took about 5 episodes for it to really get going. However, I thought after that it was all good. I liked how there were many stand alone episodes, because if there was a cliff hanger every episode then most wouldn't be relevant like in Season 2 of Veronica Mars (though still a great season).
The last 2 episodes where the best and I agree with the funny moments mentioned but after all, the end of a season usually is the best as it wraps everything up/leaves a cliffhanger for the next season.
I just hope that the second season isn't just going to be a repeat of the 1st.

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Aug 17, 2009 5:12PM EDT

I loved it all!IT WAS SO GOOD.

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Aug 17, 2009 6:16PM EDT

I loved this show from the beginning and I'm not sure why so many people seem to have written it off. It is obviously different from Joss's other shows, but I thought it was bad. For the first half of the season I believe the shows were more what FOX wanted and had less input from Joss, but the later half was more of his ideas. He is supposed to have full reign for the upcoming season, so it should be good!

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Aug 17, 2009 8:35PM EDT

To each their own I guess.
I also taught that the first 4-5 episodes were mediocre - good at best (okay Eliza's singing I could really have done without and that episode by far was the least interesting of the season imo!) But after that, the season really picked up and I'm so glad I didn't give up early.
I disagree that there was little or no concern for the character Echo because of her non-personality. From early on we were introduced to Caroline (although in small fragments) so we knew that there was a person and a personality underneath the blank-staring, emotionless doll. I for one was always at the edge of my seat when Caroline appeared as a memory to Echo - waiting for her to regain her memory or something to that effect.
I was really impressed with the way the season turned out and can't wait for the next one.
Oh - I'm also glad they (THAT network) kept Dollhouse despite it's poor ratings and THAT network's cancellation record!

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Aug 17, 2009 9:47PM EDT

I agree with you but I went into the show knowing that, with the exception of Firefly, Whedon shows generally get off to a slow start (i.e. BtVS and Angel). That being said, I thought the last few episodes were really interesting, especially Epitaph One. I can't wait to see where the show goes from there.

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