Monday, 23 February 2009

Dollhouse: Trust the Joss

Remember in season 5 of Buffy when the quality suddenly slumped and we all sat determinedly through 3 seasons of truly awful television wondering why we were still watching? It’s because, in my house and probably in yours, whenever you complained someone said, “trust the Joss, the Joss has a plan”.

And thus we come to my preliminary opinion of the Dollhouse, Joss Whedon and Eliza Dushku’s latest television foray, and it goes like this, “trust the Joss, the Joss has a plan”.

Firstly, an outline of the premise: the Dollhouse is some sort of top-secret organisation that, for a fee, will programme one of their “Dolls” for whatever task you have in mind from perfect date to a hostage negotiator. Echo, the main character, is one of the Dolls, whose mind is wiped and then has new memories downloaded so she believes she’s anyone she’s programmed to be.

Whedon’s shows tend to be characterised by a few things: a larger proportion of female characters and a wider variety of represented femineities than other programmes; a rich and complex mythological world developed slowly over a long period of time; elaborate and expensive sets that require significant upfront investment from a network; and a slow build-up to the show that can take as much as 12 episodes (no, in choosing this number it’s no coincidence that this is where Firefly hit its stride). It’s the last two that killed Firefly, particularly because Fox has a tendency to prefer the big bang of instant success over the slow burn and no one watching a quality Whedon show is going to get all their answers in the first few episodes.

Watching Dollhouse, I get the distinct feeling Whedon is frantically trying to avoid these problems and as such we’ve been presented with an untypically uneven first two episodes to the show. There’s only one word for the first half hour of the series and that is CLUNK. The dialogue is terrible, the acting ordinary and the exposition excessive even for a series premiere. The show improved significantly in the second half and Dushku managed to rise sufficiently to the demands of the part, momentarily quietening my concerns about her acting. But episode 2 was suddenly a completely different show with a different pacing, mood and the sudden introduction of what I assume is the “Alpha arc”.

The problem with the show so far is that there are too many unanswered questions: and not of the good Whedonesque kind. Most of these questions arise from the fundamental premise of the show, which at the moment appears convoluted and contrived. Considering the high price tag, why would anyone hire a Doll when they can get a normal person who can do anything they can for a much lower price tag? If a Doll’s memory is completely wiped between assignments, how can they function at all? If a Doll on assignment is completely unaware he or she is a Doll, why do they enthusiastically return to base for their “treatment” at the end of their mission?

Unless these fundamental issues are resolved, the show is never going to achieve the greatness of its predecessors but hey, for now, “trust the Joss, the Joss has a plan”.

No comments: