I am a pretty solid Joss Whedon fan having seen all of Buffy, Angel and Firefly. But Whedon got on my nerves with his continuation of Buffy and Angel in comics form; that was more of a "ok, this is not for me anymore." Dr. Horrible had some choice lines ("Give my regards to St. Peter ... or you know, whoever has his job in hell") but I was also not crazy about it, and especially the depressing ending. But I could see why people might like it, and I who can have anything but praise for Nathan Fillion and the NPH. Dollhouse just kind of straight up sucked, except for a few small moments.
It is being compared to Alias, and the comparison does it no favors. To Alias -- to the idea of a show that revolves around dressing up a hot girl in various outfits and kicking stuff -- it adds in all this subtext about abused girls, and themes about memory and identity. Which is to say -- the show makes the audience feel bad for ogling the girl, and offers philosophy when I want ass kicking. Plus, for reasons I cannot explain, for me at least, Dushku lacks the charm I thought Jennifer Garner had on Alias -- but that is surely is almost entirely the result of my personal taste in cute girls. I like Garner's sticky-outie-ears and her tough jaw line. I don't know. I cannot fault Dushku as an actress since Garner is not exactly amazing.
The main plot was uninteresting, and turned on this HUGE coincidence -- that the source of the imprinted personality was coincidentally abused by the guy who stole the girl in this mission. Coincidence is lazy writing.
Whedon also seems determined for mainstream success on this and so is getting rid of his trademark twee dialogue and jokes, -- I get why (he can overdo it) but I still miss them. I cannot believe someone did not come into the bathroom when Helo from Battlestar was interrogating that guy at the urinal. Whedon let the opportunity go without a joke, a signal to the audience. His dialogue did not get him a large audience but at least he satisfied his fans -- my fear is this whitewashed stuff will satisfy no one: or worse, it will, and this will just be one of those shows that is on for a long time, and kind of sucks. In any case, I liked that, for good or bad, you could hear his voice in a show, the way you can hear Mamet or Sorkin. Now you can't anymore.
Most importantly Whedon failed to explain why the Dollhouse was necessary. The objection occured to him, and so he put the scene where the FBI guys ask the Helo why someone would order a girl imprinted with the memories of a hostage negotiator when they could just hire a negotiater, and the answer -- rich people just want MORE -- was unsatisfying. The whole notion of this Dollhouse with these programable girls seems needlessly complicated. By definition, none of the girls do anything someone outside of the Dollhouse can do, since it is outside of the Dollhouse they get the imprints. (Where they get the imprints may be a good part of the larger mythology, if I watch for that long).
Another detail that felt off to me -- the whole place looks liek a day spa, so why is the evil science room where they electrocute the girls with painful needles in a room with translucent windows on every side overlooking the main room so everyone can see the Frankenstein lights and just walk up and open the translucent window door whenever they want? You don't want to put that in a basement or something? Or at least get an opaque door and a chain lock?
The only moments that rang right with me was the line at the beginning where she says "Have you every tried to clean a slate -- you can always still read what used to be there." That is a good point and it is sort of etymologically sound: Tabula Rasa is usually translated as "Blank Slate" but "scraped slate" is closer and you CAN still read what used to be there as Derrida and Co pointed out. I also thought the bit at the end with the freaky naked guy who is looking for Dushku was good -- it reminded me of those evil blue hand dudes from Firefly. That was pretty intense.
I am not sure if I will watch more of this show. It depends on how bored I am, and if I hear that magic sentence from someone I trust -- "The first episode was weak but it got way better after that."