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May 05 2009

Why isn't Dollhouse succeeding? TV Guide Magazine's Matt Roush gives his answer to that question.

It could also have to do with everyone even on here complaining as to how much they didn't like it.

I never thought it was perfect from the beginning, but I surely enjoyed every episode and continued to try and get my friends into it, while most everyone else seemed to be telling everyone how much it sucked.

No one needs a Negativity Pants on a Friday Death Slot.
I think that the reviews for the first 5 episode were harsh. I belive episodes like 'The Target' and 'True Beliver' were real quality, infact I've enjoyed all the episodes so far. Obviously episodes 6,7,8,9,11 were the best, but all the other episodes were better than most things on tv, i.e reality programs such as America's next top tea pot designer LOL. - I think this could have potential!!! NOT- tho knowing tv it would get more viewers then Dollhouse !

[ edited by Gota luv that Buffy on 2009-05-05 17:46 ]
I don't think it was so much complaining as it was voicing an opinion which is what I feel like the comment sections here are meant to do. I tried getting people to jump aboard from the beginning but once it started I found it difficult to persuade others to watch a show that I myself was not very invested in.

With that said, I've been telling everyone I know how much better the show has gotten to try and increase interest and I'm definitely intrigued with its direction. Like most I am anxiously waiting for news about season 2.
Who leaked the Murder Rubicon/America's Next Top Tea Pot Designer contract negotiations? catherine, where are you?
It could also have to do with everyone even on here complaining as to how much they didn't like it.

I think by far the majority of commenters on Whedonesque were enthusiastic from the beginning. Obviously dissenters tended to generate discussion/argument, so their views get a somewhat disproportionate presence on the site (if you look at any of the "Discuss X Episode" threads, there will be a hundred short "Wow, the best ever" type comments followed by long agonized arguments between two or three people saying "it's justifying slavery" [or what have you] and those willing to take up the cudgels on the show's behalf).

I think Matt Roush is mostly right, though. This show is hard intellectual and emotional work. I'm not sure there has ever been as bleak a show on network TV, where you are so constantly forced to examine your moral judgments and your emotional investments. These are the reasons that I love it, but I'm not at all surprised that the majority of people want something more comforting and more familiar ("yay people I heart! Kill the horrible scary people I hate!" or "Oh shy but deep and beautiful person, when will popular and beautiful person realize that you were made for each other?").
Er...Zeitgeist...did you leave an open bold tag in the post above mine?
I think maybe you're just being very forceful with your views, snot.
Corrected :)!
Careful changing that HTML code, zeitgeist, you might end up taking down the security systems at the Dollhouse.
Snomon (for short): Well, the X-Files was also pretty dark and morally ambiguous. Just saying.

However, I do agree with much of your first paragraph. In fact, it was somewhat depressing to me to see so many extremely positive comments get generated after each episode, to the point where I felt that we just needed bigger and bigger superlatives after each new broadcast as the same people kept claiming that this latest episode was even better than the last one, which was the best one ever until this one, until it just lost meaning to me.

But to me the debate about the issues raised by the show (slavery, rape, etc.) is the reason to come here. It is not so I can join in a Hallelujah chorus of "love the DH" when I was not sure it had earned that. It is a show that merits intense discussion and what is also disheartening to me is that we have generated far more debate on the show's future and its problems than we have about any episode or theme. We have lost the thread, if you will, of articulate debate and speculation about the show and its issues, and if, as you say, it is just "two or three" people holding that debate, I wonder how the show survives- because it is not being discussed as show qua show, but instead it is held up as how to not develop and market a show. I am not interested, personally, in continuing the agonizing over the fate of this show, but I sure would like to debate its issues- only that is really sort of lost in the many threads devoted to its ratings.
I think smfos makes a good point about people wanting "comfortable and familiar", but at the same time, I've noticed a growing - and disturbing - trend over the past several years among both reviewers and viewers: the overwhelming desire to be first to publicly announce a show "DOA", and if they can't be first, to at least jump on the bandwagon and add their voice to the (usually self-fulfilling) prophecy. While that may not be the sole cause of a show losing numbers, it sure doesn't help matters any. It's frigging pathetic how many people watch a show/listen to a band/read a book/(fill in the blank) only because it's "what everyone else is watching/listening to/reading/(fitb)."
I'm not sure there has ever been as bleak a show on network TV, where you are so constantly forced to examine your moral judgments and your emotional investments.


Sorry, but it's more of an issue about the lack of emotional investment in the characters due to their lack of likability that seems to bug a lot of people.

For the record, what you said would make a great description of the Sarah Connor Chronicles.
Who said anything about examining our emotional investments in the characters?

Dollhouse is about re-examining your emotional investments in other people, in real life. How much are we ALL projecting what we want onto those we love? How much are we ALL using people?
I agree pretty strongly with smfos' analysis of the rhythm of what happens in the discussion in the weekly episode threads. It occurs to me that, since Whedonesque is pretty much inevitably the first site mentioned in any article referencing Whedon's fandom, an unfortunate byproduct may occur: Non-Dollhouse followers who hear about an episode from a friend or the increasingly good reviews and end up watching the episode a day or more after airing (via Hulu or whatever), and who subsequently decide to check out this site are likely to find the discussion to have turned pretty opaque and/or, frankly, pretty off-putting. For me, one frustration has been that, while coercion/slavery/etc is obviously a continuing theme of importance in each episode, the discussion about it in the episode threads has a tendency to detach from the new details or newly opened questions from the most recent episode and end up rehashing the same ultra-ultra big picture debate about whether the Dollhouse or (insert character name) is irredeemably villainous or not. To the regular reader, this tends to get real repetitive real fast. More importantly (?) I don't think we look like a fun fandom to join if you start reading an episode thread around day 2 or 3, and that may have real effects on the casual visitor.

Of course, the obvious solution is topic threads for ongoing thematics. I've been previously informed that Whedonesque.org is one place for this, but it seems so underpopulated compared to .com. Similarly, I avoid TV without Pity because the snark there can get out of the box, no matter the show. All this to say that, if we are gifted with another season, I wonder if our sainted orange leaders might have any thoughts about trying different strategies so that certain ongoing big topics can blossom, complete with the occassional rant, without unintentionally sandbagging the episode threads.
I agree Dana. And I'm glad for some diversity of opinion on the boards.

IMO the problem with Dollhouse succeeding is largely it not being very good until episode 6. Simply that. Genre shows will appeal to those that love them. If you want to reach a wider market then the answer is not to dumb it down with T&A and simplified storylines. That just makes it a really cheesy genre show. Instead you have to make it such a damn good genre show that it starts to cross boundaries by being too brilliant not to (a la Buffy or BSG). From ep6 onwards Dollhouse has been doing that, but unfortunately the world is probably not patient enough to let it simmer and build an audience.

(edited for bad grandma and spling)

[ edited by curlymynci on 2009-05-05 18:50 ]
I don't think Dollhouse's lack of success can be blamed on audiences that don't want to be challenged intellectually or emotionally or any of the other reasons that have been tossed about.

The first 5 or so episodes just weren't that interesting, and most people give up after the first 1 or 2 if they don't find the characters or stories engaging.

I'm glad that I was rewarded by sticking it out, but I guess most TV viewers have a shorter attention span - I blame it on the invention of the remote control ; - )
Instead you have to make it such a damn good genre show that it starts to cross boundaries by being too brilliant not to (a la Buffy or BSG).

Perhaps. Dollhouse's ratings are actually very comparable to both Buffy's and BSG's.
The only thing I'd really say against the "diversity of opinion" thing regarding the Dollhouse episode discussions is that there are some people who only ever complain about all the things they don't like and never offer up anything in the way of a positive. Why bother watching the show if you only see faults?

That's something I'll never understand. There were those people with BtVS, Angel, and every show. The ones who regularly tune in then chime in with endless comments of why it's bad/sucks/is poorly made/poorly acted/etc...yet they keep watching and complaining on a weekly basis.

I have a fair share of issues with Dollhouse (like I did Angel, and Firefly, and BtVS, etc) but if I ever reached the point where all I did was bitch about the things that suck then that's when it's time to stop watching. For whatever reason, some people feel the need to stick with shows they don't like only to--apparently--be surprised every week when they don't like anything about it.
I think they may just love to hate it.
Ruadh
most people give up after the first 1 or 2 if they don't find the characters or stories engaging.

Well, whose fault is that, if they can't get past the "instant gratification syndrome"? Nearly all shows require some time to find their footing; if all it took to write a hit show was somebody saying, "Hey! I know, let's write us a hit show!" then everybody would be doing it, wouldn't they? If a show sounds like something I might be interested in, I'll usually give it at least six or eight episodes before I completely write it off (hell, I even watched four episodes of "Demons" before I decided it probably just wasn't gonna get any better any time soon...)

Dhoffryn - word...


[ edited by Bruce on 2009-05-05 21:25 ]
septimus: let me riff on your comment. I think the idea of investment is important, but not in the way you bring it up, which is as a corollary for the importance of what is happening on the show. To me, investment is critical in my enjoyment of a show, the reason why I tune in to watch. The story is so much less important to me; what happens to the people I care about (perhaps identify with) is my driver. Though I have said this many times, those few shows where I really care about someone (CSI: Grissom and Sara, now both gone; Buffy: Willow and Tara; In Treatment: Sophie last season and April this one) are the shows where I go to bed at night worried about the characters; I care far less about the actual story. Where DH is failing me is in making me care about anyone; in that sense, this holds to snomon's bleakness of vision. There is moral ambiguity and moral ambiguity. I tired of X-Files because it was relentless in its bleak vision; in West Wing, at least we understood the reasons for decisions we hated. Here, who can I care about? Echo is a cypher, with little information about her actually known, and what there is gives us little reason to much care; Mellie is mainly an active, and we scarce know her real life; Topher is completely amoral, and Adelle is even worse, and Claire may not be even who she seems to be. Boyd appears to be a caring person, but works for an evil organization, so his caring means nothing. John Yoo might be the nicest guy in the world, but he still signed off on some really bad things, you know? Victor is someone we know nothing about, Paul is a bad guy trying to do right, but obsessed and therefore no one to cheer and root for. And only Sierra has the potential, because we know she is there against her will- but beyond that we know little about her and she is rarely featured at all. I cannot invest; ergo, I cannot care. This was my worry from the get go; I know myself well enough to know what I like and why. The conceit that only Joss can write such brutal truths and is creative enough to create this show with its bleak underpinnings and moral ambiguity is not winning him converts to the show. He really does belong on cable, where a lack of viewers does not mean the death of a show (witness In Treatment); if he wishes to be on network TV he has to at least play by some of their rules and understand what the average TV viewer wants to see. And right now, it ain't so much of darkness, or so I believe.
The first five episodes were labor to watch. I'm a huge fan of Whedon's so I stuck it out, and currently feel well-rewarded. But even since the first five there have been a few hitches in the developing momentum (Echoes, Haunted). I'm guessing that the show initially lost all casual vieweres, save those who like the MOTW stuff. Since six, it probably shed those casual viewers because it was shifting gears, and was then left with the die-hard Whedon fans. And here we are. Honestly, if I didn't have great faith in Joss's LR story telling ability I'd have bailed at Stage Fright.

I'm not sure why they spent five episodes on the MOTW stuff. One or two would seem to have been enough to establish the premise and give a backdrop against which the intersting unveiling could occur. There is a reason why the early buzz was lukewarm at best. By the time the show picked up steam and got better buzz, the better buzz was always accompanied by discussions of the very high probability that the show would be cancelled -- which is not exactly a good way of drawing viewers back in.

One would hope that Fox would give the show another shot on the grounds that there is a world where the DVD sales over the summer, very good buzz accompanied by a green light for at least another season, and better marketing would deliver a big enough audience to make the show worthwhile. But unless Fox put a gun to Joss's head and said make five episodes that critics and a good chunk of the audience will find remarkably unengaging, they aren't the main cause of the show's current predicament.
Very well said, Dana5140.

The characters who do have personalities, for the most part, are not very likable characters. The actives have no personality of their own and the audience has difficulty forming an emotional attachment to the characters.

I never realized how bad the acting was until Alan Tudyk came along. Maybe the fault lies with the directing or the material or the actors themselves, but Alan was head and shoulders above everyone else.

I wish I could care about this show, but I just don't. I keep hoping it will get better or I will see what everyone is gushing about. I've loved Joss's other TV shows before. This just does not trip my trigger.
I agree with Matt... people don't want to be challenged in their TV.

And that's sad.
Well, the X-Files was also pretty dark and morally ambiguous.

I was never an X-Files watcher, so I may not understand the premise of the show, but I always assumed that Mulder and Scully were unambiguously "good guys." That is, we always had a rooting interest in their well-being (and forgive me if I've got that totally wrong). That is what seems to me to be so deeply unconventional in The Dollhouse. There is simply nobody at all in the show who is unproblematically our locus for identification.

All this to say that, if we are gifted with another season, I wonder if our sainted orange leaders might have any thoughts about trying different strategies so that certain ongoing big topics can blossom, complete with the occassional rant, without unintentionally sandbagging the episode threads.

I wonder how many people visit a site like this who aren't already committed to the show? I think a show like this lives or dies on its ability to pull in a halo of more casual viewers on top of the core fans. I'd be surprised if a site like Whedonesque could do much to harm or help in that process.

Also, my description of the typical rhythm of an episode discussion thread wasn't really a criticism. I, personally, find the impassioned arguments far more interesting than the string of "Wow!" "Did that just happen? This episode is the BEST EVER" stuff that precedes it. And the fact that certain themes come up again and again is hardly surprising. Sure, it can get a bit repetitive, but it also makes sense that someone will want to say, for example, "hey, doesn't this episode change your understanding of the much-discussed X-issue or Y-issue?"
Echo is a cypher, with little information about her actually known, and what there is gives us little reason to much care;

Disagree... there are many crumbs and the fact that she is a human being who was between a rock and a hard place and apparently chose the Dollhouse (whether under duress or not) is fascinating.
Mellie is mainly an active, and we scarce know her real life;

And we are getting fed bits about it and it is fascinating.
Topher is completely amoral

Not at all true. Sometimes I'm not sure we're watching the same show! Which is delightful to me, btw.
Adelle is even worse

Not true, there is a lot more to it than that.
Claire may not be even who she seems to be.

Quite possibly.
Boyd appears to be a caring person, but works for an evil organization, so his caring means nothing.

Not at all true. It means MORE because he works for an "evil" organization.
Victor is someone we know nothing about

It worked for Wolverine for years and it doesn't seem to bother you when it's a repressed woman (see Sierra).
Paul is a bad guy trying to do right, but obsessed and therefore no one to cheer and root for.

Obsession makes someone not able to be identified with or cheered for? Really? Remind me to remind you of that the next time you mention Tara or Sophie :).
only Sierra has the potential, because we know she is there against her will- but beyond that we know little about her and she is rarely featured at all.

I totally predicted this part :). In all seriousness, the show just isn't for everyone. Some people don't want to be challenged, some people just aren't interested by what is being presented. One size does not fit all and the status is not quo. This is made obvious by several people's comments in this thread.

[ edited by zeitgeist on 2009-05-05 21:03 ]
I have to add: I can more or less agree with the description of the show in Dana5140's last comment (although, like Zeitgeist, I'd quibble at the margins), I just feel totally differently about the facts he describes (you are a he, right?). This really is a show where we are hard put to identify with or sympathize with any of the characters. The point at which I really knew that Joss simply wasn't going to play that game at all was when he finally gave us a solid sense of "Caroline's" personality, and she turned out to be shallow and self-righteous. I mean, holy crapola! Talk about tearing the rule book up, burning the pieces and firing the ashes into the heart of the sun. Anyone telling this story would have said "make Caroline utterly lovable so that we will root for her to be rescued and restored!"

Me, I find the continual mind-fuckery of this show simply fascinating and it keeps me coming back for more--but if you want to fall in love with and root for characters (which is a perfectly legitimate thing to want) then this show just ain't going to do it for you.

Of course, criticizing it as a "bad" or "failed" show on that score would be silly. It would be like criticizing baseball for not being football or criticizing ballet for not being Noh drama--it's not that Joss tried to make lovable characters and failed; he's simply telling a completely different kind of story.
It is disappointing that the season began with a series of one-offs (although I'd argue that "The Target" is absolutely an arc episode), and that this may have put off viewers; I enjoyed those episodes but certainly was not as invested as in later episodes. waxbanks' argument (on his blog at waxbanks.typepad.com) that the generic nature of the one-offs is a comment on the hollywood process--that the show is partly at its core about writing and directing and acting and the genre mashups are what it's like to be an actor in hollywood--makes sense and I don't think it's wrong; but it's not something that's going to win over fans immediately. For my part, I liked the first five episodes well enough, and more after I thought about the subtext.

I don't find the characters hard to identify with, although I am more interested in the Dollhouse staff than the dolls as characters. It might simply be that I'm a bad person, but I find the "there are no real heroes" tone of the show, in which the character most fully committed to the concept of his own righteousness is an incompetent, obsessive fool (Ballard) and the most explicitly amoral characters are not truly sadistic and have terrible unfulfilled emotional longings (Topher, Adelle), attractive and interesting. And re: Dana's connection between Boyd and John Yoo, I think I, personally, would enjoy seeing a show that takes place inside a real-life administration that does horrible things. I liked Oliver Stone's "W." and I am no fan of his presidency. I certainly understand why others don't want to see that, and I know it's not just as simple as wanting to see the good guys win; it's nice to know that there are good guys.

I see this show as the next logical step in a progression of Whedon's work: in part, Buffy was about the pain and difficulty of doing the right thing, but the right thing was generally known; Angel is about the difficulty of doing good when one has done bad for so long. Firefly ditches absolute morality, but still focuses on a crew that is sufficiently isolated from society that they can live quite well by a code, and one that, moral ambiguities aside, is mostly an attractive one. After Buffy ended and Firefly was cancelled, Angel went to work for the bad guys and suddenly what was previously difficult to do (separating good from evil) became nearly impossible, until the gang simply revolted and tried to take down the system in one fell swoop before they were corrupted further. In Dollhouse, there is no clear right and wrong like in Buffy, there is no escape away from the evils in socieyt as in Firefly, and the heroics of escaping the evil of the world through fighting directly as in the end of Angel is no longer viable. You've got to do what you've got to do; the Dollhouse is here, people are apparently willing slaves, it's too big to be brought down, and you have the choice of how to react. Adelle rationalizes herself as doing good; Topher just doesn't bother thinking about it; Boyd and Dr. Saunders accept the system as existing and just try to keep the dolls safe until they are released; Ballard wants to bring the house down but is unwilling to look at the evidence that it's too big for him. It's in the moments in which the subjugated dolls show flashes of individuality that other real decisions get made: do you let things play out, or do you curtail it to prevent another Alpha? (And this contrasts well with Buffy season eight: Alpha is, like Simone, what happens when the subjugated reclaim their power and then go for revenge.)
Also: the acting is bad? Really? I thought Alan was great, but he also was doing a much different kind of performance than everyone else: Alpha is a composite of many personalities at once, and is hyper-aware. I saw Alan as being outrageous whereas most of the rest are fairly subdued. I'm not 100% sold on Eliza yet (no real complaints after the first few episodes), but I thought everyone else has been good, and Dichen and Enver particularly amazing.
I too would much rather talk about themes, issues, characters than statistics and the whys and wherefores of network decisions and ratings, though I am really worried that this show I'm beginning to be pretty heavily invested in is going to be gone in the blink of an eye.

Because there is no anxiety about the future, we probably do better, in terms of discussion quality here, talking about the shows that we can watch over and over on dvds, but it's been so great having a new one, with brand new episodes to look forward to. So it is hard not to obssess about cancellation and audience-building.

But there has really never been much we can do to help keep a show on the air, however much we'd like to. As some other folks have said..even if we want to try, probably the best way to do it is to talk about the creative issues, characters, and interpretation- and plot issues as well- the stuff that it is interesting for other viewers to read about.

Dana, do you really think the quality of a drama depends on whether you approve of the characters, or like them, or whatever? Who do you like in Hamlet? Macbeth? Crime and Punishment? Anyone? Probably not the main characters, though they are recognizable, flawed humans who may not be entirely unlike ourselves, sometimes at our most awful.

[ edited by toast on 2009-05-05 21:11 ]
I agree that the problem isn't that the show is too intellectually challenging. It just isn't an intellectually challenging show, and neither was Buffy. Not that they weren't intellectual shows, but what made Buffy great TV was that it worked on the surface and had a powerful enough inner life to make the surface affecting. Once you were drawn in by the clever, kung fu blonde you could start to play with its wonderful, dark and squishy innards.

Dollhouse has turned into great TV due to the strength of its inner-life, but the surface elements took awhile to gel and for some people it still hasn't. I love the idea of the Charlie's Angels surface element of the show, but I think it's currently the weaker element. Don't get me wrong. I absolutely love the show, and think the only way it isn't 'successful' is ratings-wise. I'm deeply hopeful they get to drive the whole thing further. But, I think it's currently disproportionately driven by its inner-life and that's how you make the sort of great cult tv show that gets canceled by FOX after 12 episodes.

If it gets continued it'll be because someone recognizes that these people are absolutely capable of pulling off the MOTW aspect. To complain that it's "too intellectual" is incorrect. It's just a little out of balance.

[ edited by smog on 2009-05-05 21:14 ]
Oh, and thinking of the X-Files: "The X-Files was picked up for a second season despite finishing 102nd out of the 118 shows in the U.S. Nielsen ratings." Sci-Fi shows often build slowly. People take a while to figure out the premise and get into the world. Fox might do well to think about the ratings history of X-Files when deciding whether or not to renew Dollhouse.
Who said anything about examining our emotional investments in the characters?

Dollhouse is about re-examining your emotional investments in other people, in real life. How much are we ALL projecting what we want onto those we love? How much are we ALL using people?


... and, since Dollhouse is a tv show, the most direct way it can communicate that message is by giving us, the viewers, characters with whom we can identify with, and put ourselves in the place of, so that we can most fully comprehend the ramifications of the issues expressed in our own lives.

Honestly guys, how many people do you think have been turned off from watching Dollhouse because of the spirited debate about X in the whedonesque discussion thread for Dollhouse episode Y?

Many of us who take in media, most especially those who themselves work in the arts (of which I am one) find it neurologically stimulating (weee!) to take apart the things that we love so that we can more fully understand them and learn from them. This includes pointing out the moments or aspects in which these works shine, and the ones where they... well... don't.
Nothing is perfect, least of all art, and there is always something that can be improved upon, or tweaked. I criticize because I see the potential hidden in the piece of art that, to me, just begs to be released. The day I stop criticizing is the day I stop caring (or find artistic perfection, which will never happen in this life at least), and accordingly, the day I stop watching.

Granted, I could also just run out of things to say, but that's never going to happen. :)
It's in the moments in which the subjugated dolls show flashes of individuality that other real decisions get made: do you let things play out, or do you curtail it to prevent another Alpha? (And this contrasts well with Buffy season eight: Alpha is, like Simone, what happens when the subjugated reclaim their power and then go for revenge.)


... which is why I find myself rooting for Alpha, despite his... uhh ... flaws.
It just isn't an intellectually challenging show, and neither was Buffy.

O.K.--I'm going to assume you meant to write "It isn't just an intellectually challenging show, and neither was Buffy." Otherwise, I'm going to have meet you outside.
I actually agree with the assessment of Topher as being almost completely amoral -- I'm trying hard to think of the text to suggest otherwise. The only checks on his behavior have been driven by fear, pretty much. I'd love to see some outward indication that he actually cares about another person's well-being besides his own, and apart from flinching uncomfortably when they brought out their photocopy of Dominic, there hasn't really been one.
We're in a recession, people are watching less tv total, and Dollhouse costs something like $1.5-2 million per episode, or so I've read a few times here from people who seemed credible on that. Comparing its ratings to older shows like the X-Files or WB shows like Buffy is an apples and oranges comparison because the current landscape for a FOX show is quite different, from what more industry-savvy posters than me have said here in the recent past.
I'd love to see some outward indication that he actually cares about another person's well-being besides his own

Well, there was the mission at the beginning of the last episode. Topher said that the whole mission (to help the traumatized little girl) was his baby. And on top of that we have the way his face falls when he realizes he's being asked to implant Dominick's personality into Victor. Topher clearly does have some moral awareness--it's just not a strong thread in his personality.
No one needs a Negativity Pants on a Friday Death Slot.


People don't have to like it just because Joss made it. It does help if the show has potential.

It could also have to do with everyone even on here complaining as to how much they didn't like it.


Actually most people here have liked the episodes here. There's been criticism but overall Dollhouse has had a positive reception at Whedonesque.
I thought he said that the approach was his baby -- aging the girl and imprinting that adult version on "Echo". If he said the entire engagement was his idea, I missed it.

I also agree with the idea that however bad Topher is, which is pretty damn, Adelle is worse.
Comparing its ratings to older shows like the X-Files or WB shows like Buffy is an apples and oranges comparison because the current landscape for a FOX show is quite different, from what more industry-savvy posters than me have said here in the recent past.

Well, it's not "apples and oranges," it's "golden delicious vs. granny smith"--that is, one needs to be careful in the comparisons, but they aren't meaningless. Notice that I didn't compare X-Files total viewer numbers with Dollhouse's--I compared its ranking. I'm not saying that Dollhouse is economically sustainable at its current ratings for Fox. Nor was X-Files at its first season ratings. I'm saying that just as X-Files improved markedly in its second season, it's possible that Dollhouse could as well.
I'm sorry but it really has nothing to do with "instant gratification syndrome." At least for me. I tuned in to every single episode of this show so far to make a fair judgement. Unfortunately, this show has been nothing but subpar. Even the "great" episode 6 didn't live up to the hype.

That is your opinion, and I'm not objecting to it, but I'm using it as a broader means of discussion.

If you actually go back to the Episode Discussion Threads, for the most part, people's opinions of the episode are "this is the best one yet!" (except perhaps Episode 3 & Episode 7). I understand one person not liking it, or thinking that it's better than the prior one, but for several people to see an improvement in episodes tells me that they increasingly got better.

However, I don't think it's a fair episode-to-episode comparison. The things we learned/saw in previous episode contribute to our enjoyment of the latter episodes.

Also, I believe our "standards" are remarkably higher for a "Joss Whedon" show than they are for regular TV. You can't tell me that an episode of "Castle" is on the same par as "Dollhouse". But they should be.

From my point of view, the episode discussions are generally bright at the first 200 comments, and then take a tragic turn into the pessimism of the Dollhouse world. That pessimism continues with the Nielson numbers and until the next episode of Dollhouse.

If anyone thinks that the threads are too "down" or "critical", I would encourage them to read the earlier threads on the episodes (where discussion does take place) and try to bring some of that energy into the week while we wait for the next Dollhouse episode.
Ah, we should be clear that my entries are all about me (not in a selfish way!) and what I like, not about what others do or should like. So from that perspective, I don't feel I need to offer a defense. I never said that the quality of a drama depends on whether I approve of the characters; what I said was, my enjoyment of a show is directly related to my investment in the characters, which is a vastly different proposition and is unique to my enjoyment of televisual media.

And to ZG, though I know you know it, again, I was offering only my analysis of how these characters appear to me; certainly, I know they may mean different things to different people, but it does help to understand why I cannot invest; I have no point of entry into the inner life of anyone here, like I did with Sophie or Tara. I think Paul's obsession does make him harder to like; what he was willing to do with Mellie to further his larger goals. We may applaud his relentlessness, but I am not sure we would approve of his measures. Understand, perhaps, but not approve. And that makes it harder to root for him. In his fight with Boyd, who did we root for? I am guessing some for Boyd, some for Paul.

Snomon, yes I am a he (w3.palmer.edu/lawrence). It is an excellent point about Caroline, but also feeds into my own reasons for not loving the show. Again, it is the investment. Joss took a risk, and it may or may not pay off in the end.
I meant that they aren't primarily intellectually challenging. I will be happy to fight you over this, mostly because I'm sure you live far away and I won't actually have to fight you.
I thought he said that the approach was his baby -- aging the girl and imprinting that adult version on "Echo". If he said the entire engagement was his idea, I missed it.

I'm 99.9% sure that he said the approach was his idea and followed that up by saying "the whole mission was my idea in fact" or words to that effect.

ETA: Yeah, that's right: he also said that he'd managed to persuade Adele to go along with it because "everybody likes to be righteous when it doesn't cost them anything."

[ edited by snot monster from outer space on 2009-05-05 21:33 ]
Also, I believe our "standards" are remarkably higher for a "Joss Whedon" show than they are for regular TV. You can't tell me that an episode of "Castle" is on the same par as "Dollhouse". But they should be.


korkster, I think I'd clarify that statement if I were you.
Dollhouse is, at this stage, a mixed bag. The engagment of the week episodes failed in many ways but had enough plot arc info in them to be worth watching. There has been an uptick in quality in the home stretch, and the finale is a must-see, but there are still mainly two kinds of characters: dull Doll characters and Dollhouse staff who, while they are interesting, are so morally compromised as to be contemptible. As the characters become more fleshed out this can change, but sometimes it is a slog. To chalk this up to some kind of intellectual or aesthetic deficiency on the part of the viewer is presumptuous and off-putting. As a devotee of the Wire and Deadwood, I have a real problem with being told that my reaction to a show is due to my desire for "comforting" entertainment. That's not making an agument, it's telling me to eat my veggies.
Yep, I just checked.

Topher: Whole approach was my idea. Whole engagement, actually.
Dana5140 - absolutely and I picked on you because you said it all in one post and wouldn't take it personally when I disagreed :).
Rowan Hawthorn:

Well, whose fault is that, if they can't get past the "instant gratification syndrome"?


No one is assigning blame - it's simply the way things are. There has to be something about a show right from the get go that appeals - there are too many other options available, including turning off the TV.
I think the two points/critiques that we are articulating here (it's morally/intellectually challenging and it has no likable characters to relate to) are flip sides of the same point.

What is challenging about the show is that it does not give you anyone likable to relate to. It's a pretty harsh mirror. I think the characters are relatable, but doing so is not a pleasant affirming activity. I think of myself as a really smart, funny guy like Topher; am I also amoral or overly proud? I think of myself as a strong, capable woman like Adelle; am I also lonely and cruel? I think of myself as a righteous man who fights for what is good like Paul; am I also obsessive and blinded to the pain of others? Etc. Etc.

This is, I think, a courageous virtue in a work of art, but it is not a recipe for popular success.
No one is assigning blame - it's simply the way things are. There has to be something about a show right from the get go that appeals

And there, in a nutshell, is why so many shows these days never make it out of the starting gate:

Viewers expect "best show evah!" right from Episode One;
Network suits expect 99% ratings right from Episode One, and a steady rise thereafter.
Neither group seems to notice that there's only ever been a handful of shows like that in TV history. If there's nothing in a show that appeals to a particular viewer, that's one thing; there's always going to be a few viewers that, frankly, won't ever be satisfied with anything. But if all you ever look for is a home run to the extent that you pass up a hundred chances for good singles or doubles, you're probably going to wind up losing the game anyway...
Also, I believe our "standards" are remarkably higher for a "Joss Whedon" show than they are for regular TV.

I think this is absolutely true. It's not viewed for what it is but as something to hold against Joss's reputation.

Most of the time if someone doesn't like random show X, it's just "oh well, maybe I'll give it another shot, maybe not." With Dollhouse it's a "OMG it's not butter!" freak out.
On the subject of having characters to root for, I am interested and invested in the dolls (specifically the dolls - not their original identities). The staff, agents, clients etc are all just the accompaniment for their story and different windows to see my reactions through. The dolls are non-characters in a way but that's why they're interesting. Watching what parts of them seem to have continuity, identity, or how they might evolve different types of consciousness in the case of Alpha - now that's worth watching. But it did take a while to get there. And it needed to be more than Echo. I'm more invested in Victor, Sierra and now Alpha than Echo, and I will probably remain that way unless she becomes "compositely" interesting.
Ah, shit. Is the perception that Joss is teaching moral lessons and that's what people get from Dollhouse? I thought it had started to entertain kick-assedly. And got no moral lessons.
Uh, Simon, I never said everyone has to like it just because Joss created it (although I think we can be in agreement that's why we are all here on this site....).

In fact, I think Firefly was his weakest show.

*yes, yes, shoot me now*

I just think that there WAS a lot of talk on Whedonesque, long before I was able to join this site, that saw a LOT of talking about how bad the show is. And to make matters worse, just look at the ratings postings the following day on here and how everyone goes on about how the show is doomed.

There has been very LITTLE actual POSITIVE talk about this show.

And to me, that's sad.

And no, I wasn't trying to single out Whedonesque, although that is where I first noticed it, back when the show started.
Ruadh, you may not be assigning blame, but I sure as heck am willing to, and the Matt fellow is as well... he's just being delicate about it. But it is obvious that he is of the (correct) opinion that Dollhouse is not doing well because of the American viewers don't want challenging (read: good) TV.

His comments on Lost and Heroes at end show how rare it is for SciFi/Fantasy/Whatever shows to succeed, much less continue their appeal. While I still love it, Lost has lost many viewers (I blame their inability to understand the show, others may point to other reasons), where as Heroes hasn't been good since the first season. In contrast we know that Joss can make multiple seasons worth of excellent TV, but people would rather watch mindless, happy things.
As a devotee of the Wire and Deadwood, I have a real problem with being told that my reaction to a show is due to my desire for "comforting" entertainment. That's not making an agument, it's telling me to eat my veggies.

