Saturday, February 14, 2009

Dollhouse 1.01: Ghost

I have been waiting for this moment on my television since May 2004:

Written and directed by Joss Whedon

I think the squee that emitted from me (and seriously, it was a "Squeeeee!" sound) could be heard down the street.

Not only was I excited to see Joss's name, but Tim Minear's, Kelly A. Manners, Stephen S. DeKnight, Elizabeth Craft & Sarah Fain... it was like a dream reunion. Here's hoping the reunion will eventually attract David Fury, Marti Noxon, David Greenwalt, Jane Espenson, Drew Z. Greenberg, Drew Goddard... I could go on and on. But enough about the geektasticness of the opening credits.

I REALLY liked the show. I can't say I was head over heels in love with it, but that's only because I'm not attached to these characters yet, and the overarching story isn't yet established, etc. You know what I think about Lost and Buffy and Angel, but none of them had me head over heels in love with them on their first episode, either.

I think this show has a ton of promise. Eliza Dushku is fabulous (my love for her was already immense, long before Echo). She's got that perfect tough-girl exterior, but with a fragile vulnerability that make it feel like she could be shattered at any moment. It's what made Faith one of the all-time great TV characters. Joss Whedon knew what he had in her, and thank goodness he's decided to hinge an entire series on her. She's fantastic.

And Amy Acker!! I can honestly say I've stayed away from all spoilers, and didn't know she'd be on, so I really loved seeing her (though I wish she'd been listed in the cast and not the guest credits... that doesn't bode well for the longevity of her character). Those slices across her face indicate a past that I can't wait to get into.

Did anyone else think the Dollhouse reminded her of Wolfram and Hart?? Maybe it was the wood panelling, maybe the lighting, maybe the levels, I don't know, but it felt sinister simply because of its resemblance to that other horrible institution.

I'm not sure I like Topher, the guy who mindwipes Echo. He seemed dull. I don't know if it's the actor's delivery of the lines or if it's the character itself, but he looked like Andrew on Buffy, but with the personality of Detective Kate on Angel. Dull. But I know Joss -- he's a careful caster, and I think there will be much more to this kid than meets the eye.

I'm intrigued by Boyd, the guy who accompanies her on the missions (there was a bit of an Alias element to all of this and he seems like the guy who might try to get her out of her situation), and Helo (bear with me... it'll take me a long time to call the guy "Paul"), who is hellbent on finding the Dollhouse.

But there was a deliberate confusion to a lot of this. Why is Helo trying to find the Dollhouse? How did he hear about it? Does he know someone on the inside? How long has Echo been with the organization? How did it get started?

These are the questions I can't wait to see answered. What did you think? Were you thrilled? Were you disappointed? Intrigued?


Steve Shore said...

I liked it... and I think someday I may love it. Lots of potential. For a brief moment, I thought Topher WAS Andrew from Buffy, but was disappointed when he wasn't

ChrisTemple said...

It was okay. It reminded me of My Own Worst Enemy... let's just hope that it lasts longer.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was an excellent start to the series. I didn't expect to be blown away by the pilot, because only one show has ever done that (Lost), so there wasn't a big letdown. I'm sure there will be some growing pains, but I love the variability that Joss built into the show. There's a million different places he can take us each week. And of course, I'm in love with Eliza. If she had just stood there for an hour and smiled, I would've been happy.

The shortened commercial technique might turn out to be one of the biggest advantages this show has in keeping it alive. Viewers are a lot less likely to change the channel or get up and go to the kitchen when they know they only have 60 seconds. It seems to work well for Fringe. Hopefully, Dollhouse receives a nice boost from it too.

Did anyone else get a kick out of the Edward James Olmos reference? I wonder if they did that for the BSG fans they're hoping to bring over with Tahmoh?

Much like you Nik, I loved seeing so many familiar names in the opening credits. Seeing so many extraordinary people back together for this series, has my hopes up even higher.

