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March 07 2009

A dilemma for a Joss Whedon fan. Chelsea G. Summers ponders her current conundrum of being a huge fan of Mr. Whedon but not taking too much to his latest endeavor of "Dollhouse."

Dollhouse lacks the trademark Whedon humor, for one thing, and though there are a few toss-away funny lines, they’re buried in a gloomy atmospheric murk



For one thing, it's not a comedy, and it's suposed to be dark. In that, Dollhouse succeeds. Well, it does for me anyway in episode 3. Just listen to the background/atmospheric music. I love it, creeps me out, and I want it on a CD.

The show in general is growing on to me though. Looking forward to this evenings show and onwards.
A thoughtful, considered review IMO. At least she didn't criticize Dushku for being too beautiful! I'd disagree with "relationships are forgotten as soon as they're forged", though. I'm looking forward to the Actives' growing bond and of course we have the non-Actives' relationships evolving. I'm enjoying this show so far - I've never loved traditional Sci Fi (shows with spaceships) but have been inspired by this site to buy Firefly. Thanks Whedonesquers.
Read Astonishing X-Men, it's probably Joss' bleakest work to date and contains some of his best writing. If people having tracking his work then the structure of Dollhouse shouldn't really be much of a surprise for them.
That line of Paul's about what we do with technology was pretty pessimistic and reminded me of some lines from Astonishing that were dark observations about human nature.

[ edited by Sunfire on 2009-03-07 01:35 ]
Perhaps, but AXM is quite often laugh-out-loud funny as well.
"Yeah, people are mostly crap" made me laugh out loud :)
The ideas driving Astonishing are pretty sobering and play out darkly, a lot like Dollhouse. That doesn't mean they don't have funny moments. Lubov is consistently hilarious.
OK, so the claim is that the first 5 episodes aren't 'all that' - maybe due to network interference, attempts to bring in 'not-Joss' fans, etc - I just don't get the business model. Let's put on stuff we don't think is really great to attract viewers who like that kind of stuff (even though 'true fans' find it lacking). Then, at episode 6 (which we assume the network will really let us get to, cause they said so) we'll introduce the 'really cool' which will get the 'true fans' revving and (I guess) not turn off those low-brows we managed to pull in with the earlier (not-so-great-in-our-eyes) episodes. Huh?!?
I can't really agree with her 3 main points. First of all, I find Dollhouse to be very funny. Sure, the writing isn't perfect yet, but most shows don't have perfect writing 3 episodes in. It's not supposed to be as outwardly silly and funny as something like Buffy, which is why it isn't. I'm okay with that.

Second, how is this show really that complex? I mean sure, it's not the simplest thing ever, but some people are acting like they can't possibly get their minds around it. I don't know, maybe I'm a genius, but at no point does Dollhouse lose me.

And finally, not every character in the show is an active. Most of the people you see in the show have a consistent personality. Apparently this needs to be said, as people keep saying that they can't possibly invest in the characters because they're never the same person. Not only are only 3 of the characters in the show actives, but one of them currently has a personality that we are able to follow, while another is slowly developing one.

Don't get me wrong here, I can understand these complaints to a degree. I'm mostly just explaining why they aren't a problem for me. Also, please keep in mind that it's morning, and I haven't slept yet, so a lot of what I've said here might not be the most coherent thing you've ever read.
There's a lot I like about Dollhouse: the darker premise, most of the dialogue, and Topher for examples.

What's holding me back from loving the show, is the lack of the family vibe. In Buffy, Angel, and Firefly there were wonderful interactions between the main characters that made me want to know them and be a part of the group. I'm not getting that from Dollhouse.

I realize the premise of the show doesn't really lend itself the 'family aspect' I'm referring to. And other people can and do feel differently. I just miss it.
Actually Racoon Boy that makes sense to me, and I kinda agree. :D
The quote you pulled out Krusher I have said on occasion to those I watch Dollhouse with. I understand it is supposed to be dark, but Whedon has always had some humor in even dark situations. I caught a little bit more of it in the second episode. We will see. Definitely not giving up.
I did a poll in my lj about Dollhouse. About 38% of the people who responded said they watch it because they like it.

Bear in mind that most of my friend list are Buffy/Firefly fans.

Yes, highly unscientific, but I still wonder what that says about the general population of viewers.

Dollhouse poll
Well, as a fan who has shied away for pretty much ALL Dollhouse converstation and spoilers so I can just watch it fresh and decide for myself... I have to admit that I did listen to Joss on Fresh Air and was impressed (moved) by his own description of what Echo is supposed to be about - how her fight for sense of self counteracts the deeply disturbing human trafficking aspect of the show. I just love Joss - in the sense that his work resonates, pure and simple. I'm finding Dollhouse a serious work that says serious things. I don't find it delicious yet, in the same way I found Buffy, Angel, and Firefly delicious - but it's making me think a lot. And that's a huge success. I think we need to support and commend him. Dollhouse rocks.
I agree that it's not too complex and I've heard people say that elsewhere. I even saw one guy state the whole teaser wasn't clear enough in 'Ghost' and he didn't understand anything about the scene between Echo and her date. He thought it was meant to be something they did for Echo and somehow it went completely over his head that she was simply on a mission.

I think it's just one of those things where you can't understand how someone can't understand it.. ya know? It has a lot of themes ect but the actual premise behind it is pretty simplistic.
My main issue with the show -- and frankly, is a hard-stop for me -- is the infantilization of adults. I cannot watch Mr. Bean or Peewee Herman for the same reason. There is something about adults as infants that I just cannot deal with.

Yes, I understand the show. Yes, I understand the morality play Whedon is getting it.

But at the end of the day, I just cannot watch it. I've made it through the first two episodes and am almost 100 percent unlikely to go any further.

Y'all can now banish me for being a BadWhedonFan.
Before reading the article I predicted that the author's criticisms of DH would be its (relative) lack of humor, a lack of connection with characters, and a lack of connection among the characters with each other.

On the one hand, I can completely sympathize with these sentiments. I loves me some Whedon humor, and the sense of family that he creates among characters is one of the most engaging aspects of his work. But I also think that it's way too early to pass judgment - first of all, we have only seen 3 episodes. Second, both of these qualities are essential to the nature of the show, which seems to call for a darker tone to fit the paranoid, morally-ambiguous situation the Actives are in, and where a central dilemma is the lack of connection the characters have with each other.

We are made to connect and share the sense of triumph when Echo-as-hostage-negotiator confronted her abuser and was able to save the girl -- and suddenly we're back, and everything that was accomplished is gone. I find that painful and compelling.

Furthermore, Joss Whedon writes arcs. Things don't always stay the same. And the fact that he says he wishes to explore questions of trafficking and identity is a big alarm bell hinting that we indeed will see "movement" in these areas. The struggles around these issues form the heart of the show.

Buffy's subversion of the old stereotypes was that "Buffy was a cheerleader who was not a victim and who killed monsters." We got to see this side of her by the end of the first episode. However, with Echo we clearly can't get the resolution to her dilemma just quite yet. This is a slow burn. And for many of the new viewers, I imagine this must be one of the appealing aspects of the show as they ask themselves, "When will she know what's happening to her? And how will she escape?"

And part of what we will see is some of the characters growing closer and forming relationships we care about. C'mon, it's inevitable - it's Joss.

By the way, I think it will be very interesting to see how the relationships form and evolve. Who will be "bad"? Who will help Echo, and who will stand in her way? What's unique about this show, compared to Joss's other shows, is that we don't quite know the "good guys" and "bad guys" are going to be quite yet. Even Adelle has had her moments of non-evilness. What alliances and enmities will form?? And of course, who will die? :)

Still, I very much liked the article and found it incisive and thought-provoking - and she will give Whedon every chance she can, so yay. :)

[ edited by Ronald_SF on 2009-03-07 03:25 ]
I really, really, dislike Dollhouse so far. But Joss has earned my respect with his previous body of work, so no matter how painful, I will keep watching. In other words, I will hold.

I just wish that the PTBs had seen fit to grant this expenditure of money to the continuation of Firefly, rather than this (so-far) exploitative, vapid FOX t&a-fest.