I love both "The Wire" and "Deadwood," but neither show is remotely as bleak and devoid of moral compass-bearings as "Dollhouse." "The Wire," is actually fired throughout by a burning moral mission. It has an argument to make about contemporary American society and its failings and it makes it brilliantly. Sure it has a wonderful capacity to understand human complexity; it gives us hardly anyone who is uncomplicatedly "good" or "evil" (though it does give us a few of both), but it never seriously asks us to call into question the basis on which we would decide to call something "good" or "evil." (And by the way, those people I know who dislike "The Wire"--and it has done even worse in the ratings than "Dollhouse"--tend to dislike it precisely because they can't find anyone to love in it.)

"Deadwood," on the other hand, certainly gives us a more ethically slippery world (although it has a clear rooting interest for the formation of a civil polity--it's great story is the old Western myth, the coming of social order to the wild west; and if it has no outright 'goodies' has some very definite 'baddies'). On the other hand it deals in the very traditional rewards of characters of rich personal magnetism. As wonderful a character as Swearengen is, for example, he's hardly an innovation. Film noir is full of magnetically engaging bad/good guys (and, again, we always know when we are meant to be thinking "Oh Swearengen, how could you!" and when we're meant to be thinking "Yay, Swearengen, you show Hearst who's boss!")

What's so discomfiting about "Dollhouse" is that it constantly asks us to examine all the assumptions we bring to the show. It keeps putting questions to us rather than providing us with answers. I can understand that that's not what some people want from a TV show. I can understand if some people are only happy to pursue those questions if they feel they have the safety net of having at least some aspects of the world be settled and clear. But personally what I find so exhilerating about "Dollhouse" (and have from the start) is it's willingness to upend every assumption you have about right and wrong, about character and identity, about 'justice' and 'truth' etc. etc.
I agree with Rowan, especially in regards to baseball analogy. In my experience, shows that do hit it out of the gate right away deteriorate rather rapidly and always suffer from a thoroughly disappointing S2--something a good chunk never recovers from.

Now, a pilot/S1 should obviosly still be good (because why else watch?) but all I really need from a pilot/S1 is the potential for further greatness. Very rarely do shows have an amazing S1 and sustain that level for future seasons. The only show I can think of that started off amazing and stayed amazing (with some missteps, of course) was Six Feet Under.

As for the comment that viewers stopped watching Lost because they don't understand the show...yeah, right. Have fun on that high horse. I'm sure it has nothing to do with the increasingly ludicrous plot devices or characters added just to "shockingly" kill off for no reason or the many other entirely sound and reasonable reasons people gave up on the show. It's definitely just that they didn't understand...
What is the argument that The Wire makes?
I just think that there WAS a lot of talk on Whedonesque, long before I was able to join this site, that saw a LOT of talking about how bad the show is.


There's been healthy debate but for me that wouldn't correspond to a lot of talking about how bad the show is.

just look at the ratings postings the following day on here and how everyone goes on about how the show is doomed.


If the ratings are crap, you're going to get people posting about how the show is in trouble. For me it's been in trouble since the first episode aired. I think it would take a miracle to get a second season.

There has been very LITTLE actual POSITIVE talk about this show.


I had a look at our Dollhouse category and it's been pretty decent in terms of ra-ra-raing the show since it's been on air. Especially those Saturday review critics's threads. People are starting to use those links on forums elsewhere. Well one person did but it's a start.

The important thing to remember is that this always happens in our fandom. We can look back with rosy tinted glasses on the days when Buffy, Angel and Firefly were on the air and remark how everyone loved the shows. Well that's a load of baloney. We had bitter divisions over most episodes when they aired. On Buffy the shipper factions fought bitterly, the older fans couldn't stand what was being done to the show and the new fans resented being told to know their place. And the battles are still going on in some places.

On Angel there was massive tussling over Cordy and Connor getting replaced by Spike (and that's just one example). And whilst most people now think Angel was a great Joss show, at the time Joss wasn't really noticed. Minear and Greenwalt were more favourites with the fans than Joss ever was. Oh and of cours there was the usual "the writers don't know what they are doing, the show sucks etc etc etc".

And when Firefly was airing on Fox, not enough people watched it to cause any form of fan infighting. But bet your bottom dollar if the show had gone on for a few more seasons, it would be as seriously fractured as the Buffyverse fandoms. Dollhouse if it survives will go down the same route. We'll have loud arguments, flounces, YAGEs, drama, hugs and obsessive posts. But it's going to be fun. And I wouldn't have it any other way.
What is the argument that The Wire makes?

S1 is a kind of overall exploration of the drug trade at street level--it's main purpose being to show A) why for so many poor black kids the drug trade seems to be the only game in town. It also explores the ways in which the War on Drugs is largely irrelevant to, or rather symbiotic with, the economic realities of the drug business.

S2 takes something of a detour into the decline of working-class jobs in American cities, showing the vulnerability even of relatively more privileged white working class families economic instability.

S3 is perhaps the most "thesis driven" of the Wire seasons. The "Hamsterdam" plot is simply a kind of "thought experiment" for what a sane drug policy might be. It shows the benefits of decriminalization without flinching from the fact that this wouldn't suddenly make the world a paradise. S3 also explores--a theme continued in S4 and S5--the political realities of dealing with crime and drugs; the difficulties faced by politicians who might like to try something new when they know they'll be clobbered by their competition for being "soft on crime."

S4 turns to the education system and childhood. It explores the ways in which the education system fails to deliver a "way out" for disadvantaged black youth, and shows how absurd empty nostrums like "just say no" are. S4's exploration of the failings of the political system goes into the reasons why politicians fail to adequately support public education.

S5 turns to the media and the reasons why they fail to tell people the truth about what is going on in their world, the reasons why they fail to hold politicians accountable, the reasons why the kinds of pat narratives they like to fall back on constrain the possibilities of genuine political creativity etc. etc.

All in all, then, the show is a dissection of a diseased body politic and an argument that fundamental institutions (media, education, political structures, economic structures) require radical overhaul to bring us out of the nightmare of crime and poverty that haunts places like Baltimore.
"although it has a clear rooting interest for the formation of a civil polity"

I think this remark by SMFOS about "Deadwood" gets at a real nugget about a lot of these dark/"hard to love" shows: Whether in the old west, modern Baltimore, or a fi-sci dystopia, the similarity is saying "ok, so say we have this certain kinda depressing situation, how does a society re-work its way to some sort of tenuous grasp on the basics of how to go forward living?" Dollhouse, instead of past or current history as its basis, works with some speculative "what ifs" as a starting point for equally dark contemplation. And this is why I find myself able to have an emotional connection and interest in characters like Adelle, Boyd, Topher, etc -- I wanna see what they figure out. And good writers can totally fool me with what I think I know about what drives a character. If I could suggest a touchstone from "The Wire", how about Pryzbylewski. I cannot remember a character whom I hated so thoroughly at his first appearance, in a totally righteous "perfect image of the banality of how corruption oppresses yadda yadda yadda." It took only a few episodes to reveal that there had always been more going on there than I was aware of, and by the end of the series, I'm hard pressed to come up with a character more clearly possessing a hard-won and very real nobility. (yeah, of course Bubbles and some others are pretty dang close, but I didn't have the hate for them I did for him).

By the way, my objection to late in the week episode threads is not to the back and forth of ideas as such, but to when it gets repetitive and strident: The arguments that take a new fact from a recent episode and spin it into a theory or take on the characters I disagree with don't really get my goat. It's the arguments that leave me feeling like "didn't I read 100 postings on this exact issue last week, making all the same points" -- and that don't seem to be much linked to the current episode or have become drastically detached from it -- are the ones that tire me.
I don't disagree on any point on the Wire description, but I just want to point out that it is not just some treatise on the state of western civ. It's filled with compelling characters and labyrithine plots that deliver both head shots and gut punches constantly. Also, witty and authentic dialogue is pervasive. And there is always pay off in the details.
Yeah, I got all that. What radical overhaul? What concretely, that's remotely feasible? Personally, I think that Dollhouse might be more on the appropriate level of inquiry. What can we not ruin? What can't we destroy of ourselves?

eta: quickly that I'm only replying to snot monster, haven't read the others.

[ edited by dreamlogic on 2009-05-05 23:08 ]
Not that anyone cares, but I'd disagree, uh... snot monster. I'd say that Dollhouse provides a moral compass in the same way that either of those shows do. Like those shows, Dollhouse takes great pleasure in building a moral compass and then giving that compass a good rattle. We know that slavery is wrong, but like the torture debate, what if it serves a larger purpose? Is it still wrong? (Uh... yes) And then Eliza Dushku rides a motorcycle.

As for bleak? I'd say Baltimore's urban warfare or Deadwood are far more bleak settings than the opulent world of the dollhouse and its clients. In Deadwood, the "heroes" had to murder a prostitute for the good of the community. The heroic sheriff is a brutal sociopath and the villainous schemer is an introspective and brilliant social architect. In The Wire, McNulty constantly has to subvert institutions of law in order to allow them to work on any level and the most heroic character is a murderous thief. I don't think there's anything wrong with it, but so far, Caroline has been an entirely heroic character. there. The promos for this week's episode makes me think they're finally going to give that one a shake. Ballard has always been heroic, except for his obsessive streak and eventually that he caved for one of the dolls. Which to me only means he's human and that the dollhouse is good at what they do. Not really much of a fault, but definitely interesting.

But to say it's more bleak or challenging than those shows, I'd say you've over-extended a bit to make your point.
I haven't watched Deadwood, but I saw the first two episodes of The Wire and was bored to death. Maybe I should give it another shot.

Anyway, I love Dollhouse despite not rooting for any of the characters. I enjoy the mystery, excitement, and the questions of morality it raises. I don't feel the need to connect to the characters to enjoy it; the story is interesting, and that is all I really need. They could kill off any or all of the characters and as long as it stays interesting story-wise I would continue to watch and enjoy it.
Speaking of Deadwood and The Wire. Has anyone here seen the Red Riding trilogy? I'd be interested to read people's comparisons between that and Dollhouse.
snomon, I sort of have to disagree with this statement: "But personally what I find so exhilerating about "Dollhouse" (and have from the start) is it's willingness to upend every assumption you have about right and wrong, about character and identity, about 'justice' and 'truth' etc. etc."

I don't think this show has upended anything remotely along those lines. We still understand right from wrong, we still understand the concept of justice and of truth. We see the DH staff subverting those, but we never feel that what they are doing is in any way really justifiable, even when Topher uses Echo to try and help a traumatized girl- which makes no sense anyway, since it usually takes years of therapy to counter that, not a few visits by someone who has experienced the same thing and is just older. I have not found that my concept of right and wrong has been altered by watching this show. I still know right from wrong, and all I can say about this is, it is simply in an ambiguous world. But that is hardly novel in and of itself.

OT, since I last posted I left work, went home, took a 12-mile bike ride (preparing for RAGBRAI!), put a chicken and potatoes in the oven, mowed the lawn and showered. Mr. Productive, that's me!
If people discuss Red Riding could they use spoiler text as I haven't watched it yet but plan to very soon. Thanks!
Never mind. Please delete this! Thanks.

[ edited by Nebula1400 on 2009-05-05 23:35 ]
Yeah, I got all that. What radical overhaul? What concretely, that's remotely feasible?

Are you suggesting that drug decriminalization, a renewed commitment to public education and a strong and independent news media are some kind of airy utopian goals impossible to imagine any society ever embracing?

I don't disagree on any point on the Wire description, but I just want to point out that it is not just some treatise on the state of western civ. It's filled with compelling characters and labyrithine plots that deliver both head shots and gut punches constantly. Also, witty and authentic dialogue is pervasive. And there is always pay off in the details.

Yes, of course. And it's driven by a passionate desire to make an argument about how America could be a better country.

As for bleak? I'd say Baltimore's urban warfare or Deadwood are far more bleak settings than the opulent world of the dollhouse and its clients.

Again, that's not the kind of "bleakness" I'm talking about. You could set a show in the middle of the most appalling horrors and still have it be essentially affirmative of one's core values. It could invite your outrage and endorse it; it could provide you with characters you identify with and, in doing so, affirm your sense of the nature of identity and the workings of human personality. The bleakness of Dollhouse is, if you like, an existential bleakness. It challenges the very ideas we usually turn to for comfort (the continuity and "depth" of human identity, for example). The fact that we don't see people shooting up in alleyways or getting fed to pigs is utterly beside the point (or beside my point, anyway).
SteppeMerc: I didn't care for Dollhouse.

I also don't care for the assumption that just because I don't like Dollhouse I am some sort of simpleton who does not have the properly developed aesthetic sense to appreciate quality television.

Like somebody else said -- that's telling me to eat my Brussel sprouts because they are good for me.
I'm not sure that the Wire is endorsing any kind of solution. Look at the death toll for Hamsterdam. I'd say that it comes close to reveling its bleakness. Also, drug decriminalization, a commitment to public education, and a strong independent news media are airy utopian goals that I cannot possibly imagine societies truly implementing.
"Why isn't Dollhouse succeeding?" ...Did anyone else think, when they read that, "Why isn't our children learning?"

...Must just be me. Anyway, here's my feelings:

Becoming a grown-up, going to work, finding a family, learning who people really are, these are all important parts of life. Sometimes they're not easy. Sometimes you have to figure things out for yourself because there's nobody there to watch over you or give you insight or have your back when things get bad. But you either stick it out for the duration or you give up and check out, never to find out what it was all about. Sometimes, though, even when it's out of your hands and over your head, you just go with it and let things happen just to see how it all turns out. It's OK to do that, you know. Because sometimes just being there, even if you don't do anything other than just be one of the many, is enough to mean something good to someone else.

...And if you can't grasp the subtext in what I just said, maybe certain Whedon shows aren't for you.
I meant that they aren't primarily intellectually challenging.

smog, I think the folks who've presented at or attended Slayage would disagree. I thought I was a Whedon fanatic when I attended. Turns out I'm a mild hobbyist by comparison to most everyone there. A remarkable body of literature supports the notion that his works are indeed challenging. Do I still get to watch the fight?

Has anyone mentioned the fantastic eye candy yet? I love that the show is visually pleasing.

And Ballard? The worse he gets the more I love him. I find myself quite invested in most characters at this point. That was absolutely not the case during 1-5. Those episodes contained scant few hints of Joss. MotS felt like a Joss show. Not sure why it took so long, but I'm not surprised by the drop in ratings.

Have ratings for other shows gone up? I only follow DH ratings via threads here. Maybe folks are enjoying the weather in the States? I missed ep 10 and now 12 on Friday due to camping. Thanks to Hulu, I can have both.

Why isn't it succeeding? After episodes 1-4, I might not have come back if it weren't Joss. I probably wouldn't have. BSG is the only other show I've watched regularly in the last few years. Okay, and Ghost Hunters. I follow zero else, so I think I really have no idea what the "typical TV viewer" (whoever that might be) does and doesn't watch.
I didn't mean they weren't challenging at all, I'm saying, again, that they aren't primarily intellectually challenging. That is not their sole function. Buffy isn't The Decalogue. It's a show about a girl that punches vampires. That it the show is built on a rich and intellectually challenging mythological structure is what makes that interesting. They may be beloved shows because they're deep, but that depth doesn't define them. You can, and millions do, enjoy Buffy without engaging in it on an intellectual level.

That's what I meant. And I meant it in regard to how Dollhouse has failed to attract new viewers because its surface structure hasn't lived up to Buffy's.

[ edited by smog on 2009-05-06 00:26 ]
I'm not sure that the Wire is endorsing any kind of solution. Look at the death toll for Hamsterdam.

They take considerable pains throughout S3 to show that the overall death toll is way down as a result of Hamsterdam. They don't idealize, they don't flinch from showing that drugs are still going to be a horrible scourge for certain people, but they very, very clearly (and, if you ask the writers, consciously and deliberately) are arguing that, overall, decriminalization will cause less harm and allow for more effective palliative measures than the current War on Drugs.

Someone mentioned Pryzbylewski as one center of moral identification in "The Wire"--which is right. Another one is Ellis Carver. Carver goes from being very much like Herc--the knucklehead who thinks being cop is just about breaking skulls--to having his entire worldview overthrown, and mostly by the Hamsterdam experience. Carver's a stand-in for the audience, who, similarly, are being shown that there could be a "better way" and (the writer's hope) having the scales of Drug War propaganda fall from their eyes.
In Dollhouse, there is no clear right and wrong like in Buffy, there is no escape away from the evils in socieyt as in Firefly, and the heroics of escaping the evil of the world through fighting directly as in the end of Angel is no longer viable. You've got to do what you've got to do; the Dollhouse is here, people are apparently willing slaves, it's too big to be brought down, and you have the choice of how to react.
-WilliamTheB


This is well said, and comes closest to verbalizing a sentiment I hadn't been able to state so far.