I haven't mentioned much about the episode itself because I think you covered a lot of the things I would've said. Topher actually reminded me a lot of Adam Busch. (Maybe we're just connecting a nerd to some of our favorite nerds. They all look alike right?) Seeing Amy Acker again was fantastic, but I was a bit worried by the guest starring credit as well. I'm not too interested in her back story because I already know her secret. She's clearly Edward Scissor Hands's sister. No? Just me? Oh...

Harry Lenix's character is definitely my favorite (after Echo of course). He already seems all dark and twisty inside which is typical Joss. I have feeling he'll be the guy that gets mentally beaten down over and over, kind of like a late Season 3-Season 4 Wesley.

I'm looking forward to next week and praying that someone at Fox gives this show a better frakin' time slot!

Katy Boose said...

I thought it looked like Wolfram and Hart too. The centre foyer type, with the wood paneling and second storey balcony.
When the credits started airing, I squeeled. The return of Joss and his A team. So happy to see familiar faces back and know that they can deliver great moments.

The Chapati Kid said...

I wasn't sold... I mean, I love Dushku and Joss, but this episode had a lot of holes in it.

1. The opening credits - visuals and music - SUCKED. It was totally late '90s early 2000's, like Angel and Buffy. Not really matching up to the sophistication of other, more current shows. I think it would turn off any viewer who isn't already a Whedon fan.

2. I don't understand the logic behind why a rich guy would go and hire what seems to be a glorified escort service to help him get back his little daughter. I mean, he expresses doubts at the time of hiring the company, about whether the person they send will be up for the job, and which parent who has doubts about their hire is going to let them into any situation that will endanger their child? And then that whole chat on the balcony, where he's pissed off and effing with her psyche, even though he's been TOLD not by the company. I mean, if you're a billionaire, go with the bloody best, you know. Bleagh.

3. Why would Andrew/Whozit PURPOSELY put flaws in the women's minds? If he's building bespoke pasts for them, would he be that stupid to not know ahead of time that the girl who's past he's put in Echo's head was sexually abused?

4. There was a bit of a La Femme Nikita stink to that whole interaction between Caroline and that boss lady with the contract.

5. My fear: Joss is brilliant at out-there fantasy - vampires, beasts, outer space renegades. But I think this show is much more "realistic" fantasy than any of his other shows. By that I mean, get the audiences to suspend their disbelief will be a hell of a lot harder than it was on his other shows because they were just out there, you know?

I don't get it or care for it, even though I want to... but I'll give it another shot.

Anonymous said...

I watched it but it didn't really appeal to me. I was never a Buffy fan (Don't shoot me!) so I had no real expectations and therefore wasn't disappointed. To me, it was just another show like so many that I see and take a pass on. I am all for shows that have real characters that I can care about - Echo has no personality of her own and so there is no emotion to draw me in right from the start. Plus I agree with the plot holes Chapati Kid said - not a solid enough show for me to spend an hour on. Oh well, it's not like I don't watch enough TV already!

margosita said...

I also really liked it. They are setting up a lot of mystery and interesting relationships. I think the first episode is always the hardest. Everyone is coming in blind and if it's important that we need to know Echo's handler is an ex-cop it has to be worked into the dialog and that leaves for some awkward moments.

But Nikki, with your list of questions at the end, how could you leave out the last scene? With the video year book and photos and envelope reading "keep looking" and the dead bodies!? What!?

And Chapati Kid, I think the reason the guy with the kidnapped daughter went to that organization is because he's already a client and trusts them. Obviously it's more than a "glorified escort service." I thought it was MORE believable that he was messing with her head on the balcony. His kid is missing, he probably doesn't know if he made the right choice or not (knowing what he does about how she's not who she thinks she is) and wants to push her a little, to see if he made a mistake trusting them or not.