*sigh*
Heh, there is a 10+ years of darkness waiting outside, It would be nice if we could get some funny in the box.

Oh well.
Wow. I just...wow.

"vapid FOX t&a-fest," petranef? Really?

'cause...Echo's been a hired whore in every single episode we've seen, right? She hasn't once been fully clothed, or been Activated as anything other than a sex toy.

I guess a lot of people just look at TV, as opposed to watching it.

Eliza is a very beautiful woman. There's no way around that. So there is no reason to not use that to an advantage at certain times. But Joss is hardly the type of person to throw her naked into a scene without there being a damn good reason for it.

Last week's episode had her in skimpy clothes, yes. Because that was the persona she'd been programmed with. How much sense would it have made for her to wear a floor-length skirt and a shapeless sweater when she was supposed to be onstage behind a gorgeous female singer who was herself wearing next-to-nothing?

Before someone throws NekkidSpike in my face (Oh, for a better choice of words) that was part of his character during that season.

piggiesfly yay We didn't have a strong sense of family in "Welcome to the Hellmouth/Harvest." We were introduced to several characters, and we only knew that they'd show up in the next few episodes. We had no way of knowing that Buffy would eventually become best friends with Xander and Willow, and that Cordelia would, albeit reluctantly, fall in with that crowd. We didn't know that Giles and Buffy would develop a very deep father/daughter relationship that was stronger than their mentor/student one. In fact, from Buffy's attitude, and Giles' apparent bumbling doofishness, we might've assumed that they'd only interact with each other when Buffy had a big fight coming up and needed research.

And we sure as hell didn't know Angel was a vampire. With a soul.

Joss is tricksy.

We'll get there.

BetNoir Ummm...what now? How are any of the adults infants? You mean the Dolls? They don't run around the House singing "La-la-la connect the dots" or talking to giant chairs. They don't get their shirt-tails stuck in their zipper when standing in line to meet Her Royal Majesty. They are adults with a severe case of amnesia. They're a bit puzzled by some of the things in the House, but the worst you can say about them is they're innocent. Think..."raised in a sterile environment with no exposure to the big cruel world outside." That's a much more accurate description than infantilized.

It's just killing me to not be able to watch TV now. Stupid digital transition. Oh, it's all fine and dandy if you've got money for a DTV, but even those of us who bought a converter box aren't guaranteed to pick up signals. Especially if we're in a weak zone to begin with. Can't install a rooftop antenna (Landlord won't allow it) and can't afford cable. And on dial-up, so watching online is out of the question until I can get to my folks' & borrow Mom's computer. SIGH. And I was so looking forward to finally getting to watch Joss's genius live. I'm pretty sure I watched most of Firefly, but I wasn't online a lot at the time, and not involved in any fan communities.
I've had similar conversations with my friends. We all watch the show because we like it. At the end of the day, it's time well spent and solid entertainment.

Us obsessive Whedonites (or Whedonesquers) just have it a little bit harder because Joss has shown us the path of sublime television--standards few shows could ever match on their best episode. And yes, Dollhouse is funny, but compared to the watch-it-forty-times Firefly jokes ("They say mercy is the mark of a great man...") Dollhouse is falling far from the mark.

And the absolute first problem I saw was the relationships (or lackthereof) between characters. It doesn't matter that not all the characters are actives, Racoon Boy, the core of the show is heavily reliant on characters that by their very nature make it impossible to build sustainable emotional relationships with.

Still. "Stage Fright" showed one of the many layers I'm sure Joss has hidden in this show. No way he goes back to Fox to bow down to their wish and disappoint us with mediocre plotlines. If *FOX* can give him a chance, then what kind of Whedonfan would I be?
I really don't understand the problem some people are having about the "lack of" relationships, and the missing the Jossian "family". It seems to me that virtually everyone, except maybe, so far, Adelle and Mr. Security (whose name I keep forgetting..Reed Diamomd sticking in my head, intead of the character's name) is struggling to connect with someone. Even those in a Tabula Rasa state are drawn to sit together.

None of the previous Whedonian families were complete units from the start, the connection has always been an important part of his story.

