Dollhouse: Season 1 DVD Review

Joss Whedon is more that just a writer and a producer to some people. He’s a god, an idol to be worshiped and adored. He created Buffy, Angel and Firefly, co-wrote Toy Story, gave us Dr Horrible’s Sing-a-Long Blog, wrote the best X-Men comic in a decade and is just a genuine nice and funny chap. You want to give him a great big hug every time you see him. But the truth is that he’s not the messiah, he’s just clever little boy. He’s flesh and blood, like you and me. He’s not perfect and can make mistakes (Alien: Resurrection for one). And for a long time it seemed that Dollhouse would be his greatest folly.

So far Dollhouse is a flaw creation, a work in progress that didn’t show any real promise until the half way point, the much touted ‘Man on the Street’. Before that Dollhouse was a dreary by the numbers affair as week after week Echo (Eliza Dushku) was sent on mission after tedious mission. The first five episodes are obvious attempt by the network to sledgehammer the show into an acceptable format that audience could easily understand and follow regardless of whether or not it was any good. Even a writer’s room made up largely of Whedon alumni struggled with this and produced some mediocre and tiresome episodes. After ‘Man on the Street’ the series hits it stride, only rarely missing a beat. ‘Needs’, ‘A Spy in the House of Love’ and ‘Briar Rose’ are the definite standouts of the season and demonstrate just how great Dollhouse could be when the executives took a step back.

Of course, that still doesn’t excuse them for some really stupid decisions that almost derailed the whole thing. Having now viewed the original pilot ‘Echo’ it is hard to understand why it was ditched in favour of the lousy ‘Ghosts’. Compared to its replacement ‘Echo’ is a far more interesting and dramatic episode that would’ve got the series off to as great start. Also included in this DVD set is the unaired episode 13, the original finale of the first season. Again it hard to fathom the network’s thinking. ‘Epitaph One’ (guest starring the awesomeness that is Felicia Day) is a brilliant piece of television, one of the best of the year and would’ve sent the series out on a massive high after the underwhelming antics of ‘Omega’.

But there is a great big ‘but’ coming. Hard as it is to say but Dollhouse has to be the first Joss Whedon show where I didn’t instantly love a single character. Even after viewing the whole series again I still don’t have any favourites that I love unconditionally. Unlike Whedon’s previous series Dollhouse lacks a strong central figure. Echo is for the most part a non-entity, a vessel waiting to be filled. It hard to relate and sympathise with a character when she’s constantly chopping and changing personalities every five minutes. Ditto Sierra (Dichen Lachman) and Victor (Enver Gjokaj). The supposed romantic lead, Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett), becomes increasingly off putting as the series progress to the point I cheered when he got the crap kicked out of him by Echo. Boyd (Harry J. Lennix) and Adelle DeWitt (Olivia Williams) are both interesting characters and fun to watch but hardly likeable considering what they do for a living. And I know Topher (Fran Kranz) is meant to be a loveable geek, the quirky nerd we all relate to but instead he comes across as an arrogant creep.

Back to the positives. I am fond of Dr. Saunders/Whiskey but that’s more to do with the fact she’s played by Amy Acker (she could play Myra Hindley and I’d still lover her). And I have a soft sport for sweet November (Miracle Laurie), hopefully we haven’t seen the last of her. Plus, the show has some great bad guys. Laurence Dominic (Reed Diamond) makes a great foe for Echo during the majority of the season until big bad Alpha (Wash!) finally steps out of the shadows.

Dollhouse could’ve been Joss Whedon’s first true failure and a blotch on a so far spotless record. While not a shinning success the series has proved that it has the potential to be something truly special. We just have to hope that the network will continue to give Joss the support he needs to fulfil that potential.

Rating: * * * *


shawnlunn2002 said...

I have to agree with a lot of this DVD review. The show went from potentially awesome when I first heard about it to meh during the first half of the season to intriguing in the latter half.

It has one up on Firefly that it got a second season but if it gets a third, I will genuinely be surprised.

Paul and Topher are by far my least favourite characters and Echo/Caroline's characterisation has been patchy at best.

I do love Victor, Sierra, November and Boyd and Adelle and Dominic are effective.

I'll see Epitaph One on Sci-Fi, so I'm intrigued for it. Isn't the first season out on UK DVD in October?

Mark Greig said...

I imported the R1 since Dollhouse and The Middleman came out on the same day in the US.

shawnlunn2002 said...

Thanks for that.

Did your Whedon poll, got Buffy too.

Paul Kelly said...

I'm not sure about Dollhouse. It's undoubtedly had its moments. I'm just not sure I like the concept that much.

Plus... and I suspect I'm in the minority here... I don't like them reusing actors. Why not just use new ones! Established actors carry too much baggage and it's often hard to see beyond the actors themselves. It becomes more of an "Oh, look, there's wotsisface from Battlestar" situation... rather than them adding anything truly meaningful to the show.

That's why I'm pleased to see Doctor Who using relative unknowns next season. No baggage. No preconceptions.

Mind you, if they're shite, I'll be the first one to ask...why they didn't reuse actors ;o)