It's the same reason the imprints are flawed. If they were simply robotic, going-through-the-motions they wouldn't be as "perfect" as they are. That's my take, anyway. Its why even though Joss deals with the supernatural, as you point out, ultimately "Buffy" wasn't about vampires, it was about growing up and power and finding out who you are, friendships and struggle... with a little vampire thrown in.

I think "Dollhouse" has a lot of good potential. I was pleased. :)

Anonymous said...

You know what I think about Lost and Buffy and Angel, but none of them had me head over heels in love with them on their first episode, either.

really?! cause i gotta say, i thought the lost pilot episode was 2 of the most amazing, spellbinding, intriguing, cannot-stop-watching hours of TV i have ever seen!

i finally got to watch the ep online today (thank you,!). i liked it, didn't love it. it left me with lots of questions, which is always a good thing, even if none of the characters (except, perhaps, echo's handler) jumped out at me as ones i really liked. also, given that i wasn't really ever into buffy hardcore, never watched BSG and never watched angel, i'm able to see these characters as totally "new" and not -- pardon the pun -- echoes of the past, so i guess that helps.

i'll keep watching, but i hope the time slot is shifted to something better!

Anonymous said...

I, too, was not completely blown away by this, but I'm intrigued. It's a good concept, and I like Faith (I can't stop calling Eliza that), and I love Joss. I'll give it a fair go. My girlfriend saw Topher and went 'Look! Andrew!' when he first came on, and also drew the parallel to Alias. The thing that I noticed most, though, was the appearance of another Aussie former soapie star showing up in a high profile US show. Sierra (I think that was her name - the girl that Echo walks in on getting her first 'treatment' and who burst into the kidnappers house and shot it up at the end) used to be on Neighbours, a long running Aussie soapie, just like Charles Widmore (go, Jim Robinson!) on Lost. A bit of useless information there for you! :)

Blam said...

I'm with CK on the opening credits -- all around really, though perhaps a bit more generously.

So no, I wasn't thrilled, Nikki, although I was both disappointed and intrigued.

I didn't know Amy Acker was going to be on, either, and frankly I'm more excited to see her than Eliza Dushku, whom I never really connected with. (What kind of fanboy am I?) Hopefully the guest-star status is just because she's recurring but not an every-episode contract player, as opposed to being a short-term casualty.

And I'd forgot that Tamoh Penikett was on; he's a welcome component of the cast, but it's way weird to see him in a suit. I have a feeling that he and Harry Lennix's conflicted character will be the emotional entry points for me, instead of the first-billed nominal star; I realize from longstanding hype that there will be some cracks in her memory wiping, but in general a character like this engenders more sympathy than empathy.

I've jotted down some more substantive musings for my own blog, but I promise to encapsulate them here soon. Certainly based on Joss' track record I'll be back, and it's not like the concept isn't creative or full of potential in the right hands, but I was hoping to be really grabbed.

Ryan said...

Like you, I've been actively avoiding as many spoilers as possible. I did not have sky-high expectations for Dollhouse but, perhaps as a result of my low expectations, actually enjoyed the pilot quite a bit.

Though I've never really clicked with Eliza, she has a maturity and a calm poise here that is more relaxing to watch. I wasn't entirely impressed with some of the supporting actors, but it seems as though the series won't really be about them anyway.

The beauty of the concept is two-fold: first, the premise lends itself very well to not only exciting stand-alone episodes but also to the brilliant and climactic arc-building that, when executed properly, Joss can do better than anyone else. Second, the very concept of Echo consistently stepping into new identities is fascinating, particularly because she is not consciously doing so. This is what I (so far) find to be the most intriguing part of the series.

The major question mark in terms of how long I'll stick with this show, though, is in regard to how seriously it will take itself. Buffy certainty took its storytelling very seriously but was always in on its own joke and rarely lost its sense of fun; I hope that Dollhouse can also walk that careful line between intelligence and playfulness.

Anonymous said...

