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01 March 2009



Word, word, word. I am hoping for the same.


I think I just said, in so many words, this same thing (http://brownrabbittanning.blogspot.com/2009/02/whedon-heads-on-alert.html) but I maintain it's too early to actively dislike Dollhouse. I just can't tell what he's after yet. And because Whedon's generally so judicious about parceling out his narrative, I'm still willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. I feel like there must be some *reason* he, one of the best characterists of the day, would handicap himself with a personality-less protagonist. I'm pitching my tent in the camp of optimism on this one. For now.

Karl Elvis

I was afraid from the moment I heard it described.

Everything I feared was true; as you said, it's impossible to like or care about a programmed robot that changes personality each episode, and Dushku (whom I adore) just isn't a strong enough actress to sell the subtleties of playing a character within a character.

like you, I'm a huge whedon fan. Firefly is one of the best shows ever; so is Buffy, at least the first four seasons.

Dollhouse could have worked, though, with two fundamental changes.

One, you have to make your main character NOT one of the dolls. Your character needs to be either the cop trying to take 'em down (an enemy with no face, ie, a different doll each week), or one of the handlers.

Second, they need to be assassins, not things like hostage negotiators. In the real world of espionage, those who train assassins looks for a certain personality type; sociopaths, yet with propensity for loyalty and an aptitude for training. These people are forged into weapons to be used and, if they're caught, disposed of.

The dollhouse concept is make perfect sense for assassins; people who are turned into single minded killers, with no memory of anything but a mission and a cover story. These people are empty vessels between missions, ruthless killers when 'set'. Visualize something like Tara Chace from 'queen and country', coupled with 'the unit', but make the agent quasi-robotic (a cylon agent from the new Battlestar Galactica).

Not every mission would be a killing; some would be 'infiltrate and extract', or "protect". But the show needs to stick to spy and military territory. Once you get outside that territory and they put the 'dolls' into non-military situations, the absurdity of putting a machine into a socially complex role becomes obvious. And the 'dolls' need to be an interchangeable cast of good looking action stars who primarily act robotic, intentionally. It could have worked very well, so long as the 'dolls' aren't expected to carry the plot.

I admit though; I only saw the first episode. I have not yet over-come my revulsion enough to watch more. But the concept and execution were both so profoundly flawed in the first episode that I had a hard time seeing how they can save it.


I'm not sure I agree with the statement about "Whedon humour." Yes, most of his works have been cleverly funny, but Firefly wasn't really meant to be so. It was mostly Fox's idea. The pilot episode had a fairly brooding Captain Mal, but by the second episode he was quipping about space monkeys. Hence why the episodes were shown out of order, and the pilot was never even aired on Fox. The fact that Whedon always goes back to those dickheads amazes me every time. Every show he's ever put on the air with them has been canceled. Hell, they fired their entire animation department after Titan AE, which wasn't even a bad movie.

Back to my point... Whedon has done some funny stuff, for sure. Dr. Horrible's is one of my favourite Whedon productions. I just don't think he intends for everything he does to be funny. Serenity was certainly significantly darker than most of Firefly. That being said, I'm not spectacularly impressed with the first few episodes of Dollhouse, either. It definitely seems to be missing something, but I don't think it's a particular Whedon trademark that it lacks. I also agree that it is to early to judge whether or not it is a good show, since there is clearly far more character and plot development in store. I just hope it lasts long enough to prove us so.

chelsea g.


I'm going to have to respectfully disagree with you there. Think about the opening scene of Serenity (the movie) and the interaction between Mal and the crew members, especially Wash:

Hoban 'Wash' Washburn: This landing is gonna get pretty interesting.
Capt. Malcolm Reynolds: Define "interesting".
Hoban 'Wash' Washburn: [deadpan] Oh God, oh God, we're all going to die?

