Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sepinwall on TV: 'Dollhouse' review

In today's column, I offer my mixed opinion on Joss Whedon's "Dollhouse":
"You'll have a clean slate," the young woman is promised.

"You ever try to clean an actual slate?" she responds. "You always see what was on it before."

"Dollhouse," the new sci-fi series from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" creator Joss Whedon, has tried to clean its own slate several times, but it's hard not to see faint traces of what was there before.
To read the full thing, click here.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

I read a magazine review that gave "Dollhouse" 1.5 stars which was interesting.

You know why? They summed up my exact feelings about the ad I'd seen and applied it to the whole pilot.

"Pornographic fantasy" was one description. Variety summed that thought up nicely as well:

"Dushku first appears in a micromini dress, showcasing her most formidable assets. This triggers an obvious thought: If you had the equivalent of a human blow-up doll resembling Dushku, one suspects her assignments would primarily be more of the indoor variety than action-adventure..."

This is what turned me off from the very beginning. The idea of some woman becoming some skeezy man's fiancee for the night (as shown in the ad). Just creepy.

I know that Whedon fans say he creates strong female characters, but the premise of this show seems to go against everything Whedon brought to tv in "Buffy" or "Firefly."

I don't see anything empowering about Dushku's role here. All I see is male fantasy, which makes my stomach turn. Sorry.

Eric said...

I don't think we're supposed to have sympathy for the Dollhouse's owners or clients - but I don't know if they're going to be able to pull that off. Even The Sopranos didn't always find the place where we recognized we were rooting for reprehensible people to get away with their reprehensible crimes.

As for the plausibility, it seems that you'd pay the premium for a Doll when you don't want to have to rely on the discretion of the person you've hired - when the obvious move would be to kill the contractor in order to clean up loose ends. Again, it's not clear how often that's going to be the case.

A question- is Joss involved at all in Toy Story 3?

Alan Sepinwall said...

As for the plausibility, it seems that you'd pay the premium for a Doll when you don't want to have to rely on the discretion of the person you've hired - when the obvious move would be to kill the contractor in order to clean up loose ends. Again, it's not clear how often that's going to be the case.

Discretion doesn't come up as a motive in any of the episodes I've seen. The new pilot, for instance, has Echo working as a kidnap & ransom negotiator, where the client's only interest is in getting a loved one back by any means necessary. Under the circumstances, it makes no sense not to simply hire the best actual K&R person in the world.

Grim said...

I am a big Whedon fan, but the concept has always looked quite weak to me, another one of these bad sci-fi/action plots that are nothing more than B-movies that someone intends to make work week after week. That allied to the fact that Dushku, though very attractive, isn't actually very good at anything other than being Faith, has left me quite cold at the entire prospect.

Given the behind the scenes troubles, I'm not surprised it all seems a bit messy.

Anonymous said...

I'll watch it, to see Joss Wheedon's work. But I've never really thought that much of Eliza Dushku. She's never seemed that good of an actress...building a series around her having a totally different personality every week doesn't come across as a recipe for success.

Matter-Eater Lad said...

I also have never been much impressed by Dushku, or understood Whedon's fascination with her. As much as I've loved his past shows, I can't get too excited over one that's a vanity showcase for her.

Kensington said...

Eh. You know, I don't have any grand expectations, Eliza Dushku is very attractive, and Joss Whedon has a strong history, so I'll commit an hour a week.

Similar to what Alan wrote, I know from history that Whedon shows usually need a bit of a gestation period before they really hit their stride. Buffy didn't become a must-see until midway through Season Two, but I wouldn't have wanted to miss watching it get there.

Bobman said...

I don't see anything empowering about Dushku's role here. All I see is male fantasy, which makes my stomach turn. Sorry.

You're one of those "don't call me chick" chicks, aren't you?


(kidding!)

Craig Ranapia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Craig Ranapia said...

I know that Whedon fans say he creates strong female characters, but the premise of this show seems to go against everything Whedon brought to tv in "Buffy"

UM, first things first: I've said here that the soft core shots of Eliza Dushku gross me out. Hell, even Whedon is (ever so diplomatically) displeased.

But could you tell me, seriously, what is so "empowering" about the fundamental mythology of 'Buffy'. In every generation one is called -- because four men sitting around a campfire thousands of years ago ordained it would be so, by forcibly merging a young woman's soul with a demon's! (Which, from one perspective, can read a hell of a lot like a mystical rape.)

And ever since, the Chosen Ones have lived (not for long, as a rule) and died (horribly, more often than not) with precisely no say in the matter.

And here's another piece of devil's advocacy: How often is this premise a pretty standard and superficial token in genre fiction -- people having their memories, their very identity treated like some redundant piece of software to be over-written, or uninstalled, to serve others' agendas?

I'm willing to hand around and see how it's treated, and Whedon has earned some patience in my book.

And with all due respect to our host, I guess 'Tara' exhausted Alan's tolerance for annoying and unsympathetic characters and implausible "logic holes" you could drive the Death Star through.

Andrew said...

Craig,

The backstory about the old men didn't become a part of the story until the final season, if memory serves. The strong female character was more in the fact that the bubbly blonde cheerleader type was a standard victim in horro movies. BTVS turned that on its ear and created a character endowed with more strength (physical and moral) than the demons that surrounded her.