As I said in the previous entry, I liked what I saw last night. I got a kind of creepy, Warren Mearsish vibe from Topher, but I was paying more attention to Whedon's lines than the actor's performance, so you may be right and I just didn't notice how dull he is.

-Amy Acker is lovely no matter how horribly disfigured her face is.

-Tahmoh Pennikett is obviously bait for the estrogen brigade.

-"Echo" is radio code for the letter E, while "Sierra" is code for S. According to official promotional material, there is another Doll in the main cast named Victor (code for V). Given this, can we assume the Ultra Top Secret file titled "Alpha" (code for A) refers to another Doll -- the first, perhaps?

crystalsinger said...

@Hunter - I agree about the Topher/Adam Busch thing. I was underwhelmed by his acting, and thought that Adam could have/would have nailed it. Was he available? But anyway, "In Joss We Trust" and all that... :-)

@JJ - Yes, all of the Actives have names corresponding to the NATO Phonetic Alphabet AFAIK. You can see the breakdown of the alphabet here. In that context, you can bet that Alpha is/was the first Active. I'm guesing there's prolly an Omega as well - an endgame/last-ditch/apocalyptic Active to be unleashed to cleanup the whole Agency if it all goes horribly pear-shaped...

Oops, hope I didn't just give away Joss' season 5 ender! ;-)

crystalsinger said...

P.S. The phonetic alphabet has both a "Romeo" and a "Juliet", so I'd expect to see that played to good effect at some point... :-)

Anonymous said...

The recruitment scene was written in such a way that not a word of dialogue would have been different if Eliza's pre-Echo character had been Faith. I thought that was a nice nod to Whedon's longtime fans.

Anonymous said...

I was soo excited about this show.. but sadly very disappointed. By now the whole concept didn't worked out for me and no character was really thrilling. It came to me like the show is shooted by a very limited budget almost theatre-like. But I give the show, of course, a second chance next week.

Doe said...

I think I found the cop trying to find the Dollhouse and the ending with the dead bodies (I'm assuming they won't come back to life - LOL) more interesting than the story itself. Although it wasn't bad but you're right, it didn't grab me like LOST did did for me. But those two story lines above are what will make me comeback.

Sue K. said...

Overall, I liked the show. I loved the look of the Dollhouse - so space agey and also sinister. I'm intrigued about how Echo became a doll - how they recruit these women, or kidnap them? I LOVE Eliza, so am happy to see her on t.v. again as well as seeing a new Joss Whedon show!

I had thought in what I had heard about the show (which wasn't too much as I don't read spoilers) that the idea of the doll was that they were perfect, that they had no faults and were programmed to do exactly what was needed for the client. So my interest was piqued when the memory wiper guy was discussing how the dolls were created for a certain situation to Echo's handler. The fact that because they are a combination of personalities they have all the vitues and strengths and faults and weaknesses of those personalities and as such, do have weaknesses that can come through and botch things. It was pretty creepy when part of her personality recognized the kidnapper as her previous kidnapper and knew exactly what he was going to do and the amount of fear that was a part of her because of it.

I really like Echo's handler and think that the chemistry between him and Echo is great - it's like he sees her as a daughter that he needs to protect - it's more than just a job and I think that he genuinely cares for her and is worried about the effect these memory wipes have on her - I think that he will be an integral part to Echo finding out more once she has some of her memory of her true life come back to her - but odd that the overseer of the dollhouse is already leery about him and how loyal he is to the dollhouse.

I was also a little lost like Nikki on the guy trying to find the dollhouse and how that investigation has come about, how he knows about it, etc. Look forward to learning more about that in future episodes.

And I think that I was a little lost near the end as well when that guy was sitting naked on the coffee table watching videos of Echo, which I get were pre-dollhouse...?? I assume someone is looking for her, but is obviously violent given the dead bodies at the location - is it some client who's gone looney and wants to find her?? I'm sure there's some obvious plot point I've missed here...if someone can enlighten me?