One of the things that Joss Whedon does really, really well is to recognize--and integrate--the funny with the brooding, and vice-versa. Even the original pilot of Firefly had Wash playing with the dinosaur models over the flight console ("Yes... Yes... This is a fertile land and we will thrive. We will rule over all this land and we will call it... This Land"), and it had Zoë comment flatly on Reavers, "If they take the ship, they'll rape us to death, eat our flesh and sew our skins into their clothing. And if we're very, very lucky, they'll do it in that order." It's dialogue that is meant to be funny, and funny it is.

Watch it again. You'll see what I mean.

As for the Fox thing, yeah, they are muthahfuckas. On the other hand, Fox started the self-effacing corporate humor that has since spread to NBC, HBO, and Comedy Central. Say what you want about their fucked-up standards and right-wing politics, but Fox has a tremendous affection for shows that give their own home a really, really hard time. In many ways, I think that New York Magazine's Emily Nussbaum was pretty much right on the money when she asserted that "But perhaps the strangest thing about Dollhouse is the way in which it seems to reflect Whedon’s anxieties about TV itself.... Whedon has always written about feminism, but as he’s progressed through Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse, another theme has emerged: the question of how to live within a system that co-opts any attempt at rebellion."

I can't help seeing Dollhouse as a wry critique of Fox in specific and television in general that exploits women by marching them through a rotation of easily recognizable fantasies. I also can't imagine Fox isn't aware of Whedon's will to subvert.

Here's the magazine link, should you want to read Nussbaum's excellent piece: http://nymag.com/arts/tv/features/54047/

chelsea g.

Sigrid Ellis

I agree with you, very much. Both as to the strengths and the weaknesses. My own highly irritated feminist defense of the show is here:



Dushku did an interview with the AV Club. She is pushing the "wait until the sixth episode before you judge" line. Apparently, episode 6 is the next script Whedon writes after the pilot. Here it is:



Ben Carthage

I gave up adoring Joss somewhere in the middle of Buffy Season 4 when the show hit the skids, but I tried Dollhouse mostly because Eliza Dushku has done fairly interesting work outside her tenure with Joss. The show operates from a flawed premise, which you ably point out; story is character, and especially on TV if we don't have someone we can connect with, we won't keep coming back. I would bet the show is a fascinating exercise for Dushku, who gets to play someone new every week, an actor's dream. But between the challenging time slot and the shaky premise, I wouldn't get too attached to Dollhouse. Feminist yearnings aside, this show seems to be on the air mainly to display Dushku's considerable physical assets.


A well-written and - mostly - accurate review. But I was impressed and intrigued with the last moment of Ep 3, where it became apparent that Echo knows more than she's letting on.

Whedon has designed a feminist dystopia, but he certainly hasn't shown approval of it. And that's the key point. I think the real title may be, "Escape from the Dollhouse". But then, one of Whedon's strengths is his ability to avoid the obvious.

Trust the Joss. I do, and I know that it will pay off if he has the chance.

Jessica Aplin

Hang in there. If you read this article, you'll find out that more is in store, especially after the network gave Josh more freedom from episodes 6 till the end.



While you make many great points, I recently read an interview with Eliza that said that after episode 6 it will start to feel more like a Joss Whedon show. The first 6 episodes are meant to stand alone and the bigger plot arc will come later (the studio wanted to attract as many new viewers as possible before one episode had to been seen in order to understand the next.
I really like the show, and I think it can only get better.

chelsea g.

I get it. Episode 6. Thank you, Fox/Whedon publicity machine. I won't publish any more "Hang on, baby, episode 6 is coming" kitten in a tree comments.


chelsea g.


Yeah, the last ep was pretty good. Was that Eliza really singing during the audition? If so, that was pretty impressive! I think it was her, I can usually tell sync when I see it, but she is so distracting!
I hope Fox gives this show a full-season commitment. This is a show that needs time to un-fold, and when it does it could be great. Much rather to see a show grow than to be impressed with a series premiere and then see it start to suck, which happens a lot (coughHeroescoughbionicwoman)

Tom FD

Compare it not to the best episodes of Buffy, Angel and Firefly. Compare it to the first few episodes of Buffy or Angel. Are they about on par? I think they are. It took me until episode seven before really got hooked on Buffy. It took an entire season of Angel before I felt that got going at all smoothly. Firefly is the exception but Firefly was an exceptional programme to begin with (and who's to say that wouldn't have turned South had it continued longer?). Of course you're not going to see "Passion" in the first three episodes. You have good reason to give it more time.


