Unlike a lot of viewers (okay not a lot of viewers) I wasn’t impressed by Epitaph One, which looked and played like an episode of the new Outer Limits. And Epitaph Two is really no better. I realize there was no budget left at this point, but Epitaph Two doesn’t even seem to bother nailing the writing either.
I’m not going to comment on the Mad Max retread outfits or the lame attempt at creating an army of techies, who still use thumb drives, and worship technology (without their leader knowing about it). But even without that, it’s still a long winding road of stupid. I realize that there was no makeup budget to make Echo and Ballard look at least a tiny bit older. But there’s also no budget for a return appearance by Whiskey, who was supposed to be in the Dollhouse, but there is one for a completely pointless appearance by Alpha, who’s now everyone’s best friend.
The Topher storyline reaches its fully stupid conclusion, as the man who can save the world, can’t build a timer into his incredible chain reaction causing device. And his plan involves resetting everyone’s brains, which just puts everyone right back where they started, so the wiping can keep right on going with a few more phone calls. And now Topher isn’t even around to undo this a second time. I have to hand it to Epitaph Two, because making a worse finale than the one in which Echo outruns an infinite explosion and the bad guy behind all this turns out to have spent 2 years hanging around with her takes real work. But Epitaph Two did it.
Congratulations are in order. Sorta.
In its defense Dollhouse has gotten better in its second season, mainly because the episodes don’t revolve around Dushku doing the Pretender thing anymore. On the other hand the show is still stuck with a cast of people we don’t care very much about racing to stop the end of the world. Which would be more sympathetic if they weren’t responsible for creating it.
Still there’s no denying that The Attic was a good strong episode. If Dollhouse had more of those, it wouldn’t have been canceled in the first place. And then there’s Getting Closer which seems like a good episode, but packs a whole lot into 40 minutes and expects you to stow your brain and enjoy the shock value. Let’s begin with a plan that involves breaking into the DC Dollhouse and kidnapping Bennett to get at Caroline’s brain. Which is odd given how Topher can seem to do anything and everything else on his own.
Then there’s Topher’s ultimate weapon, which they never seem to build or use, even though it would be about the only way to actually win this war and defend themselves. Instead they sit around in the Dollhouse waiting to be invaded. There’s the return of our favorite NSA operative, who isn’t used to tip off the NSA and maybe get some government backup. And a thousand other missed chances. Instead there’s a twist ending that smacks of BSG’s Final Five and turns the entire two seasons into dog food. Well done? Not really.
It took long enough for the show that never should have existed to become the show that no longer exists. FOX canceled Dollhouse after renewing it to escape the wrath of the fans. It might have been kinder to let Epitaph One be its epitaph, because Joss Whedon’s rabid fanbase certainly won’t be pleased by another 13 episodes, even when it comes at a cost of the entire year’s budget for some companies. Naturally they’ll complain that FOX was abusing Joss Whedon, when this time out it let him air and drag out a really bad show for 2 years, instead of giving it a mercy killing from the start. It’s not that Dollhouse is a bad show. Bad is fixable. It’s that Dollhouse is a series whose premise never made any sense and had no reason to exist, except to serve as Eliza Dushku’s employment agency. FOX knew from the start that the show was bad, and tried to have Joss Whedon fix it before it even aired. Joss Whedon knew it was bad enough that he was actually apologetic about FOX’s moves from the start. The question is why everyone involved just kept riding the train to nowhere for 2 years?
“And Whedon said that even if the show dies after the first 13 episode order of season two, the writers won’t feel like they held back any awesomeness. But that’s as long as they get to 13 episodes”
That’s Jed Whedon by the way, not Joss Whedon. Jed Whedon is the writer of such exciting Dollhouse episodes as “Hey, Let’s Get Stuck in a Bank Vault”, “Hey, Let’s Go on American Idol” and “Hey Let’s Have Echo Join a Cult So We Can Do Some Cutting Edge Storytelling From 1994”. And what with him and Joss Whedon’s wife writing episodes have only made the show stronger and better, as shows usually get stronger and better when people related to the showrunner write episodes, I think we’re all waiting with bated breath to see Dollhouse fulfill the same promises it made last year and then failed to fulfill. But I’m sure this year will be way better. I’m sure we won’t spend 13 episodes building up to Alan Tudyk playing a generic psycho or having Agent Kickboxing inexplicably decide to join the Dollhouse. Totally not. Just let Dollhouse make it to another 13 episodes and we’ll see groundbreaking storytelling that only a devoted Joss Whedon fanboy or fangirl could love. Like 99.99 percent of America, I’m not actually watching Dollhouse anymore, but my advice is that since Seth MacFarlane is about the only reason Dollhouse was renewed and Terminator Sarah Connor Chronicles was canceled, maybe they can just let him write all the episodes from now on.