I'm really looking forward to next week's episode!

Cedar said...

For the first twenty minutes or so I was nervous--concerned that it would not be good. By the end, I wished I could see the next episode immediately. The pilot leaves more than enough possibility for interesting future episodes and plot arc.

I care about Echo because I feel sorry for her. We have already learned some details about her past from the opening scene and the high school yearbook scene--presumably we'll learn more each time.

The only scenes I did not like were the motorcycle race and the boxing sequence--I wonder if these are the "action" sequences rumoured to be required by the network. And, I agree, the opening music and credits are disappointing. I won't be downloading that music into my iPod Music of the Whedonverse file. But I too was very happy to see Amy Acker--"Fred!" I can't stand Topher--he reminds me of stereotypical know-it-all young men who are overconfident in their technological superiority and arrogant to their "middle-aged" cohorts.

As to the asthma imprint, it bothered me at first, but on second viewing of the episode I realized that the main premise of the imprints (for the plot arc) will follow Topher's explanation of necessary balance--you can't have strength without weakness. The sexual abuse memory--an apparent weakness in the moment--is what saved the day in the end. Without it, no matter Ms. Penn's strength at the money drop, the kidnappers would have escaped with the girl and never been found. I appreciate the premise epitomized in this "flaw"--that something extraordinarily damaging, despite its damage, can offer a person the opportunity to regain strength and choose to change. ("Make your choice--are you ready to be strong?") The original "owner" of the memories killed herself because she could not find the strength to move on. Ms. Penn faced her fear by confronting her abuser. Perhaps Echo will someday do the same with Topher.

KeepingAwake said...

I only watched this because of you Nikki! Lost is the only sci-fi show I've liked and you're over the moon about both Lost and Joss Whedon, so I figured I should give it a shot!

As you said, it wasn't 'love at first sight', but it's a sufficiently interesting concept to get me to watch a few more episodes to see if it reels me in. I certainly wasn't bored, and that's more than I can say about most television shows.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty excited about this new series -- it established enough in the first episode to make me feel like I have a firm grasp on what's going on, but left enough questions unanswered to keep me on the edge of my seat. I'm excited to see how Dushku handles all of the personalities she has to act out, and the human trafficking metaphor has endless potential. I can't wait to see where this is going.

Blam said...

Cedar: "As to the asthma imprint, it bothered me at first ..."

I took the asthma as a necessary plot device, though somewhere in that back-and-forth about composite personality traits it seemed to contradict itself. Either you're taking the best from various sources or, more believably and effectively in terms of Achilles' heels, you're just imprinting the doll with one person's pros and cons.

What really ticked me off as a lifelong asthma sufferer is yet another show using the inhaler wrong. (A) You can't just take a puff whenever you want, because there's some serious adrenaline coming out of there, and (2) when you do take a puff you have to hold your breath, because if you start talking or keep huffing you'll just expel it. This isn't a magic shot where one puff instantly cures the attack or, conversely, medication that you can puff three times in a row for comedic effect.

YolandaAsh said...

Initially I was more concerned in the selling Eliza as a piece of meat in the promos. I mean if all I knew of the show were the promos i saw probably would have thought it was porn, which I guess appeals to a segment of people but don't think its really doing the show any favors.

I did enjoy the show ... I was a little confused about Paul, I initally thought he might be Echo's brother given his vested interest in the dollhouse but then it shows him persuing the human trafficing angle as girls for the dollhouse. (although some of them are guys?)
However when we see Echo "recruitment" she wasn't kidnapped, she was given an out from her messed up life. I guess thats not the case for all the people in the dollhouse??

If anyone has any thoughts about this I would love to hear them!

Anonymous said...