Unlike his other shows, where a simple concept grew as the characters did, Dollhouse is in the opposite situation of the characters needing to grow into the concept.

I do feel it happening, and I'm sure that, by the end of the season, it will have gone beyond the one-off, episodic nature of one engagement per episode, and Echo will have developed into a sympathetic individual, at which point the show will hit its stride and develop into a larger story arc.

I'm not saying it will succeed, but I'm going to give it until the end of the season, hoping it does.


It is nice to know that I'm not the only one who is disappointed in "Dollhouse." Since I can't blame Joss for this mess, I have to blame Dushku. What is she doing in producing it? That means too much actor ego and not enough writer/creator. I keep waiting for Eliza to snap from her milquetoast persona that they have programmed into her and kick some serious butt. And waiting, and waiting . . . . Ok, I get it. The programming isn't working. They are not being wiped. And Echo is the Fibbie's sister/girlfriend, etc. And there is the wildcard of the Alpha. But who cares? I don't like these people. And that is key to the success of any series.

As an aside, or two: I watch it in HD and it has a "grainy" feel. And doesn't the computer geek remind you of David Wenham of "300" and "LOTR?"


@ Peregrine, chelsea g

I think that humour was the wrong word to use. Wit would be more appropriate, I think. And that's what I've been saying all along to others, that Dollhouse is missing the "Whedon Wit".

President Warren G. Harding

As any fan off Joss would know, he has said on more than one occasion, "The first six episodes are the pilot."

What is the show about? What is Joss up to? Joss-haters and people indifferent to his work... none of them know yet, yet claim to know, because each of the first 3 episodes (and presumably, tonight's fourth) are episodic, stand-alone House-like episodes, formulaic and without much character development.

... But fans of Mr. Whedon know better. Look back at the first six episodes of Angel, oe *especially* Buffy. While good, they were extremely episodic not at all indicative of what was to come.

The opening scene in "Pulp Fiction" features two people talking about nothing, for many minutes. Even in 1994, I could hear the audience getting bored. But I knew the habits of the creator, and I sat there in the dark, giggling like a crazy person, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Fifteen years later, the maxim still works. "Wait for it."


You've said everything about Dollhouse that I've thought! Thank you!


i am giving it a cautious two thumbs up. i fell for buffy when i found it at ep 4 and i fell for firefly and i'm sorta thinking about having a crush on dollhouse.

there are enough hints of arc and spirit that i'm willing to see what happens. joss has given me 13 seasons of pretty fine television, he gets my eyes for a whole one just to see what happens.

and besides, i like it.

JK Collins

I think you just need to give the series a chance to unfold. Each week Joss peels away another layer of this complex onion. In recent interviews with Eliza, she's even said that by episode 6 (which is tonight) Joss fully comes into his own. Patience grasshopper!

Karl Elvis

You people are making me think I should watch the second and third eps I have on my tivo. After how bad the first was I've been afraid, but you're right, buffy didn't start that strong, and episode 2 (train job) is (i think) the weakest in firefly's run.

Hope - I haz it. Just a bit.


Thanks, very well said. As just for the record? I'm a huge Joss fan, but I'm getting very tired of the whole "just wait till ep 6" shtick. Being Human had a helluva first season, and they did that in only six eps.


It's slow, ponderous, and derivative, he enjoys his slightly mephitic scenarios, but he needs to add the funny, this is too depressing. And unfortunately the lead isn't a very good actor. Waiting for it only means less time for better things.


