Last week I promised to talk about Dollhouse in today’s post. At the time, I thought I needed another episode to figure out what I think about it. After watching the 3rd episode last Friday, I fully admit I still don’t know what I think about it.
I am usually a fan of all things Whedon. But, admittedly, these things usually fall into one of two categories for me:
1) Things I love unconditionally from the beginning to the end (Buffy, Dr. Horrible, Astonishing X-Men).
2) Things it takes me a while to warm up to, but I end up loving as unconditionally as the others (Angel, Firefly, Fray).
I’m beginning to think that Dollhouse may fall into the latter category.
For those not in the know, Dollhouse centers around a secret agency that provides “actives” for hire. These actives are young men and women whose previous personality and memories have been erased, and can be programmed with various new personalities and skill sets for whatever the client desires (only to be wiped clean again after the engagement ends).
Eliza Dushku plays Echo, the dollhouse’s post popular active. I loved Dushku on Buffy and in Bring It On, but sometimes she just falls a little flat for me. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t kick her out of bed for eating Cheetos, but her acting sometimes leaves something to be desired. I’m not sure yet if this is a result of the character herself, or of Dushku’s actual ability to play something other than “bad/tough girl”. I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt and say that playing someone whose mind is wiped constantly and has no base personality of her own may be affecting the acting. Maybe it will get better as the character develops. What can I say? I’m a cockeyed Whedon optimist.
The show benefits greatly from a good supporting cast. Battlestar Galactica‘s Tahmoh Penikett plays FBI agent Paul Ballard, who is on the trail of the mysterious and elusive dollhouse. I love Penikett on BSG and I love him on Dollhouse. I find his good-boy grittiness really appealing, and it also provides a necessary ground to reality for the show.
Angel alumna Amy Acker plays the dollhouse’s resident doctor, and she’s probably my favourite thing about the show. And that’s not just because I miss Fred. Ok, it’s a little because I miss Fred. Dr Claire Saunders was disfigured in a battle with a renegade “doll”, Alpha, whose plot is still thickening. Her disillusionment with the dollhouse and its services is palpable, and makes for subtle intensity that helps make the characters who aren’t “dolls” a little more layered and empathetic in contrast to the mind-wiped actives.
Also good are Harry Lennix as Echo’s handler, Boyd, and Fran Kranz as Topher, the child-like genius who wipes and programs the dolls. Topher is the conduit for most of Whedon’s signature wit and one-liners. Which brings me to another good point, Dollhouse isn’t the fanciful romp of puns and one-liners that Whedon is known for. It’s darker, and those expecting a typical Whedon script may find themselves disoriented. I fully admit I may be one of those people.
I’m willing to give this show a good, long chance. I know Whedon doesn’t work in one-shots. Instead, his shows are better suited to the sort of storytelling found in a good comic book arc. However, I hope the show abandons the “find a reason to get Dushku in a skimpy outfit while holding a gun” method of storytelling soon. I believe this could have the potential for some amazing opportunities for Dushku to prove she’s more than the “bad/tough girl”, except that the show seems bent on getting her into the bad/tough girl characters as often as possible. The first three episodes have featured her as a party girl on a motorcycle, a tough-as-nails hostage negotiator, a outdoorsy-tough chick (who then ends up being hunted by her date), and a backup singer for an R&B pop princess. Let someone come in and hire Echo to be an undercover Mennonite, or an uber-feminine WASP or something. I understand the inherent sexuality involved in a show that’s about people for hire, but I don’t see why they can’t expand on the idea to feature clients who have other things in mind. Basically, I’d just like to see Echo/Dushku as someone that doesn’t require leather pants and a .38 to get the job done.