I have been a huge fan of Joss Whedon, and I wanted to like the pilot more than I did. I've never really clicked with Eliza Dushku as an actress, so I found that none of the characters really engaged me, except for Paul, and Echo's "handler". I thought the shortened commercial breaks were great and hope that continues.
I read in an interview with Joss that his trademark humour will start to surface in later episodes, but not in the pilot, and that could have been why I found the show a bit flat after the wit of Buffy, Angel, and Firefly. I'll continue to watch, because it's Joss, but I hope the characters become more interesting.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was okay. Honestly, I'm not a big fan of Eliza and I don't think she can handle the part. I would love to see Amy play Echo. She has the range.

I was most interested in Helo and Ballard. It's not unusual for me to be most interested in the male characters - Six, Athena and Starbuck are an anomaly for me.

I'll keep watching, but with the ratings it had, I'm not sure how long it will be around to watch. It will be interesting to see the numbers for episode two.

Anonymous said...

I felt the same way with Dollhouse as I did with Fringe - that is, unimpressed, but determined to keep on. With Fringe, I did - until episode 4. I'd still want to watch it though, maybe I'll get it on DVD. The procedurals really bored me.

With Dollhouse, I'm willing to watch the next few episodes. I hope they drop more of that Edward James Olmos reference.

Candice said...

I'm so glad to hear some good comments about Dollhouse! I was ecstatic to watch the show. I've been in Joss heaven for over a month now because of my rewatch from season 1 of Buffy. I can't explain how incredibly exciting it is for new Joss on tv. The waiting, the anticipation, the theorizing, I love it!

I've heard so many people say terrible things about the pilot, that it let them down. I just want to tell them to rewatch the pilot of Buffy, or most of the first season in fact. Believe me, it's not good and it took me two and a half years to want to watch the show.

I thought Dollhouse was interesting. It opens so many discussions on the value of life. The Topher character I actually saw a bit more like a cross between Warren and Willow. He's so capable at what he does, downloading these personalities that he doesn't think about whether he should be doing it. And he definitely doesn't see the actives as people. He had an air of misogyny to him.

And as far as I'm concerned Eliza Dushku can do no bad. She does play the tough girl really well, but I always saw the depth of pain behind her. Faith was let down or betrayed or pushed aside by everyone except the Mayor, and Angel.

I can't wait to see where this show goes.

David Kociemba said...

My take on the show was that there was some good fundamentals, which is all you can really ask for from a pilot. There's Amy Acker (who gives good nerd girl), Tamoah Penikett (who gives good righteous), Olivia Williams (who I could listen to all day), and there's Eliza Dusku (who works very well with Joss Whedon). There's Minear, Espenson, and DeKnight in the producer credits. And there's money. Tons and tons of money. Their effects will not be limited by their budget, which should be crucial. The setup allows for anthology or serial narrative or both. And there's much flexibility in choice of villains and allies.

My concerns are that Dushku may not have the chops to be all things to all people. She's very good at what she does, but I'm not sure if she's got the range for this role. I'm also concerned at the Friday night slot combined with the midseason replacement status. That doesn't denote a ton of commitment on the part of the network.

The hooker meme attached to this show worries me a great deal. That could kill this show's fanbase. Of course, Buffy faced the cheerleader subtext head-on with its third episode, firmly re-orienting male viewers with just one thing on their minds. I hope that Joss is raising the issue to deal with it so that the series can move past it.

Even worse, the opening scenes felt rushed and perfunctory, which meant that the hook was not well set in its first episode. It felt a lot like the Train Job, which was the Firefly premiere episode that they had to write on Fox's insistence. I'm going to hold out hope that the off-feeling can be laid off on the inevitable difficulties of sci-fi pilots and past history.

David Kociemba said...

Also, "Fox's Dollhouse debuted to 4.7 million viewers — which just so happens to be what Joss Whedon's Firefly averaged over its short run — and placed No. 2 in key demos (behind Supernanny) and first among males (go figure)." (TV Guide)

Ronald Helfrich Jnr. said...
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