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February 10 2009

(SPOILER) Televisionary Reviews Three Episodes of Dollhouse. A mostly critical review, though with high praise for Dichen Lachman. Spoilers abound.

"Lachman in particular is such a standout that I couldn't help but imagine what Dollhouse would be like with her as the lead."

Yeah, that's what I said too.
She is a breakout talent.
In a recent batch of publicity photos, I found the one of her in black pointing a gun to be the most riveting. She has real presence.
Hopefully we're not the only ones who'll notice and she'll get her own series.
She's different thats for sure.
Hopefully we're not the only ones who'll notice and she'll get her own series.

Or maybe she'll just become more important in this series. The show is called Dollhouse, after all, not Echo.
A really interesting review and kind of a troubling one. Although I suppose it's important to note that it is written by somebody who loved the original pilot to death and this may color his take on the revised introductory episodes to "Dollhouse." Maybe.

I'm totally intrigued by the mounting praise for Dichen. I have to admit that in the early days, when I heard she basically had an Aussie soap credit to her name, I was skeptical. More the fool me.

A few comments on points the reviewer makes:

1. He makes a great point that in a few cases, it seems unfathomable why a client would hire an Active rather than just hire an expert in the thing the client needs (e.g., hostage negotiator). Yeah, why? Can't you hire a discreet expert hostage negotiator? Why hire a mind-wiped Doll?

2. "It's difficult to root for Echo because we know just as little about her as a character as she does herself." Is this really true? Really? I could have sworn I read somewhere something different, that we know just a wee bit more than she does.

3. His take that it is the procedural storytelling that makes it difficult for us to root for an ever-changing Echo is a much better formulation on this "who are we rooting for?" criticism that I've heard everywhere and grown tired of. Were "Dollhouse" to be more of a serialized narrative rather than a procedural one, we as the audience would feel more compelled to follow this blank slate character on her journey to self-knowledge. Makes sense to me. Although I also think that, knowing Joss's work so well, the narrative will evolve into more of a serialized form after his "first seven pilots" (or whatever he called it). Look what happened to "Angel." And these are only the first three episodes that the reviewer has seen.
I can't resist adding that I just wish Joss would be given money by a pay cable channel and told to go to it. On pay cable, you don't need to make "seven pilots." Screw having to keep reintroducing the concept to the audience. On pay cable, the audience isn't assumed to be a bunch of jittery morons with attention deficit disorder. You can't keep up? Cry us a river and change the channel. We don't care because we've got paying subscribers who don't want to have their hands held while they're spun a story.

This was one of the glories of "The Wire," for example. You didn't have people or suits whining about how it was too complex and serialized. That was the whole bloody point, and a glorious bloody point it was.

I'm realizing more and more what a miracle "Buffy" and "Angel" were. They arrived on just the right channel(s) at just the right time. Not much later and it would have probably been too late.

[ edited by phlebotinin on 2009-02-10 19:58 ]
Surprisingly, Lachman was the casting choice I had the most issue with based on having seen her previously on the show Neighbours. Good to hear that she was a good choice after all.
I remember watching Dichen in Neighbours and she really wasn't great. It's really exciting to hear that she has developed so much as an actress.

As I'm already aware that Dollhouse's first few/seven episodes are pretty standalone, I'm prepared for that. Maybe I won't be hooked immediately. There will likely be brilliant moments but maybe these reviewers are right, and it isn't that compelling. I just have this very good feeling, somewhere along the line, it will become compelling.

Whether that's enough for the show to stay on the air, I don't know, but for this first season it is enough for me.
I think Joss has also said that there's a sense of closure to this season, so we should still be quasi-satisfied, even if it doesn't get renewed.
I think it's interesting that people were worried about Dichen because of her soap-opera background. Have we forgotten where Sarah Michelle Gellar and Nathan Fillion came from?

And Caroline, you mean that you hope she'll get her own series after Dollhouse's long and illustrious run of many many years, right?
I remembered the case of Sarah and "All My Children" and Nathan and "One Life to Live," JM. For me it was more that I heard so many reports that Dichen didn't exactly, um, shine in her soap.
It's funny: one of the main reasons I watched Buffy was because I was such a huge fan of Sarah's on All My Children. I wasn't a fan of Nathan's on One Life to Live, but I'm not sure if that would have stopped me from watching Firefly...had I'd heard of it when it was on television. I saw Firefly many years later.
Yeah, I remember those early reports as well, phlebotinin, which make it all the more surprising in a good way that the reports are now saying Dichen is a revelation.

Anyway, this review seems quite fair. Which is troubling. But with less than a week to go, I'll reserve judgement untill I actually see the show :).
I'm so happy about people writing positive things about Dichen, as I've read a lot of negative comments about her acting and really want her to prove these people wrong, as I like her, judging from the interviews I've seen.

This is a good review, written in a way you understand where the reviewer is coming from and not entirely negative.
I'm starting to feel a little bad for Eliza, she seems to be getting negative criticism about her performance and not as much praise. For some reason, I'm not worried though. What do you think?