[ edited by toast on 2009-03-07 07:51 ]
See, I just KNEW that I was going to be a BadWhedonFan because I don't like Dollhouse.

At least I beat everyone else to that punch.
I dunno, toast. Even if Firefly was chaotic and the ship was rife with suspicion, all the characters were part of the crew. They were the crew of Serenity. As soon as the (real) first episode was over, everyone had issues, but they had to deal with those issues because no matter how they felt, they were part of a shared community.

Even with contracts and rules and surveillance (and a kick ass HQ if I ever saw one), Dollhouse is missing that innate bond. Individual bonds would be nice and they seem to be progressing, which I'm glad of, but forming a relationship between everything and not hiding in the singular bonds you've got is what makes Whedon's shows so fantastic. Because then the punches can come from any side and everyone will feel it.

But that will take a few more episodes and really, Dollhouse is only getting better, so we'll see. If it's a slow start, I'm sure there will be some heavy handed rewards.

[ edited by Arobow on 2009-03-07 08:51 ]
I know this sentiment isn't going to be greatly appreciated, but I understand where she's coming from. The show hasn't captured me either, at least not yet.

Yes, I'll continue watching, for a while, hoping that we can get beyond the network BS and interference, but I won't hold out forever.
For me, what the show is missing so far is a center of gravity. Buffy, Angel, Mal - they all provided that for their respective shows. They didn't have to be your favorite character or the character you related to, but their presence at the middle of things gave the shows a certain "shape". Echo, at present, can't be that; she's literally a cipher. Now, that will apparently change as the show goes on, but I think it's something people are struggling with at the start, or at least I am. There's a lot of interesting bits to Dollhouse, but they're kind of like soup - there's nothing pulling it together (yet).
Arobow, Well, they do have a sort of a bond- the Dollhouse. It seems to be a negative, sinister force, but then so was highschool-as-hell, albeit in a funnier way. And they have to deal with their issues because of it.

And, jlp I think that Echo is already far from a cipher- she is puzzled when between assignments, and curious, and seems innately brave, even when she is devoid of all but the most the most basic information. When she has some skills and knowledge of any kind she tries to use them to help people, and she is almost insanely heroic in her non-assignment choices while wearing her down-loaded personalities.

I understand we are going to meet Caroline soon, which should help round her out, since right now, she doesn't seem to have any quirks or flaws that haven't been downloaded.
I agree that Echo is "far from a cipher". It isn't yet clear who she really is ... her true "Caroline" identity (although the opening sequence of the first show gave a hint that she was strong and confident, although in deep trouble).
I'm thoroughly enjoying the little pieces of the "real" person that keep popping out, as well as Eliza's performance, which I find to be extraordinary.

The other characters are all interesting in their own ways and I don't have a problem with the fact that so far, they're all seen as more "separate", that connected. This is indeed something different from Joss, but I was actually hoping for something different.

I've loved all of Joss's work, and BtS owns my heart like no other work of TV fiction ever has or probably ever will. But I'm enjoying Dollhouse for what it is, something new and different.
Maybe a little less "waiting for episode 6" and a little more watching it unfold in the (weekly) here and now, would yield a little more appreciation.
Its great to see that he's proving all the fears of having unrelated, self-contained episodes (very, very possible thing to fall back on, with the premise of the show being what it is) and making that fear quite groundless.

Episode 2 brought me right in, being almost a direct follow up to number 1, and starting to show us the developing bond between Boyd and Echo. I'm hooked.

Also, aren't the main credits pretty?
See, I just KNEW that I was going to be a BadWhedonFan because I don't like Dollhouse.

At least I beat everyone else to that punch.


One person disagreed with one substantive thing you had to say, BetNoir, and nobody called you a BadWhedonFan.

You said the show contains "infantalization of adults" and that is something you can't abide. Fair enough--we all have our quirks. Some people can't look at burnt milk. Some people can't stand spiders. If the quasi-infantalization of the Actives gives you the wiggins, there's not much anyone can do to prevent that.

