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May 20 2009

IGN reviews Dollhouse Season One. Getting off to "a difficult start", the show got a 7 out of 10.

While most of the personal comments in the review don't resonate with me, I gotta admire the depth of it. Here is someone who (A) obviously watched the show with interest (B) obviously paid serious attention to every aspect of the show (C) obviously wanted and hoped to love it and (D) wasn't able to completely do so.

My own responses to the show are very different; I disagree fundamentally with at least half of this review. That said, it's well-written and thorough.

Here's hoping that at the end of Season 2, we can _all_ agree that the wait for Season 3 will be unbearable :)
Dollhouse still remained inconsistent for the entire season.

This may be one of my favorite quotes ever.
My own responses to the show are very different; I disagree fundamentally with at least half of this review. That said, it's well-written and thorough.

Well put Ghalev, my thoughts exactly.

I agree on his assessment about the problem with the first five eps (that they just were not very good tv, or as he puts it: did not were "exciting procedural television") and his final grading of the show is about the same as mine.
Also think he got a point and he certainly made me laugh, when he pointed out the Network propable didn't give notes to "make them [the first five eps.] uninteresting, with bits of bad dialogue and unmemorable guest villains"

But he also managed to say a lot I completely disagree with. I especially disagree with his harsh criticism of Fran Kranz and his (IMO) excellent performance of Topher Brink, his extremely negative description of "Echoes" (am I really the only one who is not onboard with the supposed timing problems of that ep?).

I also am on close to opposite terms with his critique of Briar Rose and Omega: I liked Briar Rose fine, especially Alan was absolutely amazing (and Paul using his break up with Mellie and finding the Dollhouse were pretty cool also), but, IMO the whole episode just felt a bit slow (maybe it did not help I had very high expectations, watching it after hearing universal praise for the ep, while I also knew Alan was Alpha in advance). Anyway, Omega, while rushed towards the end just blew my mind, IMO, it was easily the best episode of the season.
While the review was indeed well written, some parts of it really annoyed me. Especially the Topher bashing is getting annoying. The whole "he's unlikeable so a bad characters" is getting annoying. 'Cause seriously because I know he doesn't exist, I can actually like him too, although he's an arrogant bastard. He's a funny geeky arrogant glorious bastard. <3 Topher
extremely negative description of "Echoes" (am I really the only one who is not onboard with the supposed timing problems of that ep?).

Nope, me is with you. "Echoes" was perfectly placed and a very well done episode. But I guess a lot of people didn't see it that way.

And yeah, what Ghalev said.
My big problem with this review was the way he kept accusing the characters of being one-note or badly developed, which I don't agree with at all. For me, this could be Joss' best ensemble yet.
I liked "Echoes" too. May have been my favorite (besides "Omega").

And I think Fran Kranz is WONDERFUL, and Topher is a really cool character.

I don't know about this being the best ensemble Joss has done, I'm still a bit wary of the character development of the dolls, but it is a very talented cast. Everything has lots of promise, I just hope S2 comes through sooner rather than later.

And while I adore Eliza, and she's the reason (besides Joss) I watched the show, I seriously, seriously think Amy Acker needs more screen time to make the show work. That woman can freaking act, so let her. (Assuming she's in S2. Which she better be.)
Every time the standalone episodes get trashed, they always point out "Stage Fright" and Ignore the very good "Haunted"...
I used a completely different working, but reached the same answer. While it doesn't compare to, say, the first season of Veronica Mars (quite possibly my favourite season 1 of any TV show, with only one bum note out of 22 episodes) I still kept watching it and enjoying odd moments, if not whole episodes. I'm glad it's returned and will be looking forward to season 2.
Where I teach, a 7 out of 10, or 70%, is a failure and you get thrown out of the program. That's grad school for you.

I thought this was spot on. And unlike all the people who came here to defend Topher, I think the character is horrid- not the actor, mind you, the character. And I am going to bet you that you will see changes in that character next season. I am also going to bet you will see stories written to give you a reason to actually care about one of those characters. Just saying.
In my grad program we don't throw them out, Dana5140, we just give them a 'treatment'.
Did I mention the program is neurosciences?

[ edited by baxter on 2009-05-21 12:45 ]
Funny, baxter!

