Television Review: Dollhouse

Dollhouse, the latest series from Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy, Angel, Firefly, and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog), premiered Friday night on Fox. Whedon’s shows have always been fun and funny, even when they are dark (and when they are dark, they are very very dark). I’d been interested to see what his latest project would be like, so I marked my calendar and made an exception to my policy of avoiding watching on television what I can legally watch online. Dollhouse airs on Hulu one day after it airs on Fox, and I decided I didn’t want to wait. 

Dollhouse follows the adventures of Echo (Eliza Dushku), an “active” — an operative whose memory and personality are wiped before each mission and replaced with ones custom-tailored to the challenges she’s about to face. Echo is one of a number (apparently five?) of such operatives, who are overseen in the field by “handlers” — agents who merely observe and are responsible for extracting the active should things go awry. This type of oversight is deemed necessary due to the actives’ inability to remember their true identities. Woven into the tale of Echo’s first mission were snippets of what I assume was her real personality, as well as a sub-plot about a fellow who’s learned about the Dollhouse organization and aims to take it down. For comic relief, we have Topher, the wisecracking programmer who is responsible for wiping Echo’s mind and crafting and loading her custom personalities.

My experience with Whedon’s previous shows led me to believe that he could do no wrong. The first episode of Dollhouse serves as a potent reminder that nobody gets it right all the time. It started out slow, and though it picked up later in the episode, it still was nowhere near as entertaining as the worse episodes of his previous shows. It shows no sign of the wit or whimsy that are hallmarks of his other work (again, even when the subject matter is dark), and doesn’t stand out amongst the other shows on television. It is a decidedly mediocre offering from the man I’ve come to regard as the greatest storyteller of our time.

Additionally, while Whedon’s casts usually feature beautiful actresses in lead roles, Dollhouse seems to rely too heavily on this factor (and at least triply so in its advertising). I agree that Eliza Dushku is hot, but that’s a rather poor premise for a TV show (or at least one that airs on primetime network TV).

On the upside, it’s no worse than a lot of stuff on TV, and in all fairness, it is only the first episode. Perhaps it will improve with time — I would hope that eventually the script would bear some sign that it’s a Joss Whedon project — and come to take its place beside his other shows. I will give it at least one more chance, but if it doesn’t improve significantly and quickly, I don’t think I’m going to be following this one.

Two stars out of five.

Watch this only if you really have nothing better to do (or, like me, you’re desperately hoping it gets better).

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