Saturday, February 14, 2009

Dollhouse (Spoilers)

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."


Jake said...

I haven't watched the first ep yet, but I will probably die a little if it sucks.

Simon Mac Donald said...

I thought it was okay but not great. I'm going to give the second episode a go as this first episode was one that the network forced him to write quickly in place of the second episode which was the original first episode. Since you were a fan of Firefly this is probably giving you a sense of deja vu.

ba said...

Agreed in that it was OK, but certainly not great. As we already discussed, Dushku is not my favorite actress, and Whedon's female worship gets a little this series, pretty fucking quickly.

I can't see Olivia Williams now without thinking "YOU PEOPLE HAVE NO REGARD FOR CYCLISTS!"

And that was Chiwetel Ejiofor, right? He's not listed on IMDB. I kinda wanted to see redbelt for the jujitsu, but I never really bothered, due to my apathy for Mamet.

And, from a psychology standpoint, when we talk about Tabula Rasa, we consider it to be "blank slate" more in the sense of "new, unused slate," rather than having it being wiped clean, so the reference here didn't really ring true for me.

Anyway, I'll watch the season, because I don't expect it to last longer than that.

And hey, was that doctor attacked by wolverine or something?

Jason said...

Personally, I *do* think Garner is a pretty amazing actress.

I like Eliza too, for the most part, though I agree she lacks Garner's charm.

I have heard (from different sources) that they are both kind of unpleasant in real life. Sad, if true. (I don't want to believe it about Garner...)

Matt Jacobson (formerly Ultimate Matt) said...

I thought it was OK; my wife thought it was stupid and cliched, and I didn't really blame her for thinking that. The only really good, Whedon-esque line of dialogue was when someone pointed out her glasses and what a cliche they were - "what, are they supposed to make me take her seriously?". It didn't piss me off, but it wasn't awesome. Since I am an old married man, I'm usually home Friday nights, so I'll probably watch this.

James said...

"I cannot fault Dushku as an actress since Garner is not exactly amazing."

I'm not crazy about the movie, but Garner really surprised me in Juno.

jennifer said...

the clear, unlocked door bugged me too.
and why are they sleeping in holes in the floor with lids? if that is just a design idea & not a plot point, it's going to bug me every episode.

no, that was not Chiwetel Ejiofor. chiwetel is hotter, and younger. redbelt is worth your time. and bonus, chiwetel is often shirtless.

(and i'm not even going to comment on the whole all black guys look alike inference that i could make...

eliza was better then i expected.
but, it could have been any random mediocre fox show that i occasionally watch.
but i know josh is a good storyteller & will give him time to tell his story.

Prof Fury said...

Are we not going to complain about the weird b/w kickboxing cutaways they were doing while our investigator guy was being interrogated? To tell us that they're kicking his butt, but he's not giving up? It was like watching two minutes of television from a dimension where Literalism had defeated Implication after a protracted and bloody struggle. I sort of think the whole show might end up being like that.

ba said...

hah hah hah, jen, i know, i felt bad when i realized it wasn't him. i figured it was him because whedon has his people that he constantly uses. a heuristic on my part that ended up making me look racist, just like how i have the same conversation with every asian (they have a collective hive mind, right?)

jennifer said...

on an artistic basis, i like the question of, how do you write a main character who has no character?

plok said...

On further thought, the Dollhouse kind of makes sense...though the explanation doesn't, really. Still, what you can get from the Dollhouse, you big billionaire you, is responsiveness -- if you need a top-flight hostage negotiator, you don't have to wait 'til one gets back from Sweden or has a free day. It's like a department store for people, zap zap there's your specialist, perfectly on demand, and best of all they'll never remember what you talked about.

I don't really have any problem accepting the idea that in the normal course of events the deprogrammed Actives just wouldn't be interested in the stairs or the office. There were other things in the show that made me cock my head a little, but there's so much room to move in the show's concept I wouldn't like to call those bugs instead of features -- there's a lot of room to move in this thing, I think: a lot of room for things to get unpredictable.

Let's hope that's how it turns out!

Magro said...

I so want to like this show that I may put its problems aside. For now.

I agree with Blok with the "department store for people" idea. Plus the fact that rich people may find the real specialists, but that doesn't mean they will WANT to be there. Or will accept non-moralist compromises, or will be available in short notice (as Blok has said).

One thing that got me thinking was the whole name thing. Echo. Sierra. And the Alpha sheet.

Will expect to see actives named as Romeu, Foxtrot and Zulu. Which, IF this makes sense, means that we will be seeing only 26 actives.

And I think that the scarred doctor may be an ex-active. Any thoughts?

Stephen Williamson said...

Geoff -- update on Morrison and Quitely's rumored Batman run:

Erin said...

ha prof fury, protracted bloody battle, thanks for that.

glad to read all this. Hulu's dollhouse ad surfeit last week combined with my unemployed hulu binging led to me being kind of sick of the whole thing t minus wednesday, and blamed my meh on that. But i guess really, yeah, meh. I can see it going somewhere, and if that wasn't supposed to be the first episode ok maybe, but yeah:
- i should not be bored with a show that's about hot girls ass kicking
- EDIT the shots of Dushku walking around looking blank in co-ed dorm pjs and maybe we'll like her more
- all that molesty stuff felt seriously gratuitous. sex abuse is bad. Yes it is. When it's used as a script gliph for 'feel sorry for this person or maybe the person who's imprinted on this person or something, christ, just, like VULNERABILITY already,' that's also really bad.

Todd C. Murry said...

The radio phonetic alphabet naming scheme is clearly the best thing in the show. Imagining what Romeo and Juliet, Foxtrot, Bravo, India, Papa, Whiskey, and Uniform will be like accounted for most of my engagement.

I felt Whedon was trying too hard to mature not just his dialogue, but his whole style. Everything just felt stilted and ordinary. Still, Fox managed to make me meh on Firefly, which turned out to be pretty awesome, so I'll give it another go. A lot hinges on whether he can get a collaborator "find" or two, on the level of Minear or Epenson.

Anonymous said...

My honest opinion, though others seem to disagree with me.

the first episode was weak, but they get better from there.

Honestly. By episode three it was getting really twisty and just... good, solid, intriguing, open-ended-and-thought-provoking tv.

good stuff.

Nadia said...

I thought the first few episodes were decent. But, oh man, 'Man on the Street' lived up to all the intial hype and expectations and then some. Last week's 'Echoes' was pretty compelling too.

But hey, I'm someone who loves Buffy in *all* its forms and who has the Dr. Horrible soundtrack memorized, so, a little biased? Yeah, maybe.

You should still be watching Dollhouse, though. We all should.

Anonymous said...

I agree that the first 5 episodes (actually, ep 4 was good) are kinda week and lack Whedon's familiar flare.

HOWEVER . . . I don't know if you've been watching recently, but Dollhouse is becoming just as amazing as I was expecting it to be, and then some. It started with 'Man on the Street' (a Joss episode, no less) and this last episode, 'Spy in the House of Love' was phenomenal! And it can take a while for a show to stand on it's own two feet. Think back to Buffy, the first few episodes of the first season weren't stellar, but how amazing did Buffy get as time went on? I have faith in Whedon, and I think if people just sit tight and give him a chance and Dollhouse some time, they won't be disappointed.

Anonymous said...

Meh, wrong flare. I meant flair.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

for lack of a better word doll house is AMAZING