Only seen "Ghosts" so can't comment on rest of series as it has only just started here in the UK. Thought the review was interesting, especially as it seems to come from a fan. Was a little disappointed in "Ghosts" but then I have very high expectations, as I'm sure we all do. Comparison with "Buffy" is inevitable but even when it was well into its stride some stinkers still got made - "Go Fish" or "Beer Bad" anyone??
Yeah, noplaceIcanbe Haunted was very good indeed. My favourite episode after Omega, I think.

I think Topher is likeable as a character (though not as a person, a bit like Jayne or Mal on Firefly) and certainly very interesting the way he is. The character also seems to a favourite of Joss, so, though I'm sure we'll see some development in his character, I'm holding out hope we wont see any major changes just for the sake of making him different than he is now.

You're in the US, where they mainly work with lettered grade's, right Dana? (or is that just something in the movies/on tv?) Here a 7 is enough to get admitted to honour courses at my univerisity (which I think is quite on the low side myself).

[ edited by the Groosalugg on 2009-05-21 15:00 ]
They've already given us glimpses of likable Topher, you just don't like him anyway, Dana5140. He's just not the type of character you bond with. That's fine, some people do (also fine). Its not necessarily a deficiency in the show that you don't like him.
I personally really enjoy Topher scenes, and not just because Fran Kranz is ridiculously pretty.

Im kind of grudgy against IGN already because of the average ratings they gave the best episodes of Dollhouse whilst giving Heroes, pretty much the worst program I force myself to watch, nines for episodes that completely disregard continuity and are generally just bad.
I think this was a pretty accurate review. I've seen everything the Jossman has done and I will continue to follow him to the end of the earth.
I think it's odd that the entire review seemed particularly negative, yet he gave it a 7/10.
But of course, zeitgeist. I mention it only because (1) it was also brought up in the article, and (2) I usually mention in it... :-)

No, that's obvious that I don't like him. But the more critical question is, so what? The larger point is that he is a main driver for my inability to fully engage the program; he atkes me out of my "willing suspension of disbelief" back to the fact I am watching actors deliver lines written by writers. He stops the story cold for me- and it appears he does so for others as well. If enough people feel that way, that is when producers and writers take action. So while I know there is always an amen corner for any actor- some get love and some don't, for all actors- for me it is a show stopper.
I think it's odd that the entire review seemed particularly negative, yet he gave it a 7/10.
As a reviewer of books and manga, I can attest how hard it is to give something a grade. And, too, how hard it can be sometimes to write a review that fully illustrates why you've given something the grade you have. It's very easy to fixate on explaining what you see as the faults of something without really taking the time to say what's good, or perhaps spending fewer words on that aspect.
Even if you don't like Topher. Seriously, it's not like he is unrealistic, badly written or anything of the sort. He's a real person and he might be somewhat sympathetic too. If you let Topher ruin Dollhouse (or certain scenes for that matter) for you, I sincerely think you're overreacting.
I'm definitely in the Topher-loving camp. Paul aside, he's probably my favorite character. That said I totally disagree with the reviewer calling Paul stupid, among other things. I loved "Echoes" as well.
Video game sites are notorious for grade inflation in their reviews - perhaps that carried over into this review since it is from IGN.

Overall this review matches almost exactly my feelings on Dollhouse.
I'm also in the camp of Topher as one of favorite characters. I can understand why he might be unlikable for a lot of people, though.
He's a real person and he might be somewhat sympathetic too. If you let Topher ruin Dollhouse (or certain scenes for that matter) for you, I sincerely think you're overreacting.

well, no he he really isn't a real person. He's fictional, and his words come from writers. He may be written to be sympathetic, but he for sure ain't real. And as obvious as that may seem, I think the point has to be made. Sort of liek Betty Boop in "Who Killed Roger Rabbit" (or was it Jessica Rabbit?): "Im not sexy; I'm only drawn that way."