Dollhouse addresses an idea I'd not seen explored since reading The Grapes of Wrath: that the system is evil where the people making it up are not necessarily so; that the whole is, morally, lesser than the sum of its parts. We haven't seen Adelle's true objectives yet, and have only received hints as to her motivations, but from what we can see she's no more evil than any other leader who exercises his authority to end lives - and perhaps less so, as she may return those lives. Further, it is unclear what degree of freedom and power Adelle truly has.

Similarly, Boyd's background remains a mystery, but he seems to be deeply moral, if in ways which we don't yet understand. In this latest episode, he even showed mercy towards Paul Ballard, (giving him a chance at walking away,) then remained his advocate when the situation spun out of his control and into Adelle's - this despite Ballard risking substantial harm to Echo, whom we've seen is Boyd's one clear priority.

I don't have anything original to say about Claire or Topher, I suspect, but their situations are similar - neither is truly evil, and some may be doing all the good they can given the constraints of the system, the extents of which we have yet to find.

This is lengthier than it needed to be to discuss my take on the series, but to relate it back to the topic of discussion, I think Dollhouse really is struggling in part because the television audience is unreceptive to intellectual storytelling, but I think perhaps in larger part for the same reason that I will never re-read The Grapes of Wrath: such stories, of semi-moral individuals being inexorably crushed by a thoughtlessly evil system, are kinda' depressing.

The catch, the hidden detail that I think non-Joss fans may be ignorant of, is that Joss' shows don't obey the rules. Here, the system may not be as inevitable as it appears. And that's why I'll keep watching, ultimately.
Rowan
Viewers expect "best show evah!" right from Episode One;
Network suits expect 99% ratings right from Episode One, and a steady rise thereafter.


But I never said that a show had to be a hit right from episode 1. I said that it had to have something that appealed. That appeal can always be built on to create a hit show, but if there is little there from the start then there is no reason to stick around when there are other "intellectually stimulating" things out there.
What rules? Who wrote them? Who approved them?
Ruadh, you may not be assigning blame, but I sure as heck am willing to, and the Matt fellow is as well... he's just being delicate about it. But it is obvious that he is of the (correct) opinion that Dollhouse is not doing well because of the American viewers don't want challenging (read: good) TV.

His comments on Lost and Heroes at end show how rare it is for SciFi/Fantasy/Whatever shows to succeed, much less continue their appeal. While I still love it, Lost has lost many viewers (I blame their inability to understand the show, others may point to other reasons), where as Heroes hasn't been good since the first season. In contrast we know that Joss can make multiple seasons worth of excellent TV, but people would rather watch mindless, happy things.


No matter how many times this idea is expressed, it won't get any A) less wrong, or B) less condescending.

Does it not occur that perhaps people don't feel obliged to look for "challenging" TV because life, itself, is often challenging? There's an odd sort of inversion of meta-text here; consider Joss' shows set in contemporary times. Think of Buffy, Dawn, Willow, Xander. Think of Wes and Fred. Think of Ballard and Boyd. People with lives that you'd say are... challenging, right? Now -- and I know they wouldn't show it anyway, because it would be dull -- ask yourself if, when you think of these people, do you think of them as probably having a lot of shows they have to watch? A discerning interest in "challenging" shows over easy and lighthearted ones?

What text we have on the subject is definitive -- Spike and Giles watch "Passions" to fight off their ennui, but the rest of the TV viewing is... Bollywood movies, unsubtitled, Spongebob Squarepants, lame kung-fu movies. It would seem that, at least in Joss' world, worthwhile people aren't choosing to be "challenged" in their TV time because they spend most of their lives dealing with complexity and challenges.

SteppeMerc, I think you might try to appreciate that your average teacher, or RN, or junior associate in a law firm, or construction worker might feel their day was difficult enough without having to look for "challenging" TV... and might also try not to think them beneath you because of it.

"Lost" and "Heroes" still basically click as serial dramas because the show isn't deliberately trying to catch the audience in a trap of not knowing who they even have a *reason* to like or dislike. "Lost" is very honest -- here's Jack, here's Sawyer, here's Locke, here's Ben. We won't tell you who's right, let alone who will win, but they clearly conflict and you have a reason to take either side. "Heroes" is more direct in saying "'r'uns are good and ther'uns are bad". "Dollhouse", in contrast, seems almost hellbent on making sure you have reason to hate *every* character and only guilty or uncomfortable feelings when you like *any* of them. Were it a black comedy, that would be better, but it's so damn earnest at the same time, it's hard to really process what to make of it. I don't expect a firefighter coming off a 24 hour shift to finally get their boots off, help the kids with the homework, and tune into that and get really, really excited that they can't figure out what the hell is going on. So much better if they can and do get into it, but they aren't "wrong" if they don't.
Just a quick "hear, hear" to both Mercenary and (belatedly) to WilliamTheB's terrific post.

that the system is evil where the people making it up are not necessarily so; that the whole is, morally, lesser than the sum of its parts

That seems so right--and to capture so much about what is disquieting in Dollhouse. I can't think of another show that so consistently refuses to offer us easy endorsements of our moral positions. In, say, the fight between Ballard and Boyd, it's not just that we're conflicted, it's that we really don't know if any of the frames of reference we might bring to "judge" the individuals in the combat make sense. A figure like Omar in The Wire is obviously morally complex (we admire the fact that he has a "code," for example, but we abhor much of what that "code" allows him to do, we enjoy the gleeful audacity of his behavior while we are shocked at the casualness with which he doles out death and destruction), but the complexity comes from the crossing over of frames of reference that in themselves remain relatively unchallenged. With, say, Boyd's care for Echo, I simply have no idea if that care means anything at all--as much as I am attracted to the forms of its expression. With Echo's "trust" in Boyd, similarly, I feel at once a kind of sympathetic identification (hold me, daddy, protect me from the nasty world) and a deep revulsion (this is nothing but the factitious product of neural programming). And at the same time I wonder if once that programming has been done, is there really any basis on which to distinguish her "trust" in Boyd from anybody's "real world" trust? Etc. etc. etc. It's that vertiginous plunge down the rabbit-hole which seems to me to be the characteristic "pleasure" that the "Dollhouse" offers us. When I say it's an "intellectual" pleasure I don't mean that if you don't like it you're a dummy. Reading Kant is an intellectual pleasure, too, but lots of smart people find him boring. William Empson's poetry is an intellectual pleasure, but lots of intelligent poetry readers don't enjoy William Empson. All I'm saying is that the most salient rewards it has to offer are intellectual ones of a particular type--and if you don't enjoy playing around with those for their own sakes, this show is probably not going to keep you hooked.

And, on preview, I agree, for the most part with what KoC just posted. Nobody's "wrong" not to like Dollhouse or not to find it engaging or what have you. If it's not offering you the things you need from a TV show then it's not offering you those things and there's not much more to say about that.
I don't understand. How can there be anyone who watches this show, that isn't crazy about Boyd Langston? Boyd is the best, most honest, most realistic characters on Dollhouse.

Boyd honestly cares for Echo and the rest of the Dolls, he doesn't do it for the money, he does it because it is the right thing to do.

Boyd is also smart enough to understand something that Ballard doesn't, the people who own the Dollhouse would never let them go.

You people should luv Boyd Langston.
And you know all of this how?
If William Empson hasn't crossed my mind in years, then, earlier today, I poke my nose back in "seven types of ambiguity," then a guy who goes by "snot monster" references him out of nowhere, should I wonder if, maybe, I'm imprinted and start looking for the black van?
doubtful guest: there are three flowers in a vase, the third flower is red.
Boyd has also shot at least one man in cold blood -- backshot him, no less. Backshooters, typically not your great men of honor throughout history.

Taking care of "Echo" and the others in that Dollhouse is not in any way, shape, or form, "the right thing to do". No more than being the nicest, most compassionate concentration camp guard, slave-owner, or sex-trafficker is "the right thing to do". "The right thing to do" is what Ballard is trying to do and what Caroline herself tried to do in "Needs" -- to shut that evil, evil place down.

Now, Boyd may have the right thing in him, but he's very cautious. Too cautious, though, enough to make you wonder if he's actually just a bit of a coward about the Dollhouse.

[ edited by KingofCretins on 2009-05-06 02:14 ]

[ edited by KingofCretins on 2009-05-06 02:14 ]
But I never said that a show had to be a hit right from episode 1. I said that it had to have something that appealed.

Nonetheless, I stand by my comment. For a disturbingly large portion of the viewers whose remarks I read/hear, "something that appeals" is nowhere near enough for them to tune in to a show. One thing that strikes those viewers as "off" is enough for it to "suck".

Sidebar: I also find it kind of ironic that making a general comment about a large but random portion of the viewing population brings people out of the woodwork to complain about how insulting it is to their intelligences. Well... considering that neither I nor any of the other posters who apparently feel the same way I do pointed any fingers, I'm curious as to just how that insults anyone's intelligence other than those viewers who actually - y'know - fit the profile.
shepherdbookshair, I so agree with you. I luv me some Boyd. ;)
snot monster from outer space,

Wire S3 is actually about "juking the stats." As I remember it a number of crimes were down, not just murder. Crime may be down but only because laws are not enforced. And it didn't stop Omar from putting Stringer down. Take a look at the shots of Johnny's body and tell me there isn't a cost to Bunny's folly.
KOC, I never understood the claim that there is no one to root for. I certainly root for many of the characters, especially Boyd, Topher (yes yes, I know people think he's evil, whatever), Ballard (despite the fact he's against Boyd and Topher), Echo (I root for her to survive at the very least, more so than I do for Jack on Lost), Sierra...

As for certain people wanting to relax after a job, my father works at very high stress job, and yet he watches Dollhouse, rather than mindless shows. As for thinking I'm better than some people, some folks are simply smarter and better at what they do than others. And those that involve themselves in intellectual entertainment may be smarter than those that don't.

edit: re: Boyd, I do believe he is doing the right thing to do. As I have stated before, I, unlike Ballard, see no problem with consensual slavery. Boyd wanting to protect people like Echo from dying, or from going to jail, or from being abducted by Alpha or even Ballard (he had no idea how to restore Caroline, no way Echo could survive out in the world) is a good thing. Maybe you have a more black and white view of the world than I do, but I just don't see that kind good and evil dichotomy in the real world.

[ edited by SteppeMerc on 2009-05-06 02:34 ]
As for thinking I'm better than people, some folks are simply smarter and better at what they do than others.


If you think liking or disliking "Dollhouse" is even remotely a test of who is or isn't "smarter and better at what they do than others"... well, there may be a problem with your central thesis, let's say.

I, for one, see plenty of good and evil in the world. The Dollhouse is, for me, the most unambiguous force of evil on television today with the reasonable enough exception of Lilith on "Supernatural". In 11 episodes, the Dollhouse is guilty of crimes I can't even list -- and I'm someone who actually *did* make a list of the first three seasons worth of crap the Others did.

[ edited by KingofCretins on 2009-05-06 02:36 ]

[ edited by KingofCretins on 2009-05-06 02:37 ]
I wasn't trying to say that. I was suggesting that the majority of people that watch solely reality tv shows or other mindless movies or other forms of entertainment probably are less intelligent than those that are entertained by more intelligent forms of entertainment.

The Dollhouse as a institution may well be bad, but not evil. They still commit good acts, perhaps not enough to over write their bad actions. But the people working for the Dollhouse are not evil based on what I've seen.

[ edited by SteppeMerc on 2009-05-06 02:39 ]
I wasn't trying to say that. I was suggesting that the majority of people that watch solely reality tv shows or other mindless movies or other forms of entertainment probably are less intelligent than those that are entertained by more intelligent forms of entertainment.


So, not specifically "Dollhouse", just generally the things you think they should like are tests of basic intelligence.

That's not really any better, is it?

I think there's a bigger tent than that. I mean, you don't think they watch "Idol" at MIT?

[ edited by KingofCretins on 2009-05-06 02:45 ]
The fact is that different people turn on TV for different reasons, my Father was an acclaimed physicist who liked to fall asleep in front of procedurals (when we were little he always guessed the endings ahead of time, when he got older he was just embarrassed to be caught snoring). Obviously TV preference is not a litmus test intelligence (at least it is obvious to me), but I would say it is also clear to me that most people would not find 'Dollhouse' to be worth the trouble. Most of my friends have gotten hooked (and I think they only hung in there because of me urging them on) but there is no doubt that it is a darker topic than some people care for (I refuse to watch L&O SVU because I find it too dark), and a complicated story arc which requires following from week to week (the reason I won't bother with Lost). I can't blame others for not accepting that it is Joss and therefore deserves their time and attention.
KingofCretins, can I just thank you for arguing what you are? I myself am often guilty of the very kind of elitism you're trying to battle here, and I need to be reminded that it is indeed elitism. And I love that you tied it into the Buffyverse, too. Nice touch. ;) Thanks.
Lirazel, what is the problem with elitism? Being a member of the elite is a positive thing, not a negative thing. I'd much rather have an elite army, a member of the elite running the country as opposed to a mediocre or average person. I aim to be the elite in my studies, and in my field, not 'average'.

I was not trying to suggest that those that watch certain shows automatically are smarter or anything like that. Obviously there are very intelligent people that don't watch Dollhouse. But there are numerous people who are less intelligent that just want mindless entertainment, regardless of medium or morality or whatever. Dollhouse is a smart show, and as the article suggests, that is not what most people want. Why is it so bad to connect the two, that if there were more people wanting a intellectual and philosophical challenge there would be more folks watching Dollhouse?

[ edited by SteppeMerc on 2009-05-06 03:26 ]
The catch, the hidden detail that I think non-Joss fans may be ignorant of, is that Joss' shows don't obey the rules. Here, the system may not be as inevitable as it appears. And that's why I'll keep watching, ultimately.


This is, and has been the reason I have continued watching Dollhouse; because I "know" Joss too well to believe he would present us with such an unlikable group dynamic among his characters in an equally distasteful environment, if he didn't plan on messing with it in the future).

To me, Dollhouse has always been about testing the viewers' limits as to what kind of behavior they are willing to tolerate from characters on a tv show. We are not supposed to like these characters in their pre-broken-system roles. At best, we are expected to tolerate their existence long enough to see the system brake (an event, going by the current pacing of the show, I'm not expecting until late in the second, or maybe third season). Why wait so long? Because the longer the viewers are stuck with these characters as they are, the greater the emotional payoff when all hell breaks loose. It's a very risky way to play it, and I think Joss was fully aware of the risks when he first started working on the project.

It's interesting to note that this almost exactly mirrors what Josh Friedman did with the almost-certainly-cancelled Sarah Connor Chronicles, except with that show it revolved more specifically around the plot: The writers put so much effort into cleverly hiding the plot from the audience up until the very end that most of the audience understandably came to the conclusion that there was no plot and stopped watching. The emotional effect of the ending of that show was mind-blowing, for all ten people who were still watching.

If Dollhouse crumbles, it won't be because of stupid viewers, re-shoots, or evil networks (not this time, anyway). But because of a lack of emotional investment in the characters due to, dare I say it, bad pacing.
The problem with the “there’s no one to root for” argument is that *I do* root for some characters on this show. Being told that I couldn’t possibly, is really kind of irritating. I know that I do, I know others that do, so stop telling me that I can’t!

This show appeals to me greatly because there’s no character who’s completely “pure” and heroic. That’s why we have this show and that’s what this particular show is trying to achieve. I really like that and I find it one of the most compelling things about ‘Dollhouse.’ Obviously other people see it as a problem, each to their own. But I don’t, why must every show follow the same basic kind of formula? Why must we have someone we can truly call a hero without having to doubt what we’re saying? Why do people need that? It’s certainly not true of life, a lot of people do not have anyone like that in their lives but they keep on living.
Lirazel, what is the problem with elitism? Being a member of the elite is a positive thing, not a negative thing. I'd much rather have an elite army, a member of the elite running the country as opposed to a mediocre or average person. I aim to be the elite in my studies, and in my field, not 'average'.


I guess at least part of the question of the credibility of this view is if one actually is, in fact, part of the elite. The quickest way, heuristically speaking, to tell if someone is not a member of the elite is their readiness to insist that they are. Consider Chad Johnson, NFL WR, and Jerry Rice, NFL WR? Which one is "elite"? And which one would merely tell you he's elite? Elitists are almost inherently problematic, because genuine greatness, genuine admirability, comes from seeing no separation or distinct worth between themselves and the "average" person even if they could empirically make the case. The great are great because they're elite without feeling obliged to point it out. There is a difference, then, between being "elite" and being "elitist".