But Dollhouse looks bad. And that wouldn't be such a big deal, Whedon or not, if it wasn't for the fact that we will be inundated with Whedon-ites calling for Fox executives to be strung up for cancelling it, calling the greatest show ever. Think they will flood the studio with shipments of dolls? I don't know about the rest of you, but I am very tired of people still lamenting the death of Firefly. It was seven years ago and it wasn't THAT good of a show.

Craig Ranapia said...

Andrew:

It was also established from the beginning that Slayers don't die of natural causes many years after retiring to Boca. Buffy doesn't want to be the Slayer -- hell, she has precisely no say in the matter. She blames herself for her parents' recent divorce (and probably isn't entirely wrong on that score), and her sense of isolation has been there from the beginning.

Don't get me wrong, I love 'Buffy'. But I just think whatever "empowerment" is there is a lot more nuanced, and ambiguous, than is generally credited. Always has been.

Look, I'll give 'Dollhouse' a fair shake -- because shows like 'Battlestar Galactica' that hit their mark from the get-go are pretty rare. And even there, '33' was a pretty risky call -- because it assumes you're familiar with the mini-series, and aren't going to be totally bewildered (and click through) by being thrown into the deep end.

And the premise of 'Dollhouse' is pretty creepy. Don't see any other way you could take the idea that there are people who would willingly allow their personalities to be wiped over and over again. But I'm willing to see how it's handled, because there are plenty of shows I like that are pretty stupid reduced to a log-line, and not exactly well-marketed either.

Bobman said...

I'm really amazed at how many folks are so uptight about showing a little skin. Eliza is a grown woman, she knows what she's doing, and sex has been used to sell shows for decades now. The moral outrage is really kinda over the top. "Creepy", "making my stomach turn", and "gross me out"? You'd think we were talking about the porn during the Super Bowl or something, not someone posing semi-nude (but covered up) for a TV promotion. On Fox, no less.

Craig Ranapia said...

Bobman:

I'm no prude -- and despite being queer as a three dollar bill, nor am I insensible to Ms. Dushku's considerable physical charms. But ever heard the phrase "a place for everything, and everything in its place"? How about some equal time for the rest of us, and Fox puts out a couple of dozen gratuitous, and context-free, shots of Tamoh wearing noting but an artfully placed logo over his meat 'n' potatoes? :)

Alan Sepinwall said...

Craig, it's not quite nothin' but a logo, but you do get an extended glimpse of topless Tahmoh in the pilot.

Craig Ranapia said...

Bah, Sepinwall! Since (wet) Jamie Bamber and the itsy-bitsy, teenie-weenie, very hard to keep closed white towel in that episode of BSG, the bar for male semi-nudity in genre television is well and truly lifted. :)

Bobman said...

Sorry Craig, sometimes it's tough to distinguish "ick, why can't they have the type of nudity that I like" vs "ick, beautiful nude people offend me" over these text comments. :)

I saw several of those types of comments and was just surprised, that's all. I guess it's easy to forget people have different tastes.

zumone said...

Alright then. So I guess its fair to say this show should be off-limits to my 8 year old daughter who has expressed an interest in it?

Number Five said...

I think the interview confirms this, but my impression is that the series is going to be more episodic than serialized, and I think that is going to cause a lot of trouble. In addition to the usual reasons, I think the sketchiness factor is heightened by an episodic approach, where the focus is: every week watch this hot woman do something cool or sexy or badass! If it were serialized, the focus would be more on Dushku slowly finding out she's remembering things she shouldn't, finding out what she agreed to, etc. Something like the initial premise of Alias. Of course, Alias was still relatively episodic, so I guess you can do both, but I think it's an important distinction.

Of course...we won't know until it actually airs!

Joolie said...

In your interview Joss Whedon says, "I still haven't figure out "Angel," though. I still haven't figured out what the show was supposed to be about."

So that's why I keep watching Angel on TNT in the mornings, over and over. I'm still figuring out what the show is about.

Joss Whedon is a great storyteller, so I'm in, whatever the initial problems.

Craig Ranapia said...

Sorry Craig, sometimes it's tough to distinguish "ick, why can't they have the type of nudity that I like" vs "ick, beautiful nude people offend me" over these text comments. :)

Bobman: OK, I set myself up for that... but serious question here: I'm a huge fan of 'Burn Notice', and Jeffrey Donovan isn't half bad as a piece of eye candy. Ditto for David Boreanaz on 'Bones'. Why don't those shows promote themselves with dozens of "tasteful" nude shots of the male leads, that might get me hot but don't convey much about the shows?

I'm sure it would get the ladies and the gays all steamy, but I guess not too many of that kind of people actually run networks. Oh, and I'm also reasonably confident both Donovan and Boreanaz would tell anyone who wanted them to do a softcore publicity shoot to frak off.

dez said...

I heard an ad for this show today that described it as "hot sweaty action." I was going to give it a shot, but now I'm not so sure--the ad made it sound so tawdry.

Susan said...

One tawdry detail I noticed were the whimpering moans and groans coming from Sierra when they were wiping her slate for the first time. They sounded exactly like soft-core porn moans, when in reality it should have sounded more like a labour and delivery scene. Women don't whimper and lightly moan when we're in pain; we shout, swear, and curse!