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"As a friend of mine once said, I'd like to test that theory."
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May 13 2009

Hey, Fox. Save Dollhouse. TV critic Todd VanDerWerff makes a case for why Fox should save Dollhouse.

what a really thoughtful article! I don't agree with everything, but many of these points about the shows strengths and weaknesses--and its potential--seem spot-on. And, I think, a sensitive way of explaining why Dushku might have more trouble playing a doll going than other cast members: any time she does anything assertive, we're conditioned to see Faith.
agree. very smart article. and also agree w/ bunnykitty that the author gets at a major reason for some of the heat Dushku takes as an actress.
Whedon has never had as strong an eye for casting as his closest TV look-alike, J.J. Abrams.

Uhh, strongly disagree.
Yeah, I disagree with the comment about Whedon's casting as well. For the most part he has cast great actors. More importantly he is able to get the best out of his actors.

Otherwise it was a very good article.
I think they are both very good at casting, but have both had some miscues, as everybody does. But I agree, a very thoughtful and well-written article.
I happen to think Marc Blucas was perfect as Riley. And the love Riley felt for Buffy was undeniable.
The casting thing indeed makes no sense. Joss has found some of the finest talents on TV.
That casting bit was such a piece of b... nonsense. The claim that there is a Marc Blucas for every Nathan Fillion is just, so completely off, IMO. The list of brilliant pieces of casting just goes on and on, just to name a few: Alan Tudyk, Jewel Staite, Summer Glau, Adam Baldwin, really just the whole frickin' Firefly cast, James (Marsters), Alyson Hannigan, Andy Hallett, Alexis Denisof, Amy Acker and that's not even counting all the brilliant smaller parts. And to name even a few "miscasts" is really a struggle. Marc Blucas is the first that comes to mind, but even in that case I think the problems lied more with character than with the casting. If I really try Sarah Thompson really is the only piece I can think of that didn't really work for me (wouldn't Morena in that part have been beautifull?). That's one against a huge list of actors Whedon made me watch out for and love.

ETA:

Oh, and while I agree Joss got some truly groundbreaking performances out of SMG, she always felt as a genuine movie star to me (on Buffy that is, which may also explain why I've generally been a bit dissapoint in her in her movies (the incredible high standard she set for herself, I mean) then again, I've really not seen enough of those to judge, only Scooby Doo and The Grudge, I think.)

[ edited by the Groosalugg on 2009-05-13 22:24 ]
Add me to the "Joss is great at casting" crowd.

But I totally agree with his point that we see "Faith" because we're used to seeing Faith. It would be interesting to find someone who has never seen Buffy or Angel and have them watch the series. Will they say Eliza "Has no range"? or that Dichen and Enver are way better?
I love Eliza and I think she gave some brilliant performances and I'm not in the "Eliza channels Faith all the time" camp, but I do think her performances on Dollhouse tended to be the strongest when she played more Faith-like characters. But maybe that's also because I'm used to her as Faith.
But I totally agree with his point that we see "Faith" because we're used to seeing Faith. It would be interesting to find someone who has never seen Buffy or Angel and have them watch the series. Will they say Eliza "Has no range"? or that Dichen and Enver are way better?


judging by the interesting discussion I had a few days ago with a career film/stage actor specifically about Eliza's performance in Dollhouse? The former, I'm afraid.
I think the problems lied more with character than with the casting

'Zactly. I'm no fan of Riley, but I can't imagine how that role could have been significantly improved by a different actor. Same with Tara, IMO. Amber Benson seems wonderful and engaging whenever I see clips of her, but I never loved the character.

I can easily come up with examples of poor actors in some of my favoritest TV series of all time (eg, Babylon 5), but in the Whedonverse? Hannigan has some rough moments in the first few seasons, but that's about it. And I instantly despised every character played by Jonathan Woodward, but I think that's intentional. Almost everything else is nothing short of fantastic.