And the former has absolutely nothing to do with your choice of television programs.

I was not trying to suggest that those that watch certain shows automatically are smarter or anything like that. Obviously there are very intelligent people that don't watch Dollhouse. But there are numerous people who are less intelligent that just want mindless entertainment, regardless of medium or morality or whatever. Dollhouse is a smart show, and as the article suggests, that is not what most people want. Why is it so bad to connect the two, that if there were more people wanting a intellectual and philosophical challenge there would be more folks watching Dollhouse?


Not automatically, just presumptively -- one who watches reality TV or "mindless movies" or Not!Dollhouse is presumptively dumber than one who doesn't. The article doesn't parse out nearly as generally as to say people don't want a "smart" show, but even if it did, what then? My father has two engineering degrees, and the only thing he watches besides the market is "MythBusters". I've got two sisters with master's degrees who treasure family time gathered around "Idol" or kung-fu movies. Do any of these rebut the presumption of stupidity, for not liking what you think smart people like?

Vampmogs, you're mistaking the idea of someone who is definable with someone who is "pure". I don't think anyone, least of all myself, has asked for a "pure hero". Again, I refer to "Lost". Is Jack a "pure hero"? Sawyer? Locke? Kate? Absolutely not. But are they definable concisely? Clearly identifiable in what makes them tick? Pretty much, yeah. That's why people can love Jack and hate Sawyer, love Locke and hate Jack, but still ultimately still rally behind any of them, because they know where that person's coming from.

Shows dealing in undefinable characters do better, I think, when they handle them in doses, make them the outlier. Bennet on "Heroes". Juliet on "Lost". "Dollhouse" is a series full of Bennets and Juliets, though, and without any real definable characters around to place them in some sort of minute to minute context, the whole story can feel a bit adrift.

Consider Joss' description of Kaylee in the commentary to the "Firefly" pilot -- he refers to her as the emotional center, says that we like Mal because she does, over our own misgivings. She's there to be the emotional context for the audience. Was "Firefly" simple or uncomplicated for that reason? No. So... who is that character in "Dollhouse"? Aisha Hands? Ivy? Not really, and they're the closest we get.

[ edited by KingofCretins on 2009-05-06 03:48 ]
vampmogs, I agree 100%. I am sick of folks telling me that there is no one to root for. It just isn't true for me, and for the people I know that watch it.

KOC, neither of those two people are elite, they simply play a sports game (and not an interesting one, like mounted archery or jousting). I've already explained my position regarding the intelligence of people, and I'll only repeat it once more: you can't tell how smart someone is by what they watch, but the majority of unintelligent people don't want to watch good programs (or read good books, or whatever). I have numerous good friends who like watching shows and movies that I consider dumb, that doesn't make them dumb. Of course the fact that they recognize that those shows are dumb may contribute to it.

[ edited by SteppeMerc on 2009-05-06 03:52 ]

[ edited by SteppeMerc on 2009-05-06 03:53 ]
This show appeals to me greatly because there’s no character who’s completely “pure” and heroic. That’s why we have this show and that’s what this particular show is trying to achieve. I really like that and I find it one of the most compelling things about ‘Dollhouse.’ Obviously other people see it as a problem, each to their own. But I don’t, why must every show follow the same basic kind of formula? Why must we have someone we can truly call a hero without having to doubt what we’re saying? Why do people need that? It’s certainly not true of life, a lot of people do not have anyone like that in their lives but they keep on living.


That is exactly why: there are no perfect examples, no true spotless "pure" heroes in the real world. We humans spend our entire lives striving for something which is unobtainable: perfection. Why? Your guess is probably as good as mine. But it's why we spend so much time and effort trying to improve the world around us. It's why we create art. On some level we are always trying to achieve some form of what we at least perceive as perfection.
People don't watch TV to be challenged, and I don't think I can blame them.

Sometimes you just want to watch some mindless TV. I personally choose to watch enthralling TV, but I also like formulaic stuff sometimes, like a Law and Order.
Many points.

I admit to being frustrated at times by people who speak as if they have authority on something that they are not involved in writing or producing. That is to say, we cannot speak with any authority about whether we are supposed to like or not like any of the characters on the show. That may be your opinion but it is not factually based unless and until the writers actually tell us that this what they meant (me, of course, being a reader response guy, so admire the irony here...). Now, I am not being snarky or picking on anyone, but this is an important point. There are a lot of people telling us what they believe this show is about but positioning it as if it were fact, rather than opinion.

Steppemerc: each time you to try to qualify what you mean by your comment, I think you dig a deeper hole. There is no mindless entertainment; people invest as heavily in American Idol, a show I have no interest in and do not watch, as they do in DH; in fact, given the numbers, they invest one hell of a lot more in AI than DH, by a ratio of around 8:1 or more. Here is a factual statement: people watch what they watch for whatever reason they watch it. I think the idea that we here are so much more intelligent than the people who do not watch DH is something that actually hurts both the fandom and its perception in the larger culture. It smacks of an arrogance that is scarce deserved. I am pretty sharp when it comes to understanding TV, subtext, metaphor and so on, but I love CSI, which is a show that certainly gets little respect here, is seen as nothing but a procedural (which it is most certainly is not only) and gets little academic attention (compared to Buffy). I like what I like, and I have no problem if my kids, for example, just don't like Buffy. They like The Sopranos, a show I have never gotten past season 1 with. I think we need to drop this entire line of argument, because it is in my opinion wrong and it casts no real light on why people do not watch. Intelligence has nothing to do with this at all.

But it does do one thing. It is part of the developing script that is being written here to explain the failure of this show to catch on. We see various parts offered up: Fox's meddling, the bad episodes 1-5, the lack of intelligence of viewers, the lack of moral clarity in a time when people are seeking positivism, the shift to alternate viewing methods (DVR, Hulu) etc. This scripting helps us feel better about out investment in Joss, because it veers away from looking at the writing decisions for the show, positing blame externally only. I have no sense of schaudenfreud (sp?) here; I am not looking to watch Joss fail at something, but I think mistakes were made all around with DH. I can admire Joss for trying something new, but I do not think he succeeded here. I take no pleasure in saying that. What Fox did did not help, but Joss himself has agreed with what they asked, so there it is. The fact is, the show has not caught on. This is a known problem in fandom, investment not in a show's character but in the (sorry here) zeitgeist of the show, here in the work of Joss Whedon- that is where many of us invest, not in Echo or Sierra, but in Joss himself, and that forms an emotional attachment. This is what I believe: We somehow forge a psychic bond, and we feel a need to protect that bond, and our bond is threatened when a show fails to succeed like this. When I watched fans of CSI attack anyone who liked Lady Heather because they saw that as a threat to the GSR (Grissom Sara romance), what they were really doing was protecting their identification with Sara Sidle. Same with Tara's death- there was an identification that was forged that was so threatened by her death that a whole website was founded in protest and is still going strong now, 6 years later. Why do we invest in Joss' work? Why would it matter if this show fails? It is just a show. The world does not end if it is not renewed.

Also, I can only speak for myself, buy I find no one to invest in. If steppemerc opr vampmoggs do, great. But please respect those who differ from you in this matter.
Some people do and some people don't and, of course, the folks who do might also enjoy some non-challenging wind-down type TV as well. Not caught up on the thread in general from where I left off, but just thought I'd say that. Also, yay RAGBRAI!
Chad and Jerry were an "analogy". Intellectual elitism follows the same basic principle though -- the person most inclined to consider themselves elite and share that opinion is the person least likely to actually *be* elite.

You're still dealing in a form of presumption around the idea that the type of movies or shows someone watches has anything of worth to say about their intelligence. And... it's a completely pompous and rationally indefensible notion. Not for the least reason being that you clearly see yourself as a qualified arbiter of what shows and movies are "smart" to create the presumption of intelligence.

[ edited by KingofCretins on 2009-05-06 04:06 ]
The problem with the “there’s no one to root for” argument is that *I do* root for some characters on this show. Being told that I couldn’t possibly, is really kind of irritating. I know that I do, I know others that do, so stop telling me that I can’t!


If you do, you do. No one can stop you. Personally I'm rooting for "Razor Blades" Alpha.

I would also venture to point out that I'm sure that, deep down, many of these characters do have redeeming qualities. It's just that, to date, they have yet to be revealed to us, as per the nature of the narrative.
Dana5140;

Also, I can only speak for myself, buy I find no one to invest in. If steppemerc opr vampmoggs do, great. But please respect those who differ from you in this matter.

I don't believe I've disrespected anyone who doesn't. In fact the reason it's irritating because the people who don't (like in this article) are speaking for everybody by saying "the show needs someone who we can root for." For those of us who already have characters we identify with, it's a little irritating to have people speak for the lot of us in that manner.

I specifically said “each to their own” and have made the distinction between those who can opposed to those who can’t.
Personally I'm rooting for "Razor Blades" Alpha.

He's got kind of a Dr-Horrible-gone-completely-homicidal vibe, doesn't he?

[ edited by Sunfire on 2009-05-06 04:14 ]
Yes... (roles a small knife across the backs of his fingers)
He does.


Edit: Sorry! I was having a Thom Merrilin moment.

[ edited by brinderwalt on 2009-05-06 04:21 ]
How did Caroline's efforts to close the Dollhouse go?? Ballard is so blind with obsession that he couldn't even hear what Boyd was saying to him about not being able to get out and save Caroline, Boyd is there to protect them, just as he did against the jerk who was raping Sierra.

The truth of the matter is other than Sierra, we don't know if they are voluntarily there or not. Unlike Ballard, Boyd is not making decisions for the others, he is just protecting them either way.

As for Boyd shooting someone in the back for no reason, I don't remember that, you will have to tell me when that happen. When did he shoot a person for no reason?

Boyd is a good man in a bad situation, watching and learning, but peeing into the wind is an insane prospect, trying to shutdown Exxon Mobil all by yourself is just as insane. I bet the Dollhouse is bigger and better protected than Exxon Mobil.
SteppeMerc: Again, I say that you are making a number of presumptive statements about people based on nothing so much as how they choose to entertain themselves.

I don't watch reality TV, or baseball or basketball. They hold no interest for me. But that does not automatically make me more elite than those who do.

Or, as I noted previously: All television viewers are equal. Some are just more equal than others.
This is a very interesting discussion. Some bullets:

Boyd is like the Mel Gibson character in Payback. Transportation and protection but still taking Echo to the job.

If you think Topher is doing any "good" I think it would be analogous to Dr. Mengle's research in death camps bearing fruit.

These judgments are based on what I've seen to date. I admit that I get a distinct "Giles" vibe off of Boyd and want to like him, but he's still a thug working for a pimp until he proves otherwise.

Brinderwalt nailed it. It's the pacing. The glacial character reveals and the first five episodes are what has hurt reception of this show. The creators seem to aware of this which is why they made such a big splash with their "wait until episode six" campaign. I got a sinking feeling from that and I am still not sure the show has recovered from it.
The alternative to Caroline and Ballard, who *tried* is Boyd's approach of "not trying". When you're talking about place of slavery, mind control, torture, and rape, "not trying" isn't very admirable. If there was even the slightest indication that Boyd had an intention of freeing them, rather than just being resigned to them better off trapped in the Dollhouse, I'd agree with him. But we have no such indication.

I also find little admirable in his busting Hearn, because Boyd himself has frequently escorted Caroline's body off to be raped with no apparent mental reservation on the subject. Hearn is the Dollhouse, minus the pretense. I have no doubt, at *all*, that if a client wanted to pay to have sex with an Active in dollstate or something similar, they'd take his money and let him. All Hearn did was bypass the pimp.

So far all we see about Boyd is waiting, but no indication he's waiting *for* something. If he was serious about helping these people, Ballard is who he was waiting *for*.

He shot the antiquities dealer from behind in "Gray Hour", after having retrieved the goods, for no particularly justifiable reason (he knew nothing of the remote wipe at this point, or how far things would need to go to get "Echo" out).

Tab, I have compared Topher to Mengele myself, ever since his simpering protest that he's "just the science guy" when Caroline had him captive.

[ edited by KingofCretins on 2009-05-06 04:52 ]
Well, SteppeMerc, I don't think I need to answer you because KingofCretins and Dana5140 said everything I wanted to say much more succinctly than I would have.

Also, your argument reminds me of acquaintances of mine who look down on me because I watch television at all, since obviously watching TV is just something mindless automatons do--you know, the unwashed masses? Real smart people only read books. Their brand of elitism is just ignorance disguised with pomposity. I just don't like to start down that slippery slope, you know?
Okay, SteppeMerc, what if I were to say, that based on my own observations, the vast majority of people who watch and enjoy jousting are bad in bed? Of course there are no studies to back up my claim, but it's obvious that the vast majority of people that are good in bed would not want to watch jousting. People who are sexually inferior find it much more interesting watching people poke each other off horses with phallic-shaped sticks, whereas people who have more prowess in bed would not waste their time watching jousting and instead would be having sex.

My evaluation above doesn't actually tell you very much about people who do, or do not, watch jousting. It tells you something about me-- that I have a vested interest in maintaining the point of view that people who watch jousting are bad in bed. The question would really be why.

And that's what I always come to when I read these sort of threads and this opinion pops up-- WHY does our pet show need to be attracting more intelligent viewers than the rest? WHY do we so fiercely need to maintain this opinion that the reason for our pet show's failures is not caused by any defect of the show itself, but by a defect in the public at large-- our own perceptions of their lack of intelligence?

Dana5140 hits the nail on the head in my opinion.

Ruadh said:

No one is assigning blame - it's simply the way things are. There has to be something about a show right from the get go that appeals - there are too many other options available, including turning off the TV.


I think that is it. And I really agree very much so. If a show is expected to be a success straight out the door (and most shows these days are) then it had better deliver whatever its got, straight out the door.

And on the other thread in this thread, Boyd is no Giles and I don't even see where people are getting this. Giles, right away, was a stridently moral character-- moreso even than Buffy was. He was devoted to the greater good, to fighting evil. You got the sense that it wasn't just his calling or his job-- it was his passion. He felt a need to do what was right, the good thing to do. Boyd has no such drive-- he has not ever been passionate about anything as far as I can tell. He cares for Caroline, that much is apparent, but larger than that we don't know him. We always knew Giles, and we always knew he relied on a strident moral compass-- even his back story and his few falls from grace (oh so few) simply reaffirmed that he was an amazing man. Giles was like Dumbledore but better. Boyd is a benevolent security guard for evil with ambivalent feelings about his job. In short, he is no Giles and I can't even make the leap even a little bit with you guys.
This is going to come off sounding like a collusion of mercenaries, and our names seem strangely appropriate given the admitted lack of political correctness in what we say. That having been said...

Numerous people have responded to what SteppeMerc said in his defense, regarding elitism. The general tenor of said responses has been that it is unjust and inaccurate for him (writing on an assumption, here and henceforth) to pass judgments based on any criterion so arbitrary and subjective as what television shows the targets of his judgment may watch - though the specific responses have ranged from considered and polite, to making analogies with penis-jousting (to unfairly paraphrase).

The interesting thing I noticed about these responses was that they showed near-universal understanding of what sorts of shows he was referencing when he mentioned shows that were generally less intellectual, even going so far as to cite examples (American Idol, CSI, etc.) prior to his doing so; and regarding these examples, there was little or no contention that they belonged in the implicit category that was being created: unintellectual shows.

In summary, people were protesting the way in which he presented his arguments, while implying agreement with his most contested underlying premise: that some shows don't require the same level of intelligence that others do, and that by extension viewers capable of being entertained by one (less intelligent) show in a given timeslot will not be equipped to be entertained by another (more intelligent) show under the same circumstances.

One other point in passing: in the affirmative, we find it safe to assume that an arbitrary measure can assess intelligence. KingofCretins mentioned the educational credentials of his family members to emphasize their presumed intelligence, and to stand in contrast to what he felt were the logical conclusions of SteppeMerc's statements; in so doing, however, he combated a subjective oversimplification of intelligence with another.

I'm not suggesting that a college degree and a predilection for a given TV show should carry comparable weight, and no one here has yet suggested they were mutually exclusive, but they serve the same functions in this forum, albeit in opposite directions: to serve as an indicator, if not a certain measure, of intelligence.
My thanks to you, Mercenary.

As for all the other posts, I am not going to repeat myself again, but I will simply say that I have seen no evidence to compare anyone in the Dollhouse to any Nazis, and to do so otherwise is highly unfair, and incomprehensible to me. Slavery, even if that is what the Dollhouse is, is not inherently evil as shown by many examples throughout history (Islamic warrior slaves, harem women, intellectuals who sold themselves into slavery to get good government jobs etc.) and to compare what the Dollhouse does to the Holocaust cheapens the horrors committed by those involved.
I think we've reached the end of the elitism argument here. Especially now that Godwin's law has been invoked. If you want to argue amongst yourselves about it, I suggest you head over to our Library at Flickr.
Are you suggesting that drug decriminalization, a renewed commitment to public education and a strong and independent news media are some kind of airy utopian goals impossible to imagine any society ever embracing?