I would say that Dollhouse's premise is simple: what is identity/personality or what makes us human/people? Its a classic science fiction theme that is traditionally explored with robots/cyborgs/androids. And I am obviously in the minority, but I actually like Echo a lot in her wiped state, partly because of the little tidbits we're getting about her not being so wiped as the staff thinks, and partly because she is childlike in a way that makes me want to protect her. I do agree that Eliza isn't showing to be as strong an actress as the role demands, which means her engagements result in her being very similar each time, but I think that can work in favor of the show if people don't connect to Echo, because it really is a very similar personality for each engagement.

and as for the wait for episode six stuff, well, maybe it gets better and maybe it doesn't, but I love Buffy as a whole, but I hate 75% of the episodes in the first season (they all have things in them I like, but as stories, they suck big time), and I did not really like the first episodes of Firefly but now I love them, and first season of Angel is also filled with crap episodes, so I do tend to try to give Joss a chance to find his footing before I make a decision about his stuff. YMMV.


I am so glad I am not the only one....


I was a little disappointed with the pilot but I think that was because my expectations were just so freaking high because it is a Joss show. Really disappointed isn't the best word to describe it because if this show was by just about anyone else I would have thought it was pretty good and given it another episode or two before deciding. But because it is a Joss show I will watch as long as it is on the air and I'm liking it more and more each week.

There are no doubt underlying arcs that we haven't seen and things are already starting to happen. And with Whedon's imagination there is no telling where he plans on taking this show. He will come up with things that no one sees coming. He is the master of sucking us into his shows. That is why so many of us bow at his feet and why "Joss is Boss".

Ronald Helfrich

Casablanca Moment 1: I am shocked shocked that some have the attention span of an MTV commercial. I guess some of you would give up on War and Peace after the first chapter. Why do I suspect that this tells me a lot about the contemporary human reading and watching condition?

Casablanca Moment 2: I am shocked shocked that some of you think you could put on a superior TV show to Whedon and Company who have a moderately successful TV record. Why aren't you all working in US television? Forgive me for this moment.

Casablanca Moment 3: I am shocked shocked that some of you think every show should express your politically correct ideological prejudices. Perhaps we should just turn TV and films and literature over to a bunch of actives (actives who are mimics of you all) whose bodies and minds have been programmed to endlessly produce politically correct programmes complete with politically correct stereotypes and caricatures. And while we are at it let's blackball all politically incorrect writers like Margaret Atwood.

Casablanca Moment 4: I am shocked shocked that many of you would prefer to see a rehash of Buffy, Angel, or Firefly (forgetting, of course, that these are actually quite different shows in a number of ways). Perhaps those of you who want endless repeats of something that came before could just watch endlessly episodes of Buffy. Or perhaps we could create a cadre of Stepford Writers who would simply endlessly repeat themselves. Gee wouldn't that be wonderful? Anyway, many of you show that Hollywood's genre strategy (endlessly formulaic shows) is a smart one. Call Me Mr. Anti-genre but I thank the gods that European art cinema breaks out of this rehash formula.


I'm in Dollhouse for Tahmoh Penikett, no matter what, until cancellation do us part.

Steve D

Because of my boundless love and dedication to firefly, I can't bring myself to watch dollhouse, but I like to keep in touch with it all the same because I respect Joss so completely, however it does seem, at least at this early stage, that I have been right in choosing not to watch, it does seem like dollhouse lacks the charm and the magic of other Whedon shows. However, with that said, I do think Joss' idea on this could work out well, long term. The problem is putting such dedication into the show to allow it to develop to a point where we can finally become attached to our central characters. Ths show seems to me to be about Echo's change from mindless puppet to self awareness. I can see the thought process Joss must have had 'let people watch and experience Echo's personality grow'. In many ways she echo's (no pun) River. River had a very fluid personality that made her difficult to grasp and really care for. It made her incredibly entertaining and often times frightening, but really becoming attached to her like we do with other fluid personalities such as Willow, or otehr Firefly stalwarts like Mal and Jayne, that kind of attachment was difficult to generate with River. We grow to love River because we watch every episode and see her progress (or lack of) and learn a bit more about her. By watching her we become surrogate Simons and want to care for her such as he does. But this would not be possible with River if it were not for the strength of the ensemble. Arguably, River is the primary character in the show, hers is the driving story, but the other characters are not there just in the background to respond to her, they are also there for themselves and they are unique and individual and all have equal measures of depth and intrigue.