Yup, the one Joss Whedon show that FOX and whoever should have canceled, but didn’t, Dollhouse is back. Dollhouse’s season finale pulled in a 2.8. Dollhouse’s season premiere pulled in a 2.7. How low those numbers will go by the time that Dollhouse burns through its 13 episode order, and Kevin Reilly has to choose between not wasting more money or pleasing Eliza Dushku’s boyfriend, is anyone’s guess. Dollhouse’s 18/34 demos haven’t dropped any, but they’re still as good or bad as Smallville or Brothers. Considering what FOX is spending to get a 1.0 demo, you’d think that FOX was so desperate it was the CW.
Kevin Reilly stupidly made the choice to cancel Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles, which managed to pull in a 3.8 for both its season opener and season finale. By contrast Dollhouse had dropped from 4.7 to 2.8 in only 13 episodes. If that match keeps up, FOX may be stuck with negative viewers, 13 episodes in. And considering the not particularly promising stuff that Epitaph One suggested we have to look forward to, that might actually happen.
It’s hard to know who exactly to blame for this mess. Kevin Reilly deserves his share for killing a great SciFi TV series for a very bad one. Joss Whedon’s obsessive fanboys and fangirls who reflexively praise anything the man does, regarding of quality or content, and if you think I’m being mean or exaggerating, remember that there was a Save Dollhouse campaign going, before a single Dollhouse episode had even aired. That’s like running a Four More Years campaign for a candidate who wasn’t even elected yet. There’s Eliza Dushku making her final bid for relevance, before she has to buckle down and play someone’s wacky best friend on a sitcom. And finally there’s Joss Whedon whose output has actually gotten worse over the years, and who really doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing with Dollhouse. Maybe if he had exercised some quality control back during the Buffy and Angel days, or when making Serenity or Dollhouse, he wouldn’t need a die hard fanbase to promote him, his work would actually be a popular, and not in a viral webseries kind of way.
So for this episode of Dollhouse’s guiding paradigm, we’ve got 1 princess (or maybe 2 if we count November) and 2 princes, one of whom is an FBI agent and the other is a serial killer doll with a composite memory and the personality and looks of a stoner. The message is that the princess should save herself, the appropriate manfeminist message you would expect from a Joss Whedon series, but the upshot is that Alpha restores or gives Caroline some kind of memory, and then leads her out of there. Alan Tudyk played his part well enough that even though I had seen spoilers that said he was Alpha, I assumed that Tudyk had been brought in to play another part entirely, until he reverted to Alpha form. That isn’t to say that Dollhouse 1×11 Briar Rose makes much sense. It doesn’t. Paul Ballard’s plan makes less than no sense. He’s out to grab and rescue Echo, even though she’s still mindwiped, leaving him with a mindless doll. Unless he’s been programmed with a compulsion, this really makes no sense. Alpha’s plan doesn’t make a ton of sense either. Why bother going through a complicated charade and enlisting an environmental specialist to go down into the Dollhouse with Agent Ballard, when he could just as easily have done it all himself. But who ever claimed Dollhouse ever made sense in the first place?
Dollhouse. Even the name alone is almost certain to discourage viewers. But that’s not the real problem. Whether it was Buffy, Angel or Firefly, Joss Whedon built his career on heroic narratives. Dollhouse is anything but a heroic narrative. It’s not even anti-heroic, it’s just depressing social commentary and post Episode 5, the occasional bit of clever writing dumped on TV. There’s nothing wrong with a bleak universe. Dark Angel gave us a post-crash America that seems quite prophetic today, in which the government is corrupt and abusive, and crime is everywhere. But it worked because it had characters trying to change that, whose struggles we could identify with. By contrast Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse has nothing but blank victims and human perpetrators in stock for us. Even after Dollhouse jettisoned the “Echo takes on a new identity and goes all Pretender” stories that FOX wanted, what’s left is a clever, somewhat interesting, but mostly depressing and pointless series. Dollhouse owes a lot more to media studies and social commentary, than it does to good storytelling. And that makes it borderline unwatchable. The Dolls are blank victims, and their former human selves range from obnoxious, Echo, Victor, to pitiable, Sierra. It’s the staff at the Dollhouse who get the personality and the interesting stories, but who really wants to spend week after week watching the equivalent of Nazi concentration camp guards and personnel struggling with their jobs?
