Joss Whedon cracked up TV critics gathered Tuesday at the Universal Hilton Hotel as he riffed, via satellite hookup from Boston, about pilot reshoots, his fondness for Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and a possible sequel to his direct-to-web musical, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog.
If only the writer-producer behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly brought some of his trademark wit to the first episode of Dollhouse. In the Fox sci-fi series, which premieres next month, former Buffy star Eliza Dushku (pictured with Harry Lennix and Fran Kranz) plays Echo, an "active" who gets imprinted with a new personality each week in order to carry out secret missions for the mysterious Dollhouse organization.
It's a rich premise and a lively showcase for Dushku, but the pilot episode is largely bereft of Whedon's characteristic sense of humor. Asked about the show's earnest tone, Whedon joked: "I've lost my sense of humor entirely in the last eight years. It's sad really. Apparently I was a funny guy."
The hour-long show has already been the subject of some speculation and controversy, with Whedon blogging last year about plans to reshoot the pilot in order to nail the proper tone for Dollhouse. At the time, he said the show would be "a fun-house ride of excitement, fear, existential angst and co-ed showers."
On Tuesday, Whedon said viewers can expect the show to evolve beyond the pilot's spilled blood and mind-wipe machinery.
"Dollhouse is much more straight-ahead dramatic than what we've done before," he said. "There's less opportunity to be totally silly. However, this is me we're talking about, and my staff, and these actors who are actually good comedians as well as everything else, and we can't fight the funny."
With 11 episodes already filmed, the series will lighten up over time, Whedon promised. That should be good news for Whedon fans who, fearing trouble brewing long before Dollhouse was scheduled to hit the airwaves, launched a premature effort to keep the show alive last year.
"The funny is going to win partially because it makes (the show) more diverting, and partially because I believe that's how articulate people react to difficult situations," Whedon said at the press event. "Humor definitely finds its way into the mix. I couldn't make a show that is relentlessly serious."
Dollhouse debuts Feb. 13 at 9 p.m. EST on Fox.