Written by Caballero Oscuro
Upon viewing some preview footage of Dollhouse at last summer’s San Diego Comic-Con, one plucky young lass boldly noted to attending creator Joss Whedon and star Eliza Dushku that it didn’t really grab her and asked why she should watch the show. Whedon was visibly taken aback, but the girl had a valid point. Coming from a creator with a messiah-like following due to his ability to weave intricate dramatic mythologies with comic and even musical touches, Whedon’s concept for the show seemed more than a bit pedestrian. After a delayed premiere to retool the show’s framework and reshoot the pilot, the show limped through its early hours before gaining a bit of traction near the end of its abbreviated 12-episode season. Now the complete first season along with the original unaired pilot and an unaired 13th episode, “Epitaph One,” is coming to DVD and Blu-ray in advance of the show’s second season premiere and final shot for redemption.
Dushku stars as Echo, one of a group of fetching young people residing in the titular dollhouse, a clandestine organization where they are implanted with alternate personalities at the whim of their benefactors. Their own personalities have been removed and stored on what appear to be hard drives, leaving them fairly mindless drones during their downtime. Why Echo and the others agreed or were coerced to join this insane program isn’t really covered in Season One, although the shady organization is explored more thoroughly as the season progresses. There’s something inherently icky about the dollhouse’s concept, as it’s clear the mind-wiped dolls are frequently pimped out for sexual assignments, so it will be interesting to see how or if this is justified in Season Two.
For a Whedon show, it’s far too humorless in its early outings, and it fails to draw viewers into its mythology due to its focus on Echo’s personality of the week. Sure, it’s a fine acting showcase for Dushku to show off her range, but watching her as a hostage negotiator, backup singer, and blind cult worshiper in the initial weeks does little to encourage repeat viewing. It’s only near the midpoint of the season that the writers seem to wake up and inject more focus on the far more interesting company rather than Echo’s personalities. The best creative jolt is reserved for the final two episodes of the season, when fellow Whedon alum Alan Tudyk joins the cast as the criminally insane Alpha, a rogue doll set up as the big bogeyman of the show due to his previous killing spree within the dollhouse. I had serious misgivings about Tudyk in this role based on his largely comic resume, but he ends up stealing the show with his unhinged and surprisingly threatening performance.
The Dollhouse – Season One set is available on both DVD and Blu-ray on July 28th, 2009. My advance materials didn’t contain the two unaired episodes or any extras, which apparently will appear on the fourth disc in the set, but the extras reportedly include deleted scenes and standard “making of” featurettes. The show may not be what rabid Whedon fans have come to expect from their leader, but it does have a chance to grow into a solid performer if the writers can get it right.