Sorry to be coming back so much later, but it was my bedtime. Now I'm sorta AWOL from work ;)

snot monster - I guess I am suggesting that. At least I don't think that The Wire argued for the feasibility of any of those. I wouldn't, either, though I'd support them. I don't think Dollhouse is making any argument, at least not yet, and don't think either intellect or morality has much to do with if you like the feel of the show. The literary reference that comes my mind is from Robert Stone's A Flag for Sunrise. Where the serial killer policeman has come to seek absolution from the drunk priest. "Can you embrace a vision?" "Of course" "Imagine a world in which you don't exist - in which there is no trace of you at all" "Maricon!."

Imagine that your good intentions are irrelevant. Imagine that your memories are false - that your name might not refer to anyone. Dollhouse has a very cool room temperature. Some people like that, some don't.
When I saw the subj. heading of this article, I could immediately understand why DH isn't more popular. It's a genre show that's more than a little thorny. The Big Bad isn't a distant, monstrous Other, but the boss and your handler, the resident geek, the lovely, shy doctor. The main characters remain shrouded in mystery and enigma. The storytelling is sharp and moving in the arc episodes but flat in the stand-alones. And it's a series that deals with very dark themes (modern day slavery, the idea of identity and self-hood, sexual compulsion, human manipulation of the soul) in a very glossy, beautifully metaphorical way rather than with stripped-down realism, which seems to be the fad for "serious" art right now.

I love the series -- its poetry, its ambition, its terribly damaged, fragile characters -- but I can admit it ain't for everyone, even many Joss-fans. Usually, he gives us lovable characters and then slowly evolves to kick-ass storytelling. This time around, he's given us the storytelling before the characters. The emotional tone of the show is cool and smoky rather than warm -- warmth from the affection the characters inspire or the humor.
I saw an interesting quote today in an article about the new Star Trek movie which I think is applicable to this debate: "This is an odd, unsettling time in America. Disarray is everywhere, and long-accepted narratives are being questioned. It's a time not unlike the late 1960s, the tumultuous age when the original "Star Trek" first set its sights on the future."

I think this is what Joss was trying to do with DH, question long-accepted narratives, but I think where he missed was in the idea that (in the article from which I took the quote, they note the idea that Star trek always had a vein of hope and positivism in it) he made everything so dark at a time when we here in the US are tired of dark, relating it to the Bush administration, and are now seeking hope, as embodied in the Obama administration (hope being its hallmark). I think Joss is about 3 years too late with DH- for the same reason I think you will see the popularity of 24 begin to wane.
Leaving the elitism argument alone, but still responding to Dana's more general comment above:

But it does do one thing. It is part of the developing script that is being written here to explain the failure of this show to catch on. We see various parts offered up: Fox's meddling, the bad episodes 1-5, the lack of intelligence of viewers, the lack of moral clarity in a time when people are seeking positivism, the shift to alternate viewing methods (DVR, Hulu) etc. This scripting helps us feel better about out investment in Joss, because it veers away from looking at the writing decisions for the show, positing blame externally only. I have no sense of schaudenfreud (sp?) here; I am not looking to watch Joss fail at something, but I think mistakes were made all around with DH. I can admire Joss for trying something new, but I do not think he succeeded here. I take no pleasure in saying that. What Fox did did not help, but Joss himself has agreed with what they asked, so there it is. The fact is, the show has not caught on.


I do, of course, see your point. We like what Joss does, so we don't want to blame him for Dollhouse's ratings failure, but would rather place the "blame" for the failure on external reasons.

I, however, think that argument isn't as clear-cut as you make it out to be in your comment (intentionally or unintentionally, because I'm not assuming you believe it to be as clear-cut since I simply don't know :)).

A couple of general things:

1. We have to distinguish between a ratings failure and a failure in quality.

The first of these is quantifiable, the second is not. I see a tendency to equate both pop up here from time to time: the show is not good enough, so it failed. I think people don't watch shows fora mind boggingly diverse line of reasons: because they don't like the voice of the lead character, because they hated someone in something else, because the atmosphere is wrong for them, because they don't feel like watching, because they hate the title, because they simply never bothered, or simply because they don't even know or care it exists. I think "not watching because the show isn't good" is probably a minority reason, given the range out there and the number of people who probably haven't even caught one minute of the show. Heck, some people might even think the show is good, but just don't warm to it as much.

Now, obviously, this relates to both the external reasons Dana mentions as well as taking a critical look at Joss' writing, because most of these relate in some shape or form to the quality of the offering. And I, for one, am not ready to say: the show failed in the ratings, so it must not be good.

2. The question wether Joss did or did not fail, is inherently subjective.

A lot of this depends on wether we liked the show. As someone who doesn't like the show, we have seen Dana arguing on a number of seperate occassions that Joss has failed with Dollhouse, while we see fans of this show arguing that he didn't. Fact is that none of us know wether any of the arguments brought forth to argue this point (which is an interesting argument in and of itself), cannot be shown by any reliable source to influence viewing figures either way. The only thing that any of these arguments show is why this one person does or doesn't like the show, which is pretty statistically insignificant ;).

Which leads me to 3:

3. I think it's important to remember that we simply don't know why Dollhouse failed.

Be it external factors, like Fox's meddling, the failure of the first five episodes, a failure on Joss' part to deliver what was needed to succeed, something we haven't even thought of or some kind of linear combination of all these tings.

We haven't handed out questionaires to people *not* watching to ask why they aren't and as people who are watching, our instincts on the matter might not be accurate at all. I think we need to remember this, that all our theories are just that: theories and guesses, when arguing these points with each other.

And, finally, 4:

4. Looking for reasons why Dollhouse failed to get viewers from inside the show seems - to me - like more of a stretch than looking for external reasons.

This includes the quality of the first five episodes, Joss' writing, etcetera. We seem to be implicitly implying a lot of the time that most people have sampled or tried Dollhouse in some shape or form and then found it lacking. This is obviously a more fun way for us to approach things, because we've all seen the show and can then go on to argue about textual things, which I enjoy and think we should continue to do.

But while I'm sure there's some of that going on in the failure - so far - to garner a lot of viewers, I think the vast majority of television viewers probably haven't seen a single minute of the show. Now I'm not sure why and how some television shows garner enough critical viewing mass to survive and become hits, but I'm pretty sure it's not one-on-one translatable to 'quality' and I'm pretty sure no one has any clue what these factors are (if people did know, we'd have only hit shows). It's probably just a lottery. So we, to restate my third point, simply don't know.

And given that fact, pretty much all the arguments used here are equally valid theories. So given that we're on a forum of Joss Whedon lovers who, on the whole, actually like the show and think it's good, I think we shouldn't be that surprised that our communal theories skew towards a 'script' including a lot of external reasons instead of saying Joss has failed. But I think it's important to remember that Joss failing is just as much a guess as any of the reasons in 'the emerging script'. One argument is not superior to the others, a priori (though the exact wording of one point might be factually more true than another at any given time).
I am not speaking of the quality of the show, gvh, only its ratings; in that sense, I mean failure solely as being related to its financial success and its continued existence. I cannot speak to the quality of the show as art, since that is subjective. For myself, I can definitively say that I feel this is a well made and well written show, demonstrating high production values and generally good acting, but it has failed to engage me enough to get me to commit to looking into any deeper. And in that regard, I think that is a fair comment regarding my perception. Obviously, I cannot speak as to why the rest of the potential audience has not watched the show; all I can say is, they have not. And certainly, in a written post I cannot delve deeply into all my thinking. This is a problem with written communication, and were we together and talking I could go on at length.

I do believe that Joss has failed in some ways with DH. I can offer up my opinions, which largely revolve around a potential misread of the current zeitgeist and a failure to have characters whom viewers can invest in. The latter was a concern I raised long before the show was even broadcast at all, and the truth is, I am not looking to find some sort of self-fulfilling prophercy here to justify my initial thinking. I have watched every ep but one (family affair that weekend) and I never know going in whether or not a character in any show will grab me- like what happened with In Treatment about 2 minutes after Sophie showed up in her first episode, and what happened when I got stuck in a motel in upstate NY with nowhere to go and nothing to do and turned on the TV and watched 4 hours of CSI, where Sara Sidle grabbed me. It just happened, and it did not happen here. I know there are really sort of two kind of viewers (well, many, but hang with me here): those that watch for the story, and those that watch for the characters. I am in the latter group, and as a result, DH fails to engage me because no character does. Since all I am left with is story, that makes Dh just another kind of procedural- you get good and bad weeks with a procedural and so that is all I get here. And the stories have not been all that good; it is the arc that could bring me in, but I think Joss has been following the talk on Lost so is answering mysteries a lot faster than he might be accustomed to. IMHO, of course.

Anyway, we are seeing that as time goes on, we see drop offs in the audience, meaning some that watched are not coming back. The big question to ask is, why? And the other big question is, why did the show not attract more viewers at the get go? I do not have answers here, only opinions. And truth is, I would prefer to see Joss on cable, where I think his imagination could roam unbounded by need to attend first and foremost to ratings. I speak a lot about In Treatment. It is superb TV, with a spate of great actors and moving scripts. And it never gets a million viewers per episode, and yet HBO committed to a second year of the show. That cannot happen on network. Joss needs to be there, not on Fox.
But it does do one thing. It is part of the developing script that is being written here to explain the failure of this show to catch on. We see various parts offered up: Fox's meddling, the bad episodes 1-5, the lack of intelligence of viewers, the lack of moral clarity in a time when people are seeking positivism, the shift to alternate viewing methods (DVR, Hulu) etc. This scripting helps us feel better about out investment in Joss, because it veers away from looking at the writing decisions for the show, positing blame externally only. I have no sense of schaudenfreud (sp?) here; I am not looking to watch Joss fail at something, but I think mistakes were made all around with DH. I can admire Joss for trying something new, but I do not think he succeeded here. I take no pleasure in saying that. What Fox did did not help, but Joss himself has agreed with what they asked, so there it is. The fact is, the show has not caught on. This is a known problem in fandom, investment not in a show's character but in the (sorry here) zeitgeist of the show, here in the work of Joss Whedon- that is where many of us invest, not in Echo or Sierra, but in Joss himself, and that forms an emotional attachment. This is what I believe: We somehow forge a psychic bond, and we feel a need to protect that bond, and our bond is threatened when a show fails to succeed like this. When I watched fans of CSI attack anyone who liked Lady Heather because they saw that as a threat to the GSR (Grissom Sara romance), what they were really doing was protecting their identification with Sara Sidle. Same with Tara's death- there was an identification that was forged that was so threatened by her death that a whole website was founded in protest and is still going strong now, 6 years later. Why do we invest in Joss' work? Why would it matter if this show fails? It is just a show. The world does not end if it is not renewed.


I also wanted to comment on that paragraph. If I understand that last part correctly, you are saying that investment in a cultural product like a TV show implies investment the characters. That we only relate to ratings, the production process and the behind-the-scenes because we relate to the show. I can pretty much say that for me these two things can run on seperate ways. Even more, for the most part of 2008 I was anticipating and blogging about the production of show that didn't even have chance to present me with characters. And I know that my love for Firefly is quite different than my love for Mal, Kaylee, Book or River. Also "the world does not end when X happens" can very well be applied to Tara's death too. It's just a fictional character. So the fact that people formed such websites only proved that there is identification and investment going on, but so does every "Save Firefly/Dollhouse/Chuck"-Campaign out there that explicitly deal with a cultural product.

Also, that scripting you mentioned works on the big mythical entity called "the fandom". The thing is: Each and every one of us has their own reasons, there is no big script being generated by the big noise here that can "cloud" the truth that you have found for yourself (bad writing). It's just thousands of different truths circling around without any concealed center.
4. Looking for reasons why Dollhouse failed to get viewers from inside the show seems - to me - like more of a stretch than looking for external reasons.

This includes the quality of the first five episodes, Joss' writing, etcetera. We seem to be implicitly implying a lot of the time that most people have sampled or tried Dollhouse in some shape or form and then found it lacking. This is obviously a more fun way for us to approach things, because we've all seen the show and can then go on to argue about textual things, which I enjoy and think we should continue to do.

But while I'm sure there's some of that going on in the failure - so far - to garner a lot of viewers, I think the vast majority of television viewers probably haven't seen a single minute of the show.


Clearly most TV viewers have never tuned in to Dollhouse. However, the issue with the show hasn't been that it has a small audience that can't grow but more that it has lost viewers as the series progressed. So it is reasonable to look for 'inside the show' reasons as to why people who tuned in at the start of the series abandoned it along the way.
Dana,

I can offer up my opinions, which largely revolve around a potential misread of the current zeitgeist and a failure to have characters whom viewers can invest in. [...] I know there are really sort of two kind of viewers (well, many, but hang with me here): those that watch for the story, and those that watch for the characters. I am in the latter group, and as a result, DH fails to engage me because no character does.


Well, fair enough. I know - and even understand - why it would work this way for you. But then, taking you as an example (and please forgive me if I get any of this wrong, as I don't claim to "know" you in any way, shape or form apart from your written text here): you always talk about Tara, about Sophie and about Sara Sidle. This, to me, gives this process a somewhat 'magical'/'lottery' feel. There's characters you invest in, and there's characters you don't. There's a lot more of the latter category, than there are of the former. I often have the feeling that, for you, investing in a television show is akin to love. You fall in love with a character and then fall in love with the show because that show features that character. And, like with love, one can articulate reasons for falling or not falling in love after the fact, but for most of us, it's still a 'mysterious' process: you can't perfectly predict who you will fall in love with, making musings on this subject somewhat unreliable.

I also think that the distinction you make between the two types of viewers, isn't as big a distinction as you'd like to think. I think people watch for a myriad of reasons, including characters, plot, themes, intellectual stimulation, sexy hot chicks/guys, and/or shiny moving objects, or a combination of any or all of these. But, for the sake of argument, let us pretend for a while that 'investing in characters' is one of the two main reasons why people watch a show (it might even be a statistically more important reason than any of these others, by the way, but again, that's something we simply don't know).

Now I would agree that Dollhouse is a harder than avarage show to invest in. But there's no telling what kind of characters people fall in love with, just like real life love. Given the enourmous amounts of characters you didn't invest in, in shows with more readily identifiable characters than Dollhouse, I think it's safe to say we don't know what makes people care about any particular character in the first place. What's more, right here on whedonesque, where a lot of people probably find character work pretty important in their fiction (because it's one of Joss' greatest strengths), we find two things:

1. A lot of people like this show;
2. A lot of people find characters to invest in.

Now, might there have been more people investing in characters and/or investing heavier in certain characters if this had been a show more accessible characters and/or - for instance - more shipper possibilities? Possibly, maybe even probably, but we can't be certain.

Having said that: Dollhouse also offers extra things to make one come back and to invest in, apart from the categories offered. I know I, for one, come back for the intruiging morals and thematics on this show, which get discussed here at length for obvious reasons. I love this show more intellectually, than I do emotionally, but I still love it (and, just like you, I'm not representative, because there's also bunches of people who do love this show emotionally).

The Boyd vs. Ballard fight you mentioned earlier, where we don't know who to root for, is something I'd consider a strength of this show, instead of a weakness. And I'm someone who greatly cares about character work and who has invested heavily in a wide spread of characters from Joss' previous shows.

I'm just saying: there's no reason to think that 'having less readily identifiable characters' is really a factor in the low viewing figures at all. It might be, but there's so many assumptions, personal guesses and preferences of thinking lying at the heart of that guess, that at the end of the day, it's just pretty much a wild stab in the dark. And the end conclusion that this show fails "to have characters whom >viewers (my emphasis) can invest in", is pretty hard to prove. Characters who you can't invest in, sure, but generalising is treading on shaky ground, and seems like saying: well, I didn't fall in love with this patricular girl, so she's hard to fall in love with (even if you then do provide a list of reasons why this girl would be hard to fall in love with, there's no telling how other people would react to those reasons a priori).

Anyway, we are seeing that as time goes on, we see drop offs in the audience, meaning some that watched are not coming back. The big question to ask is, why? And the other big question is, why did the show not attract more viewers at the get go? I do not have answers here, only opinions.


Fair enough, and the same goes for me and it was a big part of the point I was making above and I'm happy to see we agree on that :).

It's just that I still think there's a generalising of why you don't like the show to why the show didn't attract more viewers in general, in your stated opinions, which I don't think quite works because we've seen here that the opinions on these thing vary wildly and no one way of looking at these issues is representative for the larger group even here.