In Dollhouse, whilst echo, and how I believe she will progress echo's River Tam, by not only making hers the driving story, but also the focus character, the other characters become weaker, they appear only to be in the show to flesh out echo's character and story. And that is not enough. And this stage we still see echo growing, learning, adapting, watching her slowly becoming self aware and retaining memories, but she's not a strong enough focus character to be able to carry the show, and ultimately, it appears dollhouse is suffering because of it. Firefly was clever because River who was so important, was able to have her influence, and her progress in such a relatively small amount of screen time in each episode. This is what I believe it needs to be with echo also. Allow her to grow, let us see that growth, but make other characters who can be fleshed out and much more consistant take center stage, let them carry the episodes until Echo's story comes to the point where she develops a stable personality that we can finally identify with and attach ourselves to.

I DO think this show has promise, I just think Joss needs to shift his focus to alternative characters who can carry each episode.


We can talk as long as we like about waiting til the 6th episode, but it's the concept that's at fault, as others have identified. `Buffy, who appears to be an ordinary teenage girl, is actually a vampire slayer - and falls in love with a vampire'. That's a story I want to hear more about. `A vampire with a soul uses his connections with the supernatural underside to achieve good'. Tell me more! `A covert organisation has an elite group of women who are imprinted with new personalities ... ' etc etc ... you've lost me. Where is the hook here? Why do I care?


I think once Joss gets going all the people who are commenting that the premis is the problem with DollHouse will have to eat their words. Yes Buffy started out simple and grew into a wonderful show - but do you remember watching the pilot? I only kept watching past the pilot because I owned the whole set on DVD and figured I'd better keep watching. I love that this show doesn't start out so simply. Doll House fromt he get go requires you to pay attention not just passively absorb. Can't wait to see what happens in the next couple of episodes. ep. 4 did not dissapoint.

One more point: for those who are viewing Dollhouse as anti-feminist... please take note of the fact that there are male and female operatives - it's not just the male fantasies that the dollhouse fufills.


The best-looking spa on earth...
No, it's just the Wolfram & Hart set.

There appear to be a half-dozen or so [dolls] of varying races and both genders...
Judging by the name 'Sierra', I'd say there have to be at least 20. And I think some have been in the field a long time...


Excellent article, and I agree with every word. My one hope is that this is simply the introduction: soon Echo, and her buddies, will start remembering things... and then we will have our Scoobies. I don't know if that's the case, but I believe in Whedon. He won't let us down.

Gold Monkey

The character is currently a blank. On purpose. The character is being built, however, episode by episode.

And that... is very new.


I'm surprised by any feminists who think they're supposed to like the people behind the Dollhouse or can't feel any sympathy for Echo and the other Actives. In various interviews, Joss has talked about sex trafficking in connection to Dollhouse. Clearly, the people who have set up the Dollhouse and the people who buy their services are not the heroes, for the most part. We know that Caroline was coerced into joining the Dollhouse. Other than that, I think I'm talked out on this subject because I'm on Whedonesque (in addition to writing about it for Echidne's site).

President Warren G. Harding

Having now watched episode four, one thing is clear: Each episode is better than the one before it.

These are the facts, and they are incontrovertible.


you are dead on correct, 100%.

The show doesnt even feel like a Whedon show. Is it because its not? I read a long article about how he was his at first, but after a time Fox stepped in and had he redo alot of things. The big thing they had he rewrite and rework was the series pilot, after 2 weeks of work Joss himself shut down production because he didnt know what Fox wanted from him, since it seemed that they didnt like the direction he was taking the show.

umm hello? FOX? Whedon is a god! let him take the show where ever he wants to please!

So now I spend most of my time watching a show out of LOYALTY to Joss, but I have no real desire at all to watch it - though if Alan Tudyk is to play Alpha (as rumored)I might just stick around to see him.

Girl with a one track mind

Chronos commented -

"Excellent article, and I agree with every word. My one hope is that this is simply the introduction: soon Echo, and her buddies, will start remembering things... and then we will have our Scoobies. I don't know if that's the case, but I believe in Whedon. He won't let us down."

