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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Review: Dollhouse

Dollhouse is Eliza Dushku's vehicle for showing off her versatility (lead actress and producer), and it's Joss Whedon's world for exploring the nature of identity.

The show is superficially a science fiction show, but there's very little science. The premise of the show is that you've got an outfit that can imprint personalities into people (called Dolls), and then use those people to fulfill fantasies, or perform more sinister roles. The obvious uses are touched upon, but the show really hits its strides when the Dollhouse's sinister past and secrets come back to revisit it.

The acting is generally good, with Olivia Williams stealing every scene she's in, and lending what would otherwise be a very dull character a surprisingly sympathetic life. The writing is intelligent, and with none of the teen buffyisms you almost come to expect out of a Joss Whedon show. With extremely strong female leads, however, it is very clear that this show plays to his strengths.

The technology, however, requires massive suspension of disbelief, not just of the basic tech piece of "imprinting", but from the giant ass plot-holes in the show. For instance, we're supposed to believe that the brilliant people who build all this amazing technology have never heard off-site backups (despite the Dollhouse being a widely distributed operation). There are basic security issues that are never addressed, and of course, many episodes leave you wondering why the equivalent of the New York Times in this universe hasn't already exploded the story.

All that aside, however, I enjoyed the themes that are explored, and definitely enjoyed the plot twists: they were both surprising and believable at the same time. Ultimately, however, I agree with Grant McCracken (I'd provide a link, but his blog seems to be down) as to why the show failed to connect with a broader audience:
Ours is a transformational world, and to that extent Dollhouse should speak to us.

But there are two kinds of transformation: involuntary and voluntary. We hate the former. We love the latter even more.

Which transformation is Dollhouse about? It's about a woman (Eliza Dushku, pictured) trapped in an endless series of involuntary transformations. A mysterious corporation wipes her soul, inserts a new persona, and hires her out. This is the stuff of our worst realities and dreams.

The trouble is not that we can not identify with "Echo." The problem is we can identify too well. We too have been the captives of forced transformations, and it gives us no comfort to see someone else endure this horrible condition.

All in all, it's a short Season (13 episodes), and I don't think it was a waste of time at all. It's not on par with the best Buffy season, but I consider it a show that's at least as good as Firefly.

I look forward to checking out Season 2 from the library.


md said...

I found the show extremely good, although uneven. The first couple of Buffy seasons were uneven too. Compare the early Buffy ratings with those of Dollhouse and the cancellation of Dollhouse seems arbitrary. But perhaps 4.6M viewers is low relative to other shows in the Fox lineup.

Yes, there were huge, ridiculous plot holes. I found those hard to ignore. But the other elements of the show made it very worth watching. It had good writing and fabulous acting. Olivia Williams was probably tops, but I liked many of the other characters as well. The show was palpably Whedonesque, and I love his stuff in general.

The problem with the last season was, I think, that they tried to cram the entire rest of the story into a single season. So it comes off as hurried, like an acted-out plot synopsis. Still enjoyable, but it's sad to see something interesting and creative executed poorly because of financial factors.

Piaw Na said...

I thought the second season of Buffy to be very good.

I guess I better watch the second season when it comes out on Netflix or at the library. I'm not willing to pay $2/episode on Amazon for something that's getting such mixed reviews!