Now if we'd find a significant amount of people here claiming they can't invest in the characters, there might be something there. That still wouldn't prove anything (just like the lack of this significant amount of people proves anything), but it'd at least hint to the fact that this line of reasoning would be correct. Of course, one could always argue that we're a pre-selected bunch who are bound to like this show and the characters, but given the drastic tonal changes between Dollhouse and Joss' previous work, especially in the case of these characters, I think that's untrue for this particular point.

helcat,

However, the issue with the show hasn't been that it has a small audience that can't grow but more that it has lost viewers as the series progressed. So it is reasonable to look for 'inside the show' reasons as to why people who tuned in at the start of the series abandoned it along the way.


Well I'd wonder two things first: is Dollhouse dropping abnormal amounts of viewers for a television series? I simply don't know, because I'm not an expert on these numbers. But I'd imagine most television shows drop off from their premiere and probably quite a few fluctuate or even gently decline viewers for a season or so as they go along and then might pick up more viewers (or not) later on. Are these changes in Dollhouse statistically significant when compared to the performance of other shows?

And even if these drops are significant, we still don't know if there are textual reasons lying at the heart of that drop-off. It might be buzz, it might be other external factors, we just don't know.

Another thing we don't know, is what the group of returning viewers is. Maybe we have a small core group of viewers who tune in every week and are very loyal and a relatively large amount of viewers who tune in one-time (given that Joss is a creator with a built-in fandom, that might even be likely). And we also don't know how those numbers compare to other shows, because nobody knows those numbers to begin with.

Now if we could prove that we had more returning viewers who've stopped watching than with other shows or if we have less casual viewers who turn into regular viewers than other shows (a lower 'conversion rate', so to speak), I think we might have cause to take a look at possible textual reasons. But even if we reach that conclusion, we still can't know which of the myriad of possible textual reasons influenced these viewers without having more data.
wisengrund- no, I am not saying that. I am suggesting, based on my observation of fandom in general (from my own experiences in the following fandoms: whedonesque, yourtaxdollarsatwork, progressiveears, letsrun, and many others) that for whatever reason we come to a show, we have some sort of identification that is based on something within us. It may be to character, to director, to creator, to whatever; it simply draws us in, for reasons we may not always be aware of. And I come to this by asking myself this question: why am I drawn to strong but damaged females, when I am a 56yo male? Why Tara, Sara Sidle and Sophie? And I believe it is because something in those characters resonantes psychologically within me, forming an investment that becomes more important because it is part of my psyche. Something in those characters gets at me. And I think this is a common thing in fandom, which here could be represented by, for example, a complete love of all things Joss that leads to someone fighting anyone who suggests Joss is not perfection itself, or it could be something like Bangel v. Spuffy, which as we know can get very heated. Anyone ever wonder why it can get so heated? To the point where people will yell at others online, belittle them, etc.? There is a psychic link there related to that person identifying with that relation, projecting themself into it in some way. For all? Of course not. But for some. I got to thinking about this with the Lady Heather issue on YTDAW, where people hated her, hated her beyond the telling. Why? She was just another character, in this case a dominatrix who had drawn the interest of Gil Grissom, who toward the end of his run on the show was in a committed relation with Sara Sidle. And what happened was that people ended up (1) yelling and belittling Grissom himself for his interest in LH (which by then was nothing more than a friendship) and (2) putting down anyone who had the temerity to mention that they thought LH was an interesting character. It got so bad I quit the board; I don't need that level of discourse and I began to understand that the people putting her down had so projected themselves into the GSR (and largely, these were all women, and so identified with Sara Sidle) that they could not separate themselves from the fiction that gave this life. Do I think that happens here? To a degree with a few people, who are completely in line with all that Joss does (how many times have I read, "I'll go wherever Joss takes me"? or "Joss is our god" which I saw in a post as recent as yesterday). It is my nature as a scientist to question things, and to look into mechanisms and so on, and I am of course not unique.

I think the kittens are an extreme example. They forged such a close identification with Tara, for well understood reasons, that when she was killed, they turned on the very people who gave them to her in the first place, and now, 6 years later, still do not allow discussion of Buffy post S5. Identification much, as Cordy might ask? But all fandoms fall victim to this, and I am as much guilty as anyone; for example, I just cannot understand why no one is as interested in In Treatment as I am.

We invest where we invest. It is fascinating to me how this occurs, and I am at least honest enough to admit where I do, and where my biases are. I struggle to understand. And I think this has something to do with DH, as I note in posts above.

ETA: gvh, I responded to wisengrud, but I think my post also addresses your lengthy one- you will see why I invested as I did. And I think your love analogy is very perceptive.

[ edited by Dana5140 on 2009-05-06 16:15 ]

[ edited by Dana5140 on 2009-05-06 16:17 ]
Maybe I've missed this in the discussions, but gender may have played a role. We know that more men watched DH, and it was especially popular among the young men in that time slot. That's understandable because: 1) In general, more men watch sci-fi. 2) The sexiness of Eliza was heavily marketed, not just in the naked FOX ads, but also in a lot of her interviews. Young men could fantasize about hiring Echo, Sierra, etc.

But some of them may have stopped watching when they realized that the show was going to focus a lot on Caroline/Echo as a human being. Men are much less likely to watch a show in which the main character is a woman.

Meanwhile, I have some female friends who don't want to watch because they see DH as the "sexy human trafficking" show, but unlike Law & Order: SVU, no one is brought to justice.

I don't need to re-argue slavery, prostitution, shoes, etc. I'm only pointing out that gender played some role in viewership.
Joss' shows don't obey the rules.


What rules? Who wrote them? Who approved them?


Sorry I missed this earlier; I'll just do a quick reply now.

The rules I'm referring to are the social conventions, the usual narrative restraints that the majority of shows allow themselves to be bound by. Joss has made a career of repeatedly subverting expectations, and I don't think it's a contentious point (at least, on Whedonesque) that this is among his capabilities, and even his tendencies.

As for who 'writes' or 'approves' such social conventions, I'm unequipped to give a complete answer for even a tiny percentage of rules. Most modern narrative structures have been in development since the Roman Empire, (and therefore since whatever it inherited its various mythologies from,) and many of them since before recorded history.
Dana,

ETA: gvh, I responded to wisengrud, but I think my post also addresses your lengthy one- you will see why I invested as I did. And I think your love analogy is very perceptive.


Nice post. There's a lot in your assessment of fandoms on the whole that I agree with. As for my love analogy: thinking about it some more just now, I realise there's an error in it in the particular case of viewing figures and generalisation, because I wrote this:

Characters who you can't invest in, sure, but generalising is treading on shaky ground, and seems like saying: well, I didn't fall in love with this patricular girl, so she's hard to fall in love with (even if you then do provide a list of reasons why this girl would be hard to fall in love with, there's no telling how other people would react to those reasons a priori).


Viewing figures are, of course, a popularity contest, not a 'one true love' type of deal. So while any one of us might fall in love with the characters or the show, the fact that any one of us might shouldn't be the point, but the fact that many of us appear to do, like I did point out elsewhere in my post.

Anyway, this ends this 'disagreeing with myself' part of this post. For all the rest, I point any and all to what I said previously ;)
I meant that they aren't primarily intellectually challenging. I will be happy to fight you over this, mostly because I'm sure you live far away and I won't actually have to fight you.
smog | May 05, 21:25 CET


Well you'll have to fight me, too. (I live farther away than anyone, so I can say that comfortably) ;)

But seriously, re. Buffy .... how can you possibly say that a show that has created an international network of academic studies and an entire industry of books, devoted to unraveling it's metaphors, is "not intellectually challenging"?
Suzie:
Meanwhile, I have some female friends who don't want to watch because they see DH as the "sexy human trafficking" show, but unlike Law & Order: SVU, no one is brought to justice.

I'll just point out here that a)that no one is brought to justice yet doesn't mean they won't be, and b)in Real Life, no one gets brought to justice in a 60-minute time slot like they do on L&O:SVU, either.

I don't know, if the requirement for a show's success is to tie up all loose ends in a nice, neat bow at the end of every episode, then once again the recipe seems to come down to "mix in huge amounts of Lowest Common Denominators and toss everything else in the trash", and I don't see much of any chance for anything that attempts to be a little different, despite the old saw about how everyone is looking for something different. So far, "Dollhouse" hasn't made it to "absolutely-must-see-TV" status for me, either, but at the same time I seriously begin to wonder why anyone would even bother trying to write a series anymore.
A brief word about "intellectual" entertainment. I think KoC goes too far when he writes:

There is no mindless entertainment; people invest as heavily in American Idol, a show I have no interest in and do not watch, as they do in DH.

Sure there is "mindless entertainment." I love going to the odd Big Summer Blockbuster movie and watching stuff blow up. I know that I'll enjoy that because it's not asking me to think about anything beyond "OMG, how will our hero get out of this?"

Idol is the epitome of "mindless entertainment" (which is not to say that you can't think all sorts of interesting thoughts about it, or that very intelligent people can't enjoy it--mindfully or mindlessly). It is designed to be enjoyable (for those who enjoy it) without demanding anything in the way of complex analytical thought.

There are art works that are full of "intellectual" rewards which also provide lots of "mindless entertainment" as well. BtVS was like that. I know people who watched it for the laughs and the hot bods and the action, and simply never bothered to think about the deeper questions it raised. At the same time it was, from the beginning, consciously pursuing deeper questions ("must-see metaphysics")--so that it always offered rewards for those who wanted something to chew on, as well as for those who just wanted the ride.

My claim about Dollhouse is simply that it offers relatively fewer rewards for those who just want the mindless entertainment OR for those who want the combination of mindless entertainment and intellectual challenge. In that way it's more like, say, Proust or Joyce than it is like, say, Dickens or Austen. Nobody reads Proust because they want a rippin' good yarn that will take them out of themselves for a while. If you read Proust, you will certainly get deeply involved in the lives of a sweeping range of fascinating characters, but you will also be asked to think, and think hard, about memory, about character, about the nature of desire, about personal identity etc. etc. etc. If someone tells me that they love Proust, then I'm going to be pretty sure that that person has an intellectual cast of mind--and that that person is reasonably bright, to boot. If someone tells me that they love Dickens or Austen, on the other hand, then they might very well be incredibly analytically minded, and relish the more profound questions that both authors pursue in their novels, but they might also read them simply for the more obvious pleasures of characterization and plot.

So, in saying that Dollhouse may be "too intellectual" to be a huge success I'm not saying that people who don't like it are dummies (there are smart people who dislike both Joyce and Proust). I'm saying that it possibly doesn't offer enough in the way of pleasure to viewers who don't enjoy a primarily (or, at least, substantially) intellectual engagement with their TV programs.

I think both Proust and Austen are among the all time greats, but it doesn't surprise me in the least that Austen outsells Proust many many times over.
we know that Joss can make multiple seasons worth of excellent TV, but people would rather watch mindless, happy things.
....But it is obvious that he is of the (correct) opinion that Dollhouse is not doing well because American viewers don't want challenging (read:good) TV.
SteppeMerc | May 05, 22:07 CET


I haven't yet read most of this thread, but I'm going to totally agree, and join you in taking the inevitable flack. I'm so pissed off at this point over the near certainty of losing this show, that I'm beyond caring about being called "condescending".

Quality is quality and mindless is mindless. Sure, there are points at which the two come close enough to meeting in the middle that there is room for debate and subjective opinion.
But like it or not, there isn't much room for rational debate that shows like The Sopranos and The Wire are quality, and The Bachelorette or My Name is Earl are mindless drivel that insult the intelligence.

I don't feel that I should have to apologize for appreciating entertainment that challenges me intellectually, while being totally turned off by shows that cater to the lowest common denominator. And in the case of most reality shows, to people's worst instincts. When something is geared toward enjoyment of watching people make fools of and embarrass themselves, or compete in a way that rewards duplicity and back-stabbing as if they were virtues, I have no problem with stating unequivocally that this is unmitigated shit.

I realize that there are intelligent people who like some mindless TV, along with the thoughtful, challenging, artistically creative stuff. But I deeply resent being labeled as "condescending", because I'm not one of them. And considering what we have as general long running, big audience drawing TV fare, compared with the shows we lose in short order, I have to conclude that the majority of the TV watching public doesn't even fall into this category (liking some challenging shows and some mindless ones), but rather into the category of not ever being willing to engage intellectually, to open their minds and goddess and gods forbid, actually think about ideas and issues. Which to me is a pretty damning indictment of the state of our society and culture.

Why does Joss, specifically, have such a hard time attracting and maintaining big enough audiences to keep his shows going?
I think this, my favorite Joss quote ever, says it all:

"I don't want to create responsible shows about lawyers, I want to invade peoples dreams."

Unfortunately, the vast majority of people would rather take the blue pill.
End of rant.
I'm assuming my post about the curtailing of the elitism debate got ignored? Cause next time I will just delete posts.
enjoying the GVH/Dana conversation, and both deserve credit for taking so much time to try to articulate a few things. I'm more naturally drawn to much of GVH's comments, but I wanna give bonus props to Dana simply because, by my experience of his former posts, I seem to have dang near polar opposite tastes to him on a huge number of aesthetic moments or issues, and his elaborations here are tonic.

I wanna take a shot at one thing that makes that actually relevant to me in this discussion. This show, it seems everyone agrees, deals with a particularly large number of touchy subjects and has attempted a relatively tricky/dangerous.unusual strategy regarding who/how we identify with its characters. Because of this, I believe, on most hot button or polarizing topics that come up, one side of the discussion is routinely, if unintentionally, put in a tricky position. Arguing for some possible subtleties or motives of the dollhouse, even in very particular moments or actions risks being seen as either naive or as arguing in favor of human trafficking. Similarly, arguing for subtleties of intention or motivation in certain characters (Adelle, Topher) other than villainy or self-delusion carries similar risks. Saying you identify with one of these characters risks being understood to say that you are denying the dicey nature of what they are doing. More metatextually, saying that you like the show despite/because of how murky it makes the process of identifying with a character risks being misunderstood to be saying "I don't care about character identification. I am interested only in cold, clinical, analysis of story and of the fi-sci theoretical issues of identity/etc. posited by the show."

To say this a different way, since the most common reasons stated for why there isn't much to invest in/identify with when the characters are all either morally compromised or somewhat blank slates, the attempt to state disagreement with this point of view can seem like you are either saying "identification is not important" or "nonsense! what could be more fun than identifing with horrible people and empty shells?" I have been, since fairly early in the show, heavily emotionally invested in Adelle, Claire, Ballard, even Topher, as well as the dolls. I have also been curious about the possibilities that these characters have some as yet unseen reasons why they are involved with the dollhouse that do not boil down to venality or denial.

I should reiterate that I'm not complaining of active witchhunts against these views, but of the sense that there seems to be a constant risk of being misperceived in these ways that can color the discussion. Of course, there is also a big risk that those who do not like a given character, do not find themselves connecting with the show, or point blank do not like the show, and it is one that Dana alludes to: being accused of either not comprehending the godlike brilliance that is Joss or of cruelly helping to sink a fragile show that needs our help. And I should reiterate that the riskOutside of that, however, I think a bigger minefield in most threads has been the one I discussed above.
Wire S3 is actually about "juking the stats." As I remember it a number of crimes were down, not just murder. Crime may be down but only because laws are not enforced. And it didn't stop Omar from putting Stringer down. Take a look at the shots of Johnny's body and tell me there isn't a cost to Bunny's folly.

O.K., "The Wire" is mostly OT here, so this is my last on this topic. But if you think that that was the message of S3, you need to rewatch. It is made abundantly clear (over and over) in S3 that real crime levels are way down as a result of the Hamsterdam experiment. This is not at all about "juking the stats" (in fact, it is precisely offered as a contrast to the usual way stats get juked--everyone assumes that the drops must be as a result of fakery, because nobody's ever seen results like that before).

But don't just take my word for it. Ask David Simon (co-creator of The Wire):

Oh, I would decriminalize drugs in a heartbeat. I would put all the interdiction money, all the incarceration money, all the enforcement money, all of the pretrial, all the prep, all of that cash, I would hurl it, as fast as I could, into drug treatment and job training and jobs programs. I would rather turn these neighborhoods inward with jobs programs. Even if it was the equivalent of the urban CCC, if it was New Deal-type logic, it would be doing less damage than creating a war syndrome, where we're basically treating our underclass. The drug war's war on the underclass now. That's all it is. It has no other meaning.
I'm assuming my post about the curtailing of the elitism debate got ignored? Cause next time I will just delete posts.

