Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Fall TV Preview: Dollhouse

Y'all know my hatred of FOX. Come preview time, when it's time to roll out the new shows and pilots, FOX is always the impressive one. They have all the coolest genre shows, all the potential, and take some of the biggest risks. Come November, most of those shows have been cancelled, barely able to have made a dent in our schedule, and replaced by reality television.

Yet every fall, I'm back in front of my TV watching FOX shows like I just don't know how to learn my lesson. This fall is the most exciting one since that of 2002, when Firefly premiered.

And we all know how THAT ended up.

This year, Joss Whedon is back with Dollhouse, a show I've been talking about here, but not nearly as much as I should be. I've been reading bits and pieces on it for months, including casting, rumours, and what's been going on with the show, but last week FOX finally rolled out the goods on its shows, and Dollhouse has an official trailer.

Dollhouse stars Eliza Dushku, who became our beloved Faith in the hands of Whedon, as Echo, one of five "dolls" who live in the dollhouse, run by a ruthless woman played by Olivia Williams (Bruce Willis's wife in The Sixth Sense). These dolls can be hired out to play any part you want, and when they come back to the dollhouse, their memories are wiped clean, and they become fresh clean slates, ready for the next job. They live contented lives, unaware of the things they do when they're under the spell of the dollhouse's CEO.

Problem is, Echo's starting to remember some things. And that ain't good.

The show also stars Tahmoh Penikett (Helo on BSG) and Amy Acker (WOOO!!!! Fred/Illyria on Angel) and honestly, the premise could be, "A man sits on a street corner and reads chemistry textbooks aloud. Nothing else happens" and if it were helmed by Joss Whedon, I'd be there. But this show sounds amazing, and the trailer's pretty awesome, too. Check it out:

Dollhouse is going to be a mid-season show, beginning in January, and Fox announced that it and the other big show, Fringe (see my next post), will be running at nearly the full hour, the same length as HBO shows (instead of 15 minutes of commercials per hour, these shows will get about five).


K J Gillenwater said...

I'm not a Joss Whedon fan....never watched more than 10 minutes of any Buffy episode, never watched Angel. So, if you want a Joss-fan-free opinion...I wouldn't watch this. It really looks rather hokey...the premise, I mean.

People supposedly volunteer to have their brains wiped clean and be 'programmed' for a variety of assignments? That is just not really believable to me. It seems like a forced premise b/c he thought what he could do with it would be really cool.

I found the idea rather creepy and disturbing...and not in an entertaining way (I *like* shows that are creepy and disturbing). Especially the scene with the girl being selected as a date that was supposed to be in love with that really repulsive guy at the wedding. That just made me think, "gross."

I also find it kind of filled with Deus Ex Machina type moments...need to get out of any jam? Well, she can be programmed to do it perfectly! It just is sort of ridiculous.

Oh, and I wanted to know why someone would hire a 'doll' to jump out of an airplane? What kind of assignment would that be? Just seemed dumb.

Sorry. But that's my two cents.

Anonymous said...


Hi! (long-time lurker, first-time poster) You'll be happy to hear, if you haven't already, that Whedon himself is confident this is not the same Fox that cancelled Firefly. In an interview with (I think) the LA Times he claimed that the network execs "get" Dollhouse in a way their predecessors never "got" Firefly.

Also, Kevin Rielly is new to Fox -- only been there for a year -- and his work at NBC included fighting hard to give The Office a second season despite low first-season ratings. In interviews he has come off as being starstruck by Whedon and has said he wants Dollhouse to be one of Fox's "tentpole" series. Remember, this guy gave Whedon a seven-episode commitment sight-unseen, based solely on Whedon and Dushku's reputations.


Hi! Does it help you understand the Actives' motivations to know that they only agree to work for the Dollhouse for five years, at the end of which they get a huuuge paycheck (shades of the Philip K. Dick short story). Can't you imagine people who might have lives they want to escape from? To some people I imagine the deal sounds pretty good.

K J Gillenwater said...

Helps some what...but the whole idea of it is sort of backwards planning, in my thinking. I can see Whedon thinking, oooh think about how they could do this cool thing and that cool thing, and how could that be possible? Sort of backwards building.

But, fine, even if I could believe for one moment a woman would basically sell her body/mind to be used for this like borderline prostitution...it just has an icky feel to it.

Not a 'wow, cool, this looks amazing." Which is what I think you want a tv show trailer for this type of show to be making you think...right?

I just wanted to give an 'outsiders' opinion. Because I can see how Whedon fans will just trust and follow. It could be the best show in the world, but based on what I saw, I just wouldn't watch it.

And can anyone answer why you would need to hire a beautiful female to skydive? I don't quite get that part of the clip...?

It would have been more effective to show me the whys rather than 'ooh cool, girl doing karate moves' or the quip by the bride at the table.

Nikki Stafford said...

Kristin: I see what you're saying, especially as a non-Whedon fan, but I can't help but read your comment that Buffy fans will simply "trust and follow" as a suggestion that Whedon fans are mindless zombies when it comes to his work. "Yes, Joss... we shall follow... even if you present a misogynist premise."

From what I understand, the dolls aren't all women, so you couldn't say it's sexist. And there is something to be said for a person's track record. Joss has created some of the most amazing female characters on television -- we all love Kate Austen for her power and independence, but she does not TOUCH the female characters on Joss's shows. Not even close.

His characters are all troubled, so as Not That JJ suggested (Hello and welcome, by the way!), these people could be going through some serious stuff right now. Maybe they've just lost someone close to them, or done something bad, or had the breakup that destroyed them, and they just want to forget so they can start over with a nice paycheque that will allow them to have new lives.

