Joss Whedon has built up a pretty stellar body of TV work. Whether it be the long running Buffy the Vampire Slayer or the single season Firefly his shows have fans. Then there’s Dollhouse, the two season FOX series that tends to get lost in the shuffle. In a nutshell, people (either to make money or avoid jail) get their minds wiped and become dolls that can be imprinted with a personality that a customer of the “Dollhouse” will want. Whether it be the perfect date, an impeccable cat burglar, or the resurrection of a deceased loved one these dolls can be anything. While a novel idea the show built upon it with dark undercurrents of corporate conspiracy and apocalyptic futures. So let’s dig in and talk about this series.
I gave a brief synopsis in the opening paragraph, but let’s get a little more extensive. The main story of the week tended to revolve around Echo (Eliza Dushku) taking on different personalities to suit clients needs. In the meantime FBI agent Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett) tries to track down any trace of this elusive organization with no real success to begin with. Echo also begins to exhibit lingering traces of her imprinted personalities showing her to be different from the other dolls. As the show progresses a shadowy villain Alpha begins to make trouble. While the first season is pretty standard stuff, it ended with a snaphot of a bleak future where imprinting technology has lead to a world where most of humanity has been wiped and the Rossum Corporation is at large. Season two begins to dig deeper into what Rossum’s real intentions are with imprinting. We also get more background into the other Doll’s previous lives and culminates with a follow-up episode to bookend season one’s future episode. The problem is with Whedon knowing that season two would be the last he packed an additional 3 seasons worth of plot into those thirteen episodes. It got somewhat convoluted and a bit messy, but at least it wrapped everything up instead of ending on a cliffhanger.
This is where the show’s true strength comes from. While I stated season one takes a while to get moving and season two is non-stop this cast is what keeps it engaging throughout. Dushku was a strong anchor for the series, but it was the supporting cast that kept things interesting. Whedon has always been a master at crafting characters you grow to like (or hate depending on the conditions) and this is no exception. For me the best character is Topher (Fran Kranz) the Dollhouse tech guru and all around smartass. He brings a much needed levity to the show. Other great characters include Boyd (Harry Lennix) and Adelle DeWitt (Olivia Williams) and that is not only a testament to the writing, but the actors as well. I will admit the problem with the performers portraying the other dolls (Enver Gjokaj, Dichen Lachman) is the lack of real character progression since they’re always jumping from personality to personality. Luckily there are some small moments that keep you invested in them. I also never really cared for romance they tried to entangle Echo and Ballard in. It felt forced in the regular episodes, but have to admit how they resolved it in the finale was kind of brilliant.
Much like every other Whedon created TV series there needs to be some major investment on the viewers behalf in the beginning to reap the rewards. But once you get hooked you’ll be so disappointed that only 26 episodes (27 if you include the unaired pilot available on the season one DVD and blu-ray sets) got made. People who watched Buffy, Angel, and Firefly will love seeing a bunch of actors who were on those series (Amy Acker, Summer Glau, Alan Tudyk, Alexis Denisof) pop up in recurring roles. And in spite of it’s flaws Dollhouse has some great strengths. What makes the “Persona of the Week” episodes work is the ability to shift tone from crime drama, thriller, and whodunit without breaking the show’s set conventions. If any of what I previously wrote intrigues you Dollhouse is streaming on Netflix. Check it out.
As usual, what are your thoughts? Did you watch Dollhouse when it originally aired or did you catch it later? Would you like yo have seen the show get more fleshed out with additional seasons?
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