[ edited by nasarius on 2009-05-13 22:40 ]
Seems that's one of the few things we agree on when it comes to Whedon casting though ;). No, wait I see you also find most of it fantastic! But I do love Tara and Amber (should really have included her in my list), really liked Woodwards characters (especially Holden Webster) and Hannigan's (IMO) briliant performance of Willow in the first seasons of Buffy is one the things I love most about the show.
Joss has a gift for finding talented actors and grouping them in an ensemble where most everyone soars at the same height. Being able to cast virtual no-names like Nicky and Charisma alongside veterans such as SMG and ASH--and having those actors deliver really impresses me about the staying power of his characters.

With Abrams work, I cared relatively equally for all the characters on Lost and Alias but the big moments between two people felt much more scripted and less catered to those individuals, both the character and the actor. Maybe that's just me.

Regardless, the article is ace.
"Give that man an Emmy already. Possibly five." Amen and Hallelujah!
Yeah, amen to that. But that was in the Fringe vs. Dollhouse article, not this one, right?
I would have to say that much of Joss' brilliance comes from his uncanny ability to create great characters and then cast actors who 'fit' them perfectly. With that said, judging by the few instances that I know of, he is less successful at creating characters meant to be played by specific actors.
Could be a nice insight brinderwalt. I'm really curious what other instances of Joss writing a character with a specific actor in mind are you thinking of. I can't really think of any myself.

It's kinda funny that this theory seems pretty close to an exact opposite to the original statement in the article (that Joss isn't that good at casting, but does get the most out of the people he works with). I'm not sure it is/has to be that, but it certainly gives that impression.
It's weird how even fans of the show acknowledge that Dollhouse is frustrating; I love it, but it's not perfect by any means. And that this creative wrinkliness is one of the reasons why I want it back so much: there's so much story potential that it's killing me to think of it wasted.

I really liked this article for explicating many of the things I feel: that the show is awesome and awesomely strange; that the concept is one hard nut; that it's ultimately worth a whole darn lot and should come back next season; that Eliza's not perfect but I still think she'll be game for whatever they throw at her. Once Joss captures the voice of Echo -- once he gets her core and starts writing her out of pure instinct (which I believe is possible -- we've seen flashes of great Echo bits in "A Spy in the House of Love"), I know that ED will shine.
I'm really curious what other instances of Joss writing a character with a specific actor in mind are you thinking of. I can't really think of any myself.

Hamilton was specifically written for Adam, right?
I remember hearing somewhere (may have been one of the Firefly/Serenity commentaries) that the character of Malcolm Reynolds was originally conceived to be played by David Boreanaz (imagine what that would have been like), but that he was, well, otherwise occupied so they had to look for someone else. Besides that and Eliza in Dollhouse I'm not aware of any other cases, granted, I've never thought to look before.

Update: I guess Sigourney Weaver in Alien: Resurrection (not known as one of his greatest works) would count as well.

[ edited by brinderwalt on 2009-05-14 00:17 ]
"That so many of the fans are bemoaning the lack of snap-crackle-pop dialogue suggests that they’re unwilling to follow Whedon on his artistic evolution, and in that case, I say he doesn’t need ‘em."

Brilliant!

"Whedon’s trying something vastly different and, potentially, vastly more interesting than anything he’s ever done before with this show, and he deserves another season to figure it all out."

Exactly!
"Whedon's trying something vastly different and, potentially, vastly more interesting than anything he's ever done before with this show, and he deserves another season to figure it all out."

Exactly!


Remember: The key word in all that is 'potentially'.
Which is a hell of a lot better than no potential. Why so sad, brinderwalt?

[ edited by TamaraC on 2009-05-14 00:36 ]
I'm not sad, I'm just an avid member of the Diogenes fan club; I find mirth in my own cynacism.
This guy is obviously wrong about casting. Even if you
accept MB as mistake (which I do not) the sheer magnitude
of Joss's casting triumphs dwarf's anyone else in recent
memory.

Riley imo was NOT supposed to be the ONE. I really think
he was cast and written with that in mind and the OP
is ignoring that.
It would be interesting to find someone who has never seen Buffy or Angel and have them watch the series. Will they say Eliza "Has no range"? or that Dichen and Enver are way better?


