Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Three Words I Never Thought I’d Say…

“Too Much Eliza” Honestly, I never believed it was possible and believe me, this is the biggest, and I use the word loosely here, “Flaw” in Joss Whedon’s new show, Dollhouse.

Now I know many of you are thinking that if that is this show’s biggest flaw then this show must be out of this world awesome… Its not, but its pretty gorram shiny! (Don’t know what shiny means? Don’t know what Gorram means? Call yourself a Whedon Fan? Check out Firefly! You don't have time to watch all 14 episodes of one of the best shows on earth? Then just watch Serenity!")

I’m sorry, I seem to have gotten a little sidetracked. Ok, so Dollhouse, here’s the spoiler-free lowdown. Eliza Dushku plays Echo, one of, presumable, 26 dolls, as the other dolls that have appeared in the show so far have a codename drawn from the phonetic alphabet, with Alpha being the dominant Doll, who went AWOL after killing most of the other dolls in the project, his handler and slicing up poor Amy Acker, who looked like, in the words of Fran Kranz’s character Topher, “A Jigsaw Puzzle”

Anyway, somehow the organisation that runs the Dollhouse have found a way to erase peoples memories, leaving them in a sort of peaceful, tranquil state, with pre-programmed responses to certain triggers. Topher Brink appears to be the genius behind this project, however, no matter how good he thinks he is, something always manages to go wrong EVERY week, the guy must have the worlds biggest ego to still believe he is the best.

Topher is responsible for designing the templates that get imprinted on the Dolls and managing their vital statistics while they are on mission. The templates are created from real people, with real experiences and real problems. For example in the first episode of the show Echo is imprinted with the memories of a girl who was a abused by the man she is sent after.

When the Dolls return from a mission Topher is responsible for wiping their memories and he seems to then store these on a hard drive, for what purpose we don't yet know.

And meanwhile, Paul Ballard, (Tahmoh Penikett), an FBI agent, is on assignment to uncover the Dollhouse. However Paul is akin to Mulder (in the x-files, for anyone who isn’t old enough to get that reference), he is seen as a joke by his peers and no one expects (or possibly wants) him to succeed.

Ok, so lets do the good points first. Eliza is beautiful, definitely on the top ten list of people to invite to my fantasy barbeque. And the Character of Topher is inspired, he may have sprung from the generic Nerd template that Joss keeps in his writing desk but Fran Kranz makes the role his own and has me giggling week in and week out. The range of stories the show can tell is infinitely varied, already they have had Echo become a Hostage Negotiator, the perfect date for a guy into “extreme sports”, a Backing Singer and Bank Robber. Eliza is great at portraying strong independent women, Whedon’s trademark, and she delivers in everyway in this show and its a little crushing to see her reduced back to a defenceless puppet at the end of each episode.

The major pitfalls have been cleverly sidestepped already, so early on in the show. With this kind of drama there is a temptation for it to become formulaic, which leads to static, boring story telling. However even the first episode let us know that the Dollhouse project is still in the teething stages of life and it has many bugs to be fixed. I wont say any more on this here, go and check out the series and you’ll see what i mean.

So the show is beautiful, funny and well acted, so what is wrong with it? Firstly, every single Joss Whedon show has had an awesome theme song, Dollhouse, doesn’t. Minor nitpicking? Maybe. However it doesn't stop there. The credit sequence focuses only on Eliza/Echo, unlike any other Joss Whedon show to date. Happily, the title of the show isn’t Echo (buffy/angel) but that doesn’t stop the show being all about its main character, a lot more than any previous show. Firefly for example had so many opportunities for the entire crew to shine, but Dollhouse is very centred on Echo and that makes me worry about the ultimate shelf life of the show.

What else? Well… The FBI investigation into the Dollhouse seems fated to eventually find it, only because otherwise it wouldn't need to be shown at all and certainly not every week with with Tahmoh Penikett on the series cast. This inevitability will make getting there seem drawn out and, possibly, ultimately unfulfilling, (although i have faith in Whedon and his team to keep us guessing). And Echo becoming self-aware is also a big part of the premise, something that really has to feature as a major part of the first season finale, which begs the question, “What direction does season 2 go in?” Hopefully an awesome one!

We already know that Alpha has become self aware and is now at large, what if Echo joins him, is that why Echo survived his massacre, despite being defenceless? Maybe joining forces with the now “in the know” FBI agent to bring down the Dollhouse. Maybe they will poach Topher away, who, with his skills, will be able to reprogram Echo and Alpha with all manner of abilities? Who knows? I certainly don’t and i guess that is my main problem with Dollhouse.

Because the show is sooooooo focused on Echo, it screams out loud to have it’s noose loosened, to let the characters have some free reign and i just hope that the network has the balls to let this be more than a platform to show off just how pretty Miss Dushku is.

Well, that’s My Two Cents, I’ll leave you to make up your own minds I’m off to watch episode 5 True Believer.

Dollhouse is currently airing Friday at 9pm on Fox.

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