What does stopped production plus Friday night timeslot equal? You got it, cancellation. While ratings expectations on FOX for Friday night these days have to be pretty low, and the budget for Dollhouse can’t be as bad as for something like Firefly, I don’t imagine that this is anything but the kiss of death for the series before it even aired. Yes FOX is advertising it a bit, with an emphasis on Joss Whedon, but by now just about everyone knows it’s dead.
I called it along mainly because I didn’t see how Joss Whedon or anyone could really do much with a concept that has a zombified protagonist and the early footage showcasing something that looked like a bland mix of Alias and Dark Angel only made it worse. Even at this late stage I have no idea why I should care about the story, and while the trailer for Dollhouse sets out some nice philosophical questions about memory and soul, I see no convincing reason that it will give me much of a story to go with them.
What I do see is a fairly generic cast besides Dushku, whom I’m not exactly a fan of, who is playing a character who gets reprogrammed each time out of the box. Again the key question is why should I care. This series seems to have been an impulse production and a big mistake all around, the stopped production and the constant script problems are only symptoms of the larger problem, which is that neither Joss Whedon nor anyone involved have a clue where this is going or what it’s meant to really be about. Well now Dollhouse has the Friday night time slot of death. Goodbye Dollhouse.
Between the pilot episode being kicked back a spot to make way for a new more pilotier pilot and Joss Whedon being unusually accommodating about the whole thing and now a two week production shutdown, Dollhouse’s future is looking none too bright. Though to the Cult of Whedon, Joss Whedon can still do no wrong, the history stacks the numbers against him. We’ve seen the Dollhouse promos and they don’t look too promising. Buffy and Firefly both had exciting premises that jumped out at you, Dollhouse by contrast seems like a watered down version of Alias, La Femme Nikita and Dark Angel that looks almost as exciting as Tru Calling.
Now add on the FOX factor and you’ve got serious trouble brewing for Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse. FOX likes to order SciFi shows and then cancel them. One by one FOX has done this to SF series after SF series over the years. To FOX’s credit the shows do get ordered, they just don’t survive. Joss Whedon’s last FOX series Firefly couldn’t even run a single season on FOX. Dollhouse may do no better. For starters Dollhouse has a whole bunch of strikes against it. First is its name, not exactly the sort of calling card to bring in the target demographic, a problem also shared by Firefly.
While Joss Whedon gained success with Buffy, the one word names for shows, names that are a bit misleading and silly, only worked once, and it worked because Buffy was the title character. Firefly’s name alone probably lost the series no shortage of viewers that never even bothered tuning in. Dollhouse will have the same problem, only in spades. Ask the average TV viewer what he expects from a show called Dollhouse and it certainly isn’t a series about mindwarped women who kick ass. And while maybe we shouldn’t be talking down to the TV audience, working with them to promote your show isn’t a bad idea either.
I said from the start that Dollhouse looked like an impossible series to pull off, too high concept to really make for good TV viewing. The teaser for the series made it look bland and it’s obvious that the series is suffering from serious script problems.
To wit, this campaign to Save Dollhouse or promote it before the show even aired a single episode. The problem is no one involved has seen a single episode, all we have is a trailer with its odd La Femme Nikita meets Alias vibe. Trying to save a show before it’s endangered is bad enough, trying to save a show before you even know if it’s any good or not, is the real problem and suggests the people doing it are in need of a seriously major reality check.
Hey I’ll be the first to admit that Joss Whedon is a talented guy, that said Dollhouse is not exactly getting me all excited, kudos to those who can feel the buzz, but promoting a show purely based on its creator is the kind of ridiculous fanboy silliness that insures you won’t get taken seriously. If you become a fan of something just because of its creator, rather than on its own merits, you lose all your credibility. And that’s exactly what’s happening here.
No one can seriously deny that Joss Whedon has had his hits and misses. Dollhouse may be another miss, though hopefully it will be a hit. The time to get behind the show will be after the first episode airs and you see it and fall in love with it. Not based on a brief trailer and the mere word that Joss Whedon is bringing another series to air. That would be as silly as jumping on board the now canceled Moonlight because David Greenwalt of Angel was briefly involved or the new 90210 because Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas was behind it. A wait and see attitude is the only sane, credible and intelligent response to a new series. Any new series, no matter its pedigree.