You obviously realize, of course, that we're supposed to find that "tabula rasa" state creepy. But if it's the kind of creepy you just can't bear to watch--well, who can gainsay that?
Snot Monster: Yes, if that's my visceral reaction (which, indeed it is), there's not much to be done to prevent that. I honestly cannot give an objective opinion as to whether the show is good, bad or somewhere in between precisely because I have such a bad visceral reaction.

Just creepy I can deal with. Having a "cannot even bear to watch" is something else.

But the problem is that in response, I got told that my reaction was bad and wrong, and oh yeah, here's why. And by the way, I just stare at the TV, rather than really watching it.

*That's* where I begin to feel like I'm a BadWhedonFan because, what the hell's a'mattah with me that I cannot just love it like everyone else.

On a meta-level, I've never understood loving everything a writer/creator does based just on the fact that it's Them. I love almost everything done by the Coen Brothers (and I've seen almost all of their work). But I'd sooner eat ground glass than sit through Barton Fink ever again (now watch, up will pop somebody to defend Barton Fink as the greatest film ever made. :> ).

I judge works on their own merit, regardless of the track record I feel the creator has. I expect the creator to challenge me and dare me anew every time, with each new project. That tells me that they are working for it and not just coasting on their name (no, I do NOT feel Whedon is just coasting with Dollhouse, lest THAT argument also be made).

I applied this criteria to Buffy (and was more than pleasantly surprised, as I did not care for the movie as much), Angel, Firefly and, yes, Dollhouse.

So being told that my lizard-hindbrain "Cannot watch" reaction is bad and wrong is just bound to make me tetchy.
But the problem is that in response, I got told that my reaction was bad and wrong

I can't see anyone saying that in this thread.
Yanno, I'm just gonna shut up now.

In fact, I was hesitant to even voice my opinion because I've noticed that other people who haven't liked the show have gotten "Well you're not looking at it right, and here's where you went wrong."

So yeah. Carry on with the Dollhouse love.
Ye of little Faith.
BetNoir: What you have noticed is people who disagree with you saying why they do. Of course you are entitled to like or dislike anything you want to. But people come here to talk, not just to be counted in a poll. If you don't want other people to explain their views, why would you bother?
BetNoir, let your opinion fly. I think the first 5 episodes of Dollhouse are troublesome. And, you know, I run a fan site for it.
If Dollhouse is torture for folks to watch, they should change the channel. Seriously. Just stop watching it. Enough said.

Unless you are a Nielsen viewer. Then turn it on and leave the room. :)
Toast: Yes, people are talking about why they like it. And I'm talking about why I don't. Which appears to get less than a welcome reaction.

So yeah, I'm done. Done with watching and done with talking about it. Even if it gets canceled.

Taking TamaraC's advice and just done.
I'm a die hard Whedon fan and I love every show/movie he's made, but it's not because he made it. I just get his story-telling style. It's like with everything he makes, he's writing exactly the stories I need.

I do think the first Dollhouse episode was clunky and awkward and had a lot of issues, but I saw tons of promise in it anyway. There was also something kind of sparkling below the surface of it all, a thing I would guess to be the magic of Joss. He just has this special something in his stories that never fails to resonate, surprise, and make me wonder about things like myself and the world around me.

There may be a day when a show or a movie of his does fail to do those things for me, but I don't think that's going to be the case with Dollhouse.

[ edited by electricspacegirl on 2009-03-08 02:59 ]
I agree pretty much completely with this review. I think Dollhouse is good television compared to a lot of other shows, but on a personal level it hasn't touched me in the same way as any of Joss's previous works have.

But I will continue to watch, because Joss has never let me down.
Many people seems to react badly to Doolhouse because its "darker theme" and seems to think this is something new from Joss'es head.

Well, if it was up to Joss himself there would have been much more darkness in the Wedonverse. Remember that both Angel and Firefly was originaly pitched to be much darker then they turned out.

In Firefly some of this darker tone was present in the pilot Serenity, but later taken out thanks to network demands, and some of it is back in Serenity.

Few knows that even Angel was also supposed to be much darker. Unfortunately this never made it so far as into the first episode. I dont know if a darker pilot was ever shot, but according to Joss (or was it Tim?) they wanted it a lot darker but the network nipped that one quick indeed.

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