To me there is a very palpable difference between a debate about types of enjoyment (intellectual/visceral) and a debate about "elites." It rather begs the question to assume that "intellectuals" are "elite," doesn't it?
Since you choose to ignore what I said, your posting rights have been curtailed for the time being.
There has to be something about a show right from the get go that appeals
Ruadh | May 05, 21:39 CET


To me, this is like saying "there has to be something in the first two pages of a novel that appeals, otherwise I wont bother reading it". In which case I would not have read 99% of the great books I've read. And my mind would be a much less open, diverse and interesting place.
Not quite. Two pages of a novel takes a couple minutes. Giving a TV show a chance usually means a few episodes - a few hours. Plus, if it's a new show, waiting a week in between. I think it's not totally unreasonable to not want to invest that much time into something you're not convinced will be worth it.
I'm assuming my post about the curtailing of the elitism debate got ignored? Cause next time I will just delete posts.

Simon | May 06, 18:18 CET


So sorry, Simon. Please see the beginning of my comment, "I haven't yet read most of this thread".
Since you choose to ignore what I said, your posting rights have been curtailed for the time being.

Simon | May 06, 18:28 CET


OK, now I've read the rest of the thread and I'm unclear about who you're referring to. If it's me, I do hope you've read my previous post about "not yet having read the rest of the thread", Because I posted before seeing the warning.
Clarification please? (Or, I guess I'll find out, if my post doesn't get posted. ;)
I'm going to throw out another thesis about why Dollhouse is not more successful, and I'll try to avoid any hints of elitism, but I'm not sure I can.

Dollhouse is not more successful because it is not primarily a fun show to watch.

It's actually a show that is uncomfortable to watch.

This may see related to the intellectual/elite issue in that it seems to imply "well, you may not find it fun, but I do, on a higher/more intellectual level." But that's not really what I'm trying to say.

Watching Dollhouse makes you squirm. The characters do nasty things. The setting is creepy. The world it portrays is bleak and hopeless. People get hurt and (probably) die. Etc. Etc.

Now, this is true of lots of shows, but many of them throw us a life preserver in this sea of squirminess. We get upright characters to identify with (as extensively discussed above), or a familiar/procedural narrative that wraps things up and restores the moral order by the end, or funny jokes, or tricky intellectual puzzles, or SOMETHING.

We don't get that Dollhouse, and it's a lot to ask of an audience to deal with such a bleak and critical vision on Friday night.
Not quite. Two pages of a novel takes a couple minutes. Giving a TV show a chance usually means a few episodes - a few hours.

Rachelkachel | May 06, 18:55 CET


I think we may be attaching different meanings to Rudah's use of "right from the get go", which I interpreted to mean something more along the lines of watching only one episode. Which IMO would be a lamentable comment on attention span, assuming the show in question isn't so flat-out awful (or so totally counter to your personal tastes) that you knew immediately that you weren't willing to invest any time at all.
As a rule there has to be something to make me want to watch anything to begin with. I have neither the time or inclination to watch every new show that comes along so even completing the first part of the deal - tuning in at all - requires some hook. The desire to keep watching after a single episode requires I at least find the programme has potential.
Dollhouse is not more successful because it is not primarily a fun show to watch.

It's actually a show that is uncomfortable to watch.
Septimus | May 06, 19:34 CET


OK, I still think this is subjective. Because to me, Dollhouse is very much "fun".
It's fun for me because it's intellectually challenging, because it's really unique, because the overall production values - from writing to directing to acting to the general "look" of the show - are uniformally excellent, IMO.
Because the dialog is thought provoking, sometimes shocking, sometimes really funny (and it has all kinds of cool referential stuff for hard-core Scifi fans). ;)

The uncomfortable stuff doesn't make it "not fun", for me, it's part of the "thought provoking". It's fun for me because it's a courageous experiment, or at least, that's how I perceive it. It doesn't bother me that it's hard to pin down any one character to "root for", or relate to. That isn't a necessary element in this particular show, for me. I relate to the ideas that are being explored.
I find the characters fascinating, and for me, fascinating characters are more fun than characters who are always or most of the time "likable"

I'm fascinated by the fact that I find myself feeling sympathetic to certain characters that I "shouldn't" feel sympathetic toward, at certain times. Which IMO, speaks to really great writing, which I definitely find to be fun.

But I may be just making your case for why Dollhouse is not more successful than it is, because I'm aware that my idea of fun in entertainment, isn't exactly the majority norm.
Shey, I agree with almost everything you said. I *do* like watching DH for all of those qualities
Which I think is an important point, shey. I think the goal here is not to continually position each response as if what we are talking about is just us- though to be sure I did that above, though was clear that was what I was doing- but in understanding that when we say, for example, that the show is not fun, we are not saying that to any given person it is not fun, but that in general our perception is that other people may not be finding it much fun. To that extent, I think the comment by septimus is true; the show is not generally "fun" as fun is seen by most TV viewers- in my opinion. It is not fun for many reasons- and this does not mean it cannot be enjoyable. I love the little movie Ponette, which in no way is fun, but is a superb and moving and enjoyable movie.

In my life, if a book does not grab me within the first few pages, I give up; there are many books to read and I do not have to read that one. I can read another and be happier. I don't see TV as being any different. No one is obligated to watch any show at all, and if they see one ep and don't like it, why go back? There are other shows to watch. What difference does it make to me which one I watch in the end? If DH does not engage me, I can put on a Magma DVD (that's the band, not some character from some video game), turn on the radio, read a book, hang with my wife, watch something else, and all of them make me content. It is insignificant that this show was developed by Joss- I respect his work, but that does not mean I without thought watch anything he does. I love Andrew Vacchs, but am not sure if I will read him in the future now that he has ended his Burke series of novels. CSI does not grab me any more because there is no Grissom and no Sara. Buffy after S6 was not interesting to me because there was no Tara. I gave up watching some of these things, and so what? There were other things to do, to watch, and these no longer offered me what I wanted. A point I always felt Joss sort of overlooked with his "I give them what they need, not what they want" routine. In fact, he does not know what I need, nor even what I want; all he can do is write a good show and hope people engage. Sometimes they do, and sometimes not. Past success is no guarantee of future success. Reputation is not enough. Amber Benson has not had a significant acting role (she has had many roles, none up the standard set in Buffy) since Buffy, but Amy Adams, a one-off in Buffy is now famous and getting Oscar nods. Way it goes.

Thi post is not as off topics as it may seem. My point is that it is hard to say why something succeeds and something does not. Buffy captured the zeitgeist, but that was 10 years ago and the zeigeist is different now. DH does not capture it- in fact, I think one of its problems is that it is too late. I think Americans want happy right now, they want hope, they have seen such bad things from their own government that to see that reflected in microcosm here is upsetting, so they tune out. Why see it on TV, when they got to see it in reality and know what it means in reality? This might be the right show at the wrong time. IMHO.

[ edited by Dana5140 on 2009-05-06 20:39 ]
Dana, I think your usage of the "zeitgeist" in the last paragraph is well-stated and addresses what may be a common difference of use by different people of that term and similar ones: Some people tend to use it to mean strictly the "spirit of the age" in a way that describes a combination of things like societal mood, fashion, economy, etc, but without implying progress. Others (possibly ol' Hegel himself) mean the same sorts of combos of things, but also see the zeitgeist as progressive. In my experience, the modern usage I see most often is the one that does not necessarily imply progress.

If the term is used in a way that implies progress, then being "late" to it would include things like holding onto certain bigoted attitudes about race or gender long after most of a society has moved on, and being "early" would imply making arguments that a society hasn't advanced enough yet to understand.

When I think of the "non-progressive" version of the term, the trivial example that comes to mind is always how things like hemlines rise or fall with economic confidence (heck, I heard something a few months ago about a study that thought it had found a relationship between the economy and what body types were favored by the cultural media -- more full figured seeming comforting in times of trouble or some such). The point being that unique events that are not necessarily emblematic of ongoing human progress (such as an economic shift or the election of a particularly good or bad or groundbreaking politicial figure) and that could be good OR bad, progressive OR regressive, are major contributers to the "zeitgeist."

I read you as talking about this second "non-progressive" sense. Worth emphasizing because, if Dollhouse succeeds or fails, I agree with you that a part of the reason may well be that it was out of sync with the "zeitgeist." But I would not take this to mean (nor, to be clear, do I interpret you to mean) that this mismatch implies a value judgement that the show is ahead or behind the times in its understanding of ethical or moral issues per se, which would be a totally different discussion.

Totally different issue: I, like Dana, again, long ago decided that life was too busy/short to feel obligated to read/see/listen to any particular book/film/etc. At the same time, a number of my favorite books are ones whose early chapters I only struggled through on the recommendation of a friend, a trusted reviewer, or, of course, the insistance of a class syllabus, so I do occassionally give in and watch something a bit longer than my initial impulse decrees out of the hope of having this experience again.

Oh, and if the person banished by Simon was SMFOS, whose comment immediately preceeded Simon's, I think his post may have been misunderstood, and I will miss his voice. Just sayin'
Yes, I meant the "non-progressive" sense of the word, simply reflecting "the times as they are." I would not claim that the show is suggesting a different set or morals and values than are present in our culture, simply that it is not acknowedging "the times as they are" right now- a country coming out of a leadership void, tarnished and its standing in the world diminished, and looking for hope among economic difficulties. Dh does nothing to offer that hope, and again, I think this is why we may see the show 24 fade away- it is one thing to see Jack Bauer torture someone in a fictional ticking time bomb scenario, quite another to know your government did it in reality when there was not such a scenario. We do not wish to be reminded of this.

And yes, the recommendation of a friend may give me reason to read beyond the first few pages. My problem is, most of my friends don't read the same kind of stuff I do. But when I read for pleasure (which may be a novel, play, poetry or some academic treatise), if I am not engaged I stop.

[ edited by Dana5140 on 2009-05-06 21:29 ]
Rowan, you misunderstand me. I'm a fan of DH, and I do trust that Joss would give some justice to the dolls eventually. I was addressing the question of why others aren't watching.

Perhaps you don't watch Law & Order, but it recognizes that time elapses from the commission of a crime to an arrest to a conviction. I agree that the time period is often compressed, but I think many viewers understand that this is done for the purpose of story-telling, and that the real criminal justice system can be slow.

In BtVS and Angel, bad guys were killed weekly. In Firefly, our heroes did win out occasionally. There was catharsis. DH is different. For those of us who think the Dollhouse is human trafficking, rape, slavery, etc., and for those of us who think those are bad things, then the show gives us only glimpses that Echo and the other dolls will break free some day. Again, I'm following it avidly, but I do understand why some of my friends find it too hard to watch.
I do watch L&O on occasion (usually when I'm at my in-laws, since my MIL likes it), and I realize that they indicate the time passage, but that still leaves the real-time viewer with a tie-up (satisfactory or not) at the end of the episode.

And so far, we've seen a client who hired a Doll to be his prey in a twisted hunt killed by that same Doll; a handler who was sexually abusing his charge set up to be killed by another Doll; and a mole inside the Dollhouse who put at least Echo (that we know of) in greater danger than she needed to be caught and punished (not by the legal authorities, but still...)

That's in the space of ten episodes (I haven't gotten to see Episode 11 yet.) So, it still seems to me as if people would prefer it if there was no continuing arc, rather a lot of standalone episodes that dealt with everything they don't like about the Dollhouse setup. But at the same time, I suspect they wouldn't be very happy with that if they got it, either; there needs to be something going on Outside to remind us that the Dollhouse is more than just a self-contained prison for these people.
"But seriously, re. Buffy .... how can you possibly say that a show that has created an international network of academic studies and an entire industry of books, devoted to unraveling it's metaphors, is "not intellectually challenging"?"

Shey, I'd appreciate it if you read my entire post before challenging me on it. Thanks. I'm happy to discuss a thing, but I've explained this like three times now.
Tab and Cretin, where are you guys getting slavery from? Other than Sierra, who has been forced to be in the Dollhouse? We know that Caroline is there by choice, we know that the black man who created the drug, is there by choice and that is all that Joss has given us, anything else is coming from your own imagination.

Is a kid who joins the military a slave?, he knows that he could be sent to his death or put in harms way, but it is his choice, should Ballard go and rescue them? well if he becomes obsessed with one of them it's okay right?

As far as Boyd Langston knows these young people are here by choice, with a big assed pay day coming to them in five years. He knows that when they are in their resting state they are like children and need to be protected and that is what he does. He doesn't judge them, he doesn't impose his will on them, like Ballard wants to do, he cares for them. That is a good man.

As for the antique specialist , he went in with Echo and the other two men and came out alone, running with the piece that she went in for, that is why he was shot, and not killed by the way. If your charge had been left in, who knows what, shape, would you have just let the man run by you?
shepherdsbook: Caroline is not there because of choice; her choice is limited because the authorities are after her for her role in the animal lab sabotage. She is being subtly coerced. In research, we call this an incentive and coercion, and these are frowned upon because they interfere with the free exercise of informed choice. And Boyd a good man? No, sir, he is not. He may appear the most ethical because he cares about Echo, but he does nothing to stop her use as a plaything or toy for anyone with the money to rent her out. He is in many ways her pimp. A bad man can love a woman with all his heart while he continues his bad ways and that love does not make him a good man. Boyd is not there. If he were, he would work to free Caroline and to bring the DH down. Instead, he is an enabler. I see little to admire and he seems good only in comparison to the greater evils we see others involved with.

Changing gears, I had an epiphany tonight. There is one show that I have become interested in, and I do not have a point of investment in character, or at least that I am aware of. This is the show Lie to Me, starring Tim Roth. The stories fascinate me, and the idea of looking for tells and body language is one that I find interesting. But as to the characters, I like them, but am not sure if I identify with any one as yet; if I do, it is probably with Dr. Lightman himself, or perhaps his head co-worker Gillian. But I just like the story. Interesting, to me.

And, it has happened, April in In Treatment grabbed me. Damn!
And, it has happened, April in In Treatment grabbed me. Damn!

Dana5140 | May 07, 03:25 CET

I'm hooked on this show again, I keep thinking it shouldn't be my cuppa tea, but I keep getting hooked. I find all the patients pretty much equally interesting this time, but for me this season, it's all about Paul.
Gabriel Byrne is an absolute marvel.

Back OT: smog, I finally read all the comments and I do see what you're saying. When I posted yesterday, I'd been up all night and I was skipping around.
Re: In Treatment. What a stellar group of actors. Hope Davis is so good as Mia I want to throttle her most of the time. Alison Pill just kills me as April. Her smile, returning as it did this week, just is wonderful. Poor Paul had no choice but to do what he did knoiwing full well how April would take it and how she would transfer to him in order to still keep from having to tell her parents what is happening. And her action once she understood Paul's loss was so radically different from Mia's. She was only concerned for Paul, while Mia made it all about her. The kid playing Oliver is doing a great job, and John Mahoney as Walter is so different from what people are used to from him. And at the top- Byrne and Wiest. Lord, they are an acting class each time you see them together.

Key themes: fathers, boundaries.

Folks, you have to watch, really.

Okay, got carried away here..... :-)
Dana5140...
>>shepherdsbook: Caroline is not there because of choice; her choice is limited because the authorities are after her for her role in the animal lab sabotage. She is being subtly coerced. In research, we call this an incentive and coercion, and these are frowned upon because they interfere with the free exercise of informed choice. And Boyd a good man? No, sir, he is not. He may appear the most ethical because he cares about Echo, but he does nothing to stop her use as a plaything or toy for anyone with the money to rent her out. He is in many ways her pimp. A bad man can love a woman with all his heart while he continues his bad ways and that love does not make him a good man. Boyd is not there. If he were, he would work to free Caroline and to bring the DH down. Instead, he is an enabler. I see little to admire and he seems good only in comparison to the greater evils we see others involved with.<<
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This is utter bollocks.

Caroline has a choice. She can stand up and admit to what happened at university, she can tell the truth, she can tell the authorities what happened and except the consequences, but she made a conscious decision to join DeWitt at the Dollhouse, so don't make excuses for her behavior, she chose to be at the Dollhouse.

We've seen two characters make that decision and because it offends the delicate sensibilities of some people, they are to be forced into a different decision?, I think not.

There is a similar situation that I see, and that is people against gay marriage. It has nothing to do with them and affects their lives in no manner at all, but because they don't like it, they have to do everything they can to stop it.

Why do these young adult people not have the right to spend five years of their lives in this manner if they choose to? If an 18 year old girl decides to work at the Bunny Ranch, which is a legal brothel outside of Las Vegas, should she be forcibly stopped?, She plays roles for those who can afford it, right?

Boyd Langston understands what you and others do not, you take care of people, even if you disagree with the choices that have brought them to your door. He is entrusted with Echos life and would, I think, give his to protect hers and has already refused to look the other way when he saw abuse going on. Yep he is the good guy here, not some obsessed maniac, who is willing to toss aside a young lady who may be in danger (Meli/Polly) to rescue his fantasy (Caroline).

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