[ edited by WheelsOfJoy on 2009-02-10 20:56 ]
It annoys me how every review is prefaced with...*I love Eliza as Faith* and then half ramble how shes too Faith-ish, and the other half say not enough Faith. Seriously, get over it.
The reviewer says that he loved Dushku as Faith and thinks that she plays Faith-like characters really well (including in some of her Dollhouse personas), but that she doesn't have much range beyond that. Seems a fair take even if it's not pleasant for Eliza Dushku fans to hear. I feel bad reading these kinds of assessments of ED's acting range but it's not nastily phrased and this is subjective stuff, isn't it?
I know I'm tired of the faith comparisons as well. I have confidence that ED is going to surprise us down the line as the show progresses.
I haven't read Televisionary review since it's so spoilery, but BuddyTV's latest entry for Dollhouse claims that:

...having seen three episodes, I can tell you that this show is going to be amazing. It only takes two episodes to have you completely hooked.

Not crazy about the rest of the article but here's its adress:
1. Dichen rocks the Dollhouse. As soon as the 'she's a terrible actress!' thing started when she was announced due to her time on Neighbours, I totally questioned that. They filmed something like 30 pages of script a day and - frankly - it was Neighbours. She wasn't exactly getting the material to stretch yourself with, just to wear you down. I don't mean that as a disrespect for Neighbours, I just mean it's not the best showcase of talent. It certainly shows you can put up with the grind though - and American TV is grind, grind, grind. gossi prediction - she's the one to watch, as is Enver as Lubov.

2. I don't disagree with some of Jace's criticisms here. I personally think the Paul boxing/meeting scene tells you everything you need to know about a development process which just isn't working. It's right there on the screen. Every punch is FOX's whole issue. Sometimes they need to take their peddle off the action and go back to the drama.

3. I like the show, though. I'm incredibly excited now for this to get on air week to week.
And I'm flashing on the idea that I now have another reason to feel bad that Robert Urich died so young, since I'm getting a sinking feeling he and ELiza might be ideally cast as father and daughter - or would he be her grandfather? And yes, I have a mean streak and yes I hope I'm tee-totally wrong on this.

[ edited by DaddyCatALSO on 2009-02-10 22:25 ]
I'm not worried about reviews; Joss shows tend to grow into brilliance rather than be born perfectly formed. I'm contrary enough to prefer this. SO many shows premiere with brilliant pilots and really great first seasons, only to lose their way later on. Joss's best work comes in his second, third, even fifth seasons. (Chuck is the one recent show in which I thought the second season was better than the rough-yet-amusing first season.)

The sticking point is getting to the fifth season. Sigh.
Regarding ED's acting chops, I haven't seen enough of her other work but I imagine Fox felt pretty positive since it was actually HER deal with them that got the show made in the first place. I do worry about the marketing profile so far - the endless obsession with minimal (or nonexistent) clothing doesn't scream "acting range and gravitas" but I guess they want to 'hook' prospective viewers however they can at first. Or perhaps there is a 'canon' based argument such as it is easier to imprint a personality when they dress like this. Not sure if she or the other dolls will 'imprint' on me enough to care about and come back to them week after week, but I'm willing to give it a try.
Honestly, I'm certain that Eliza is talented enough to pull this off to an acceptable degree. I'm not expecting to be blown away by her performances, I just expect it to not detract from the show, and I'm certain it won't.

Besides, having a strong ensemble is much more important than having a strong lead.
I've seen The Alphabet Killers and Eliza is good in it and it's not really Faith like. I think that she has such a overwhelming presence in a Faith like role and an understated one in roles that aren't in your face characters that POP. It's shocking in how different she is in more quiet roles. I think if you can remove the Faith image then Eliza in understated acting will be able tobe judged more favorably. It took me a long time to see how good Eliza was as Buffy.
It took me a long time to see how good Eliza was as Buffy

Hmmm...I've always thought SMG kinda blew ED out of the water in that episode. Her "Faith trying to be Buffy-like" is just amazing--so amazing you keep thinking somehow that it's Eliza Dushku wearing SMG's body. ED never seemed to me to quite be able to convincingly sell the "I'm Buffy trapped in Faith's body" bit.
RE: Phlebotinin's comment about the issue of Echo taking on jobs that could easily be fulfilled by ordinary professionals...I'm hoping there's some sort of BS offered to get over that. Let's face it, every drama just about everything dramatic has holes like that if you really want to think it through (especially thrillers), the trick is to offer some sort of plausible explanation ("we can't go to the police, if we did....") and to be so entertaining, the audience doesn't want to waste time questioning it.

The midwife idea seems especially sketchy on the face of it. Why break a law and spend scads of money to do something perfectly legal and relatively reasonably priced, even if you just awash in cash? (Current events may not exactly be Joss's friend here, either. Even ultra-rich people are a little nervous right now.) On the other hand, whatever this reviewer says, I'm sure more is going on in that episode.I remember a hard science fiction writer I saw at a con once said that every story is allowed "one isotope of baloneyium." I hope Joss and company find the right isotopes.
one isotope of baloneyium

God, that's great. I wish I'd said that!

As to the plausibility of people hiring the Dolls...I don't think it's actually all that hard to come up with good enough justifications. For one you can go with the improbable combinations of skill sets. "O.K., we need a midwife who is also a concert pianist who knows kung fu...," for another you go with people who need to perform the task and then be wiped of the memory of what they've seen while doing it; for another you have them being hired for criminal purposes--jobs which "regular experts" wouldn't touch.

I wonder, though, if we'll be told exactly how much it costs to hire an Active? That will no doubt lead to some "You want a toe? I can get you a toe, believe me. There are ways, Dude. You don't wanna know about it, believe me" type discussions amongst the fans. ("Pffft--you can get a Russian speaking podiatrist with Olympic-level archery skills to participate in a federal crime for you for less than that! Believe me, I know!")

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