I got on board with Firefly on DVD. I have seen just a few Buffy episodes and have no previous recollection of Eliza Dushku to compare with. On the whole, I find her performances believable and sometimes compelling.

Enver seems to have more range, but he gets less screen time and fewer characters. That would give him more time to come up with different stuff, I would think. Eliza's on every week and often is called upon to be several different people in a single episode, so it's not surprising if she sometimes repeats herself a little.
Agreed. Eliza definitely has to play more characters and appear in more scenes than anyone else. Not only that, the actors receive an episode script only a couple of days before shooting starts, according to Enver. Just memorizing her lines would take a day or so. It's impressive that she does as well as she does under the circumstances. I think she's getting better at it though. She's still erratic, but most of my favorite performances by her have been in the last half of the season.
Caroline feels to me like a very different character than Faith, and as Caroline I find Dushku compelling. I also think she's good as the un-imprinted Echo. I haven't felt that way about the other parts she's played, which have felt more like Eliza-with-glasses or Eliza-with-singing or Eliza-with-crossbow. To be honest, I don't mind that much because Eliza is simply awesome, and the strength and determination and "I am who I am" attitude is so cool to watch. But I don't think I'd be disappointed if Caroline left/escaped and became Dollhouse's nemesis, and the Doll stories were carried by Dichen, Enver, and please god, Amy. (Actually based on Fred, Illyria and Doc Saunders, Amy is the actor I would most have loved to see take on a central Doll role. She just turns into a different person on a dime.)

[ edited by sojourner on 2009-05-14 02:18 ]
I wanted to say something about Riley too, but trying to avoid my usual mega-posts. I think Marc Blucas was perfect as Riley, for where I thought they were going to take the character. In the early days, they played a little with the idea that Riley, while he loved and adored Buffy, found it difficult to accept being in a relationship with someone who was stronger and a more effective fighter, with differing views to his on how to fight the good fight. And that while Buffy loved Riley, she was never going to tone down either her fighting or her opinions. I really wanted them to explore that tension more, as it felt very "real" to me. The show provided great role models of men who are comfortable around strong powerful women (Xander!) but in real life, lots of guys, even really nice guys, aren't, and it felt like Buffy would have to deal with that at some point. But then it felt like it just fell into "well he's the love interest, so he has to be completely wonderful" and the whole plot fell away. I would be interested to know if others saw it that way, or whether it was just me.
To be honest, I don't mind that much because Eliza is simply awesome, and the strength and determination and "I am who I am" attitude is so cool to watch. But I don't think I'd be disappointed if Caroline left/escaped and because Dollhouse's nemesis, and the Doll stories were carried by Dichen, Enver, and please god, Amy.

Actually, that doesn't sound at all bad. It would remove many of the nonsense 'no one to root for claims' but wouldn't remove the heart of the show because we'd have other dolls for those stories. And as an added bonus we'd get rid of the problem of a weak central performance by having Eliza play a part she can play much better (Caroline)

ETA: though it does remove the possibility of a cool plot line I've been thinking about. Caroline's wedge is completely destroyed. The only way she can become a real person is as Echo. Wouldn't that be sweet?

[ edited by Let Down on 2009-05-14 02:11 ]
Agreed with everyone's assessment on the casting criticism in that I think Joss doesn't do much worse than others (like Abrams). Then again, there are a couple of actors - who I love - who don't have that much range, but are still perfect for their roles. Marc Blucas is one (I wouldn't say he was miscast at all), Charisma Carpenter is another. She kicked ass as Cordelia, but having to play evil didn't work out as well as it could've.

I do agree that Joss can direct the hell out of his actors. Just thinking about the heights he brought Amy and Alexis in 'A Hole in the World' still sends shivers down my spine (of course, I think Amy and Alexis are very impressive actors, with Alexis still being the most criminally underused actor ever to pop-up in one of Joss' shows) and the same can be said for SMG in a few episodes, like the writer points out.

