Monday, March 30, 2009

Dollhouse and Kings

Dollhouse: "Man on the Street" and "Echoes." The fabled 6th episode of Dollhouse was not perfect but it was certainly a step up in terms of both acting and plotting. Patton Oswalt was great, Whedon brought some fun dialogue (“I’m sure I’m in serious need of some moral spankitude, but guess who’s not qualified to be my rabbi?”), and they finally justified the concept of the Dollhouse -- you really could not just hire someone to act out this fantasy. The mole in the Dollhouse, as well as the idea that there is a larger evil purpose behind the place, rather than just a kind of fancy whorehouse was welcome (though surely should have been set up earlier). I was not wild about the man on the street interviews though it did provide some much needed context to the show -- what does the average person know or think of the dollhouse? And the revelation that the girl across the hall from Helo was an active was kind of handled in a kick-ass way (and was nicely tied into a sub-plot about a handler who was raping his agent), although she was the most obvious person to be an active, and the way the show reveals actives suggests that Whedon really liked the idea of Cylons. The fight scenes were suddenly better but I still find Topher insufferable. Every time he is on screen I understand why it is that some people simply cannot stand Whedon -- this guy surely embodies everything they hate to such a degree that even I, who like Whedon, despise how cutesy quirky he is. "Echoes" was not fantastic but I have to admit that the overall arc of the show is growing on me to the point that I still want to watch (the fact that there are only 6 more episodes this season is helping as well). Everyone getting high was maybe a too cute idea, and not every actor did it so well or was given good stuff to work with. But the scope of the story is bigger now, and the conjunction of Echo's backstory with the story of how the Dollhouse recruited someone else was smart. The virus thing was kind of a silly device -- no one really needed to stop it in the end, since it stopped itself. I wondered if Echo's boyfriend could be Alpha but it did not seem like that actor had the chops for psycho evil powerhouse.

Kings -- the first four episodes. Ratings on this are terrible so it looks like this will not be with us for much longer. I kind of like it though, perhaps only because it has both Ian McShane and Brian Cox in it as well as religious subject matter, which I enjoy seeing pop culture struggle with. The King James Bible is kind of awesome source material, especially when you realize that all the critics who complain the show is little more than a tricked out soap opera have maybe accidentally gone past the show and are now commenting about the bible, which is totally like a tricked out soap opera -- hilariously this means you can't really blame Kings for how pulpy and trashy it is, which is kind of brilliant. The dialogue and acting are uneven -- eveything about the show screams HBO-lite, a situation not helped by the presence of McShane and Cox and the NEED for some Deadwood style dialogue that almost never materializes (though surely bringing in more from the King James Bible is the way to go here or even just a little more acceptance of the fact that everyone should talk even MORE like they are in a comic book). Still the show gets a lot of little things right -- I particularly like the two Shakespearian clowns even though I suspect I shouldn't -- and is kind of interesting. And you have to respect a massive serious thing like this taking the butterfly so seriously as a symbol.

5 comments:

Prof Fury said...

I pretty well enjoyed the two most recent Dollhouse eps as well, though the 6th episode helped crystallize what I like least about the show: The long speeches detailing the backstory and psychology of characters who are only there for one episode and whom we don't care about. I mean, I like Patton Oswalt, but I just don't need to know about his tragic past in that much detail. Ditto the episode with the singer that Echo is protecting -- her psychology is just not that interesting, and the show grinds to a halt whenever she starts sharing her feelings. It's as though Dollhouse occasionally wants to be a throwback to a late 70s/early 80s drama like The Incredible Hulk.

I wouldn't mind it if the writers did a better job of getting that exposition to us, or of linking it more clearly to the stuff we (I?) care about. Hopefully the increasing focus on the show's mythology will cut down on the time they can kill letting guest stars emote.

Chad Nevett said...

I've been digging Kings, too. The heavy-handed symbolism bothers me, but last night's episode laid off it, focusing more on the behind-the-scenes politics--which is soap opera-y, but I don't see how it couldn't be, at least in part. Who knows what critics would say if the series lasted long enough to do the David and Bathsheba story, which is as about over-the-top trashy soap opera as you can get.

Everything with McShane is pure gold as he makes you believe that Silas is both the most powerful and powerless man in the world at the same time.

I've gotten that HBO-lite feeling, too, partly because the show seems to want to be better than it is, but feels constrained.

Matt Jacobson (formerly Ultimate Matt) said...

What exactly is the concept of Kings? The ads told me nothing about it other than that the guy from Deadwood was in it and it may or may not have been some kind of parallel reality. The biblical stuff actually sounds like it could be interesting, and the sort of thing they may have wanted to actually let people know about. I didn't even realize it had started - all the ads said "coming soon", then all reference of it dissapeared from my television, apparently right as the show started.

pla said...

Basic concept of Kings: Retelling of the Book of Samuel in a modern-day setting.

I don't really know what happened with the promotion of the show. I feel like I saw a ton of obtuse web advertising for it last summer, so perhaps it was supposed to be on the fall schedule before being pulled? I don't really see how it's going to last too much longer. I'm still not sure if I actually like the show, but I do appreciate the effort. And last week's episode did make an argument for the value of monarchy that doesn't really get made very often in American media....

Andy said...

I keep hearing the same thing from critics about Topher on Dollhouse and I feel the point is being missed. You're supposed to find him insufferable. His work at the Dollhouse is morally and ethically questionable, however he could care less. He treats the subjects like lab rats, he's a kiss ass, and he cares for no one but himself. Yet they've injected him with the Xander/Andrew goofy nerd guy dialog from Buffy. Maybe the dialog is causing people to attempt to support the character, but I believe the writer's want you to detest him. Whedon has stated this show is about doing something different, outside his comfort zone. Think of Topher as Bizarro Xander.