Yes, I'm excited about this because Joss is at the helm -- I said that in my post. But it's because if you like something someone does, you tend to follow them. If you don't like Radiohead albums, you won't buy the new one. If you're a massive fan of their work, you will look forward to a new album with anticipation. I'm sure you will follow anything JJ Abrams does, simply because you have enjoyed his past shows. It's human nature to read works by the same writer, watch films starring people we love, and the same goes for this. Joss has delivered the best television I've ever seen. So I'm naturally excited for this.

And we all know TV trailers usually don't show the best it could be. Trust me, if you saw the unaired pilot of Buffy, I would NEVER be able to convert you to the show. :)

But that said, please please please check it out!!! From your comments on my other posts, I know you are a person who loves good TV, and I can't push enough that you need to check out his stuff. :)

And by the way, if I don't like it, I'll be the first to say so. I'll give it a chance, but I won't waste my time. I wrote an entire book on Alias, but I never watched the fifth season because I was SO disappointed by the fourth. (I have it on DVD, and have yet to watch it.) So I can reassure you I won't blindly follow. ;)

K J Gillenwater said...

Nik! You are too cute. I wasn't looking to show bash or what have you. Just let you know from the outside that this show looks to me like something I wouldn't like, which is the problem it will have. Promoted incorrectly, it might be the greatest thing on the air, but new viewers won't come.

Funny, but you confirmed exactly what I was saying in my comment...that Whedon fans will be there regardless. No, not mindless zombies, but just like you said...you trust him to write/create a good show. That was my point.

Buffy was not my kind of show. I never understood the appeal of really cheesy make up effects, strange humor, and then vampire killing. I didn't see the pilot, by the way. I've tried to watch a few eps and end up switching off about 3 minutes in. I like my vampires dark, scary, completely unredeeming.

Maybe that's what the show was...but not the stuff I saw. It was one-liner humor inbetween stabbing of vampires. Just like the line the bride said at the reception in this pilot 'trailer.' Same stuff.

Just not my thing. :-)

Nikki Stafford said...

Kristin: As you will find out (if you haven't already), Whedon fans are very much like the vampires we loved to watch on Buffy: We love to turn people. And we're relentless. I can smell your blood, and I'll keep working at you. heehee....

And hey, if you didn't like Buffy, did you ever try Angel? Not a lot of crossover, and you can watch one without the other. The people on that show were far less redeemable than on Buffy.

You probably only saw the first season. I remember tuning into an episode, "I Robot, You Jane," before I was watching the series, and I thought it was the stupidest thing I'd seen. Man, was I wrong. Trust me on this one... if you stick with it until season 2, the cheesy makeup becomes pretty sophisticated makeup, and the show is a lot deeper than it seems on the surface. :)

And then, you must watch The Wire. But that's for another post.

Yes, I'm relentless. :-D

Ronald Helfrich Jnr. said...


[me channelling cordeliaspeak]

1. Don't most genre shows, particularly those heavilly dramatic, engage in "deus ex machina's"? Dramatic effect, isn't it? I suppose you could make the same "complaint" about many of the works of Shakespeare and even less "linear" artists like Bresson, Godard, Rohmer and the Dardennes.

2. I was a big fan of Buffy. I liked Angel though I didn't and still don't think it is or was the equal of Buffy. I didn't watch Firefly at all when it was on the tube. I finally caught up with it on DVD and was blown away.

3. I have read virtually everything by Mikhail Bulgakov. Seen probably 80% of the films of Hitchcock. Seen probably 90% of the films of Rohmer. Am I a mindless follower of literary and cinematic antifashion in this age of the Lucas and the Spielberg (the horror, the horror)?

And now for something completely different...
4. Wish I could see more Rivette. Celine et Julie vont en bateau is one of my favourite films.

5. I think there are quite a number of thematic intersections in the work of Whedon, Bergman, and Kieslowski. The work of all three have this existentialist vibe--a more humanist existentialist vibe compared to Sartre, by the way. All three place social ethical issues are at the heart of their work. And this is one of the reasons I like the work of all three. I am (he admits) a recovering theology student.

6. Kieslowski's brilliant Dekalog is, imho, one of the greatest TV series ever. But then I was brought up in European cinema. I think this is one of the reasons why I love the work of Joss Whedon so much.

Ronald Helfrich Jnr. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ronald Helfrich Jnr. said...

more, more, more...
Whedon, particularly in the early years of Buffy, never had that much money to work with. Buffy, in fact, had so little money that they could only build (if memory serves) one school hallway.

The moral of this tale? One can't really compare the sets, special effects, and make-up of a megabudget film or megawealthy TV show with one made on the cheap. Apples, oranges. Frankly, I am amazed at how good the early years of BtVS look given the financial limitations and the fact that the show was shot on 16mm.

Pet peeve...the fact that so many academic critics don't even realise the financial realities a TV programme faces.

Another pet peeve expressed in the form of a sadly o so true fable...

Once upon a time I met someone who told me that he hated the films of the Coen Brothers. When I asked her which Coen Brothers films he had seen she said none. He had never seen a Coen Brothers film. She hated them, she said, because they weren't independent enough for her.

As a trained historian, as you can imagine, this response didn't really satisfy me. You know us crazy historians we generally like to ground our interpretations on as much of the available evidence as we can get hands on. In other words, for me to take seriously someones criticism of the works of the Coen Brothers I would expect them to have seen every Coen Brothers film.