All in all, I think Joss is a better than avarage caster. Just thinking about the 'discoveries' in his shows, would yield a very impressive list indeed, including lots of castmembers (just think of the mind-blowingly good cast of Firefly in which I'd say the already quite impressive Jewel and Morena would be the worst of the bunch, or people like ASH, James Marsters, Aly, Sarah, Amy, Alexis, etcetera) and a few very impressive gueststars (Christina Hendricks or Mark Sheppard for instance). And with the likes of Enver and Dichen and a few expertly casted better known actors (like Olivia Williams), he's hit gold again with Dollhouse, even regardless of the question wether Eliza is good or just holding her own as Echo.

I also think Joss is a very impressive actor's director and a top-of-the-line writer. Speaking Jossian dialogue, makes a lot of actors look good, which might be why some of them (but certainly not all) have been less impressive outside of Whedonia than inside (although, to be fair, one does have to have the timing and insight to make it work. There's a flow to the words that a truly miscast or bad actor probably couldn't get to work).

Finally, and on a completely seperate note, it's pretty funny that from this article filled with praise, we're now talking about the one negative point. But then again, I'm joining in the fun, so I'm not really one to speak ;).

ETA: not -> now (because otherwise I'd say the exact opposite of what I was trying to say, although brinderwalt seems to have grasped my intent nontheless ;))

[ edited by GVH on 2009-05-14 03:07 ]
Finally, and on a completely seperate note, it's pretty funny that from this article filled with praise, we're not talking about the one negative point. But then again, I'm joining in the fun, so I'm not really one to speak ;).


Hey, you go where the conversation takes you. :}
(Actually based on Fred, Illyria and Doc Saunders, Amy is the actor I would most have loved to see take on a central Doll role. She just turns into a different person on a dime.)

I wonder how much of this is due to the fact that Fred was very different to Amy herself? Different voice, mannerisms, etc, almost a caricature itself with the "Aw shucks" folksy manner. Faith however looks, walks, talks and acts like Eliza, with just a bit of psychotic killer thrown in.
Amy can switch Fred off in an instant. Eliza can't.

Had Amy starred as Doc Saunders for five years and then done Fred would we all be saying "That's just Saunders talking country"?

Mind you, I do think she's great. The switches between Fred and Illyria were fantastic and the fact that we never got to see her and Alexis do S6 is a crime.
I liked Omega more than Caroline. I think. I need to see more of Caroline actually. But come on... Omega/Echo/Omega was awesome!
I think comparing Marc Blucas and Nathan Fillion is pretty strange, considering how vastly different the roles of those two characters were. I think that Riley, and Marc Blucas, were both done well, and my instinct is that Whedon et al. always knew that Riley wasn't the long haul guy--that he was the nicest version of someone absolutely wrong for Buffy, period.

As for Dushku, I'm a little unconvinced, but have felt that she's fine. I don't know--I can't quite place actors very well.
Whedon finds wonderful talent.

Has there ever been better casting than Firefly/Serenity? And not just the principals.

If anything, he is too good at finding the not-so-well knowns. One of the hits against Serenity is that it did not have an immediately recognizable mainstream star to put on all the talk shows and poster boards.
Personally, I think the first 5 episodes were not very good, but since then every episode has been great... there was no unevenness in the back half of the season for me... although I think Joss said that none of the episodes of dollhouse were in their original order so this could add to the feeling that there was an unevenness to the story.

Although, if I were to complain about the back half of the season it would be because I feel like Ballard's story may have been tacked on to certain episodes after the fact, since often he only appears for one scene and doesn't factor at all in the main storyline... but now that he's gonna be working with the dollhouse this won't be a problem anymore

As for Joss's casting, I remember him saying that the character of Riley was basically meant to be a Jimmy Stewart type of character... I think if he actually had a young Jimmy Stewart playing the role everybody would have loved Riley (because Jimmy Stewart is just the most likeable actor of all time).

Personally I feel like Cordelia in Buffy was fine (because she got to play a straight up bitch), but she acted really badly in Angel, when she was forced to be more than just a bitch (I found some of her line reading really lame)... apart from that I'm pretty happy with Joss casting.

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