- and I also agree with every word. Excellent post, CG, I'm crossing my fingers here and remaining hopeful.


Unlike most of the commentary I've read from the blogosphere (including "real" critics), your post is thoughtful, has breadth and depth, and is extremely well-written. I can't find fault with much of what you've written, although being a red-blooded male I have to say it doesn't hurt that the actives are sexy as hell. (Don't get me wrong, when push comes to shove I consider myself a feminist and I love strong female roles (Alias, Buffy, In Plain Sight, Ziva on NCIS) but still--I'm just sayin'.

Also, I will give Joss as much time as Fox will give him. Hopefully, that will prevent a reprise of the Firefly tragedy where the network pinheads cancel a show just as it's started to reach its stride. I'm a little older than most of the Joss-lovers, so I remember that MASH, Barney Miller and Hill Street Blues (some of the most successful series in the history of TV) all took at least a season before they really gained in popularity.

A little more time and everything will be shiny.


Perhaps the problem is that Dushku is an awful actor, and as she is producing, has concentrated on a show as a vehicle for her career. Not much of an 'ensemble' feel to it.

Laura Harless

I am a huge Whedon fan as well. Yes, Dollhouse is not Buffy or Angel or Firefly. Am I alone in saying so what? I loved all of those shows. And yes, it is taking a bit to get into Dollhouse but come on. It's been three weeks. And I'll have to admit I'm surprised that Fox hasn't cancelled it by now because God forbid that it isn't number 1 right out of the gate and they did mess with the pilot like they did with Firefly. People keep saying it's missing the Whedon humor. And who said, one that it was promised in any of the press leading up to the show, and two that Joss can't branch out and do something different for a change. He's testing the waters. If Fox gives this a chance, I think he can do something really good with this. It took a while to get his Buffy formula down too. I've seen the movie. The movie was really bad compared to the show. He's branching out again. Give it time.


I love whedon as well and everything he has done. I actually like dollhouse. I prefered dushku on tru calling but that's just me.. Whedon had an interview about a month ago in rolling stone how the network and associates were giving him a hard time about the show and how he felt stifled by the network and dollhouse is most likely going to be the last televsion show he will do because of the interference of the network. So let's give dollhouse a little bit more of a chance.. I think it's an interesting concept myself.


just watched episode four. it kind of rocked. i'm getting into this show.

Jeff K

I read an interview with Eliza who states that Joss was toeing the Fox-line for the first few episodes, until they eased off on the reigns some. She says that either it's Ep 6 or AFTER Ep 6 is when you get to see the true Whedon-ness coming out in full glory. Give it at least until Ep 8 before you draw too much of a conclusion. Fox had to get in tehre first and monkey with his vision again... so give it a chance after he's able to bring full consideration to the character. I think that you'll all be glad that you did.


I was kind of muddy about the first episode. But Echo seems to be developing a stand alone personality minute by minute. And the relationship her handler has with her [even if she doesn't really have one with him] is one of the best parts of the show so far. He seems to have taken up the role of her father whether anyone likes it or not. I look forward to more posts about the show!


I had to come back and find this thread because damn, I find this show unwatchable. Just unbearable (though that English chick with the puffy upper eyes is kind of hot). But Echo's one facial expression (I am so beautiful, me and my impossibly full lips), and the yoga and that last episode where she ran around in a butt-length dress and thigh high lace stockings.... Put a cap in this one's a$$ baby, cuz it's dead.

chelsea g.


I agree that Echo's grey ensemble was mesmerizingly inappropriate, if horrendously attractive. However, I think episode 6 lived up to its hype. Unfortunately, episode 7 did not. Olivia Williams (the puffy-eyed British actress) having a psychedelic drug episode was kind of charming.

I think the issue here is that Joss is busy making a movie and busy with this television series and just plain busy. It seems like things are getting away from him. Still I'll continue to give it a chance. I'm a sucker for puffy lips and snappy dialog.

chelsea g.

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