But you need to read what I sadi: Topher takes me out of the story, and reminds me I am not really there. For the same reason that I can't really watch any movie with Brad Pitt in it since I can never not think I am watching a star acting, rather than seeing a story unfold, I have the same problem here. The writing decisions become apparent, and the story stops. I lose involvement. But you know, even if I just hated him, I am not sure it is fair to say that I (or anyone) is over-reacting.
I like the show a lot, and I do think Ballard is extremely stupid. As in: great character, great acting; priorities out of whack, really overconfident, easily duped: not very smart. But with traces of brilliance in there. I think it's fully realistic, though.
If they had cast Brad Pitt as Topher though, it might have helped in the ratings

[ edited by shnoods on 2009-05-21 17:42 ]
I have loved Topher from the first episode. He takes the wacky/geekiness of Wash/Xander, the genius of Kaylee, and the bluntness of Jayne/Anya. He is totally ego-centric and a bit out of touch, but still a lot of fun to watch and he feels like a real person to me. I never understood how so many people hate him. Sure his morals are out-of-whack, but who in Dollhouse isn't morally challenged or ambiguous? The moral grey areas are probably my favorite thing about Dollhouse.
The review did not really match the grade given, but it hits on the first season well enough. How easy it is to find the super secret dollhouse and the number of people that go in and out also was a nice point.

Whedon could turn that into a nice episode, a wealthy client tries to hire a doll and fails, and I am sure the check in procedure for an average dollhouse employee is unusual.
I got the impression that Ballard was joining the Dollhouse staff not only to free November, but to learn more about the Dollhouse from the inside.

I mean, he'd been told by two dolls to learn about the Dollhouse's 'purpose' so that makes more sense.
Sometimes I see scenes in Dollhouse (for me personally its with Boyd or Wiped-Echo) that make me kinda go 'aghh thats kinda stupid and wish that didnt just happen because it made me feel like it was kinda stupid and I dont wanna think this show is stupid at times...' but at the end of the day I find a way to put it behind me because I want to get onboard with the show and I know that there are other things about the show which are and will be awesome. (I really hope that sentence made sense!). If I was to just go 'Nope sorry! Didnt buy that! I can see the strings!' and give up on the show I think I would be the one losing out. I think I am... cerebral(?) enough to compartmentalise it, file it away and move on. If it ruined the show for me just because at times I can be taken out of it, I would be dissapointed in myself. JM2C.
My impression with some of the Topher hate (not Dana, just some people in the fandom), is this:

Traditionally, the Joss-surrogate character (Xander, Wash) has been a fan favorite, possibly because he's usually most relatable to the fans themselves. For instance, Xander, as the only non-super-powered Scooby, was the most human of the bunch. And Wash, while a great pilot, was not a fighter or a leader of men, just a funny guy cracking wise on a spaceship.

Like Xander and Wash, Topher is given all the funny-nerd Joss dialogue (pop culture jokes, withering sarcasm, etc.), so fans want to like him, want him to be their gateway to the show. But Topher's also been given a bunch of really unlikeable traits: he's egotistical, he's a braggart, he's a coward, he treats his staff like crap, he's takes no responsibility for his actions, and he has seemingly zero qualms with what the Dollhouse does. I think this dichotomy took some people off guard. I mean, imagine if we saw Xander at work on a construction site talking about what a genius he was and bossing around his crew.

Also, unlike, say, Warren, another nerd with unlikeable qualities (to say the least), Topher's not painted as an out-and-out villain, which makes the audience unsure of HOW they're supposed to feel. Should we like this guy? Should he make our skin crawl? I mean, he's funny! But he's a dick! But he's lonely and sort of an innocent, too? Or maybe not? To me, that makes him interesting and complex (especially in the later episodes), like much of Dollhouse. But I could see how an argument could be made for "poorly thought out" or just bad. I don't, however, think Fran Kranz is doing anything wrong with the character he's been given, and I find it funny that he's being accused of overacting, because that was a problem I more often had with Nicholas Brendon (don't shoot me). There were a couple of scenes early on where I thought Kranz overdid it with the hand gestures (a pet peeve of mine... and why I find Anne Hathaway overrated), but since then, he's been great.
I like Topher in part because of his egotism. Joss basically gives us our favorite character from the other shows--our Wash and Xander--but then twists him into something kinda creepifying. It's interesting. He speaks like a typical Joss character, but then... he's an amoral person!

I like Topher. Especially after his birthday, and his encounter with Whiskey.

EDIT: Actually, just go ahead and read bonzob's post. Which, if you're reading this, you probably already have. So, yeah. Go you!

[ edited by Jobo on 2009-05-21 18:31 ]
Jobo, I think you wrote that as I was writing my post, and you said exactly what I wanted to say, only much more succinctly. Kudos.
So he's kind of more like the Spike? :-)
I liked Topher from the getgo... might be because I'm such a believer in science as truth... although I'm not as immoral as him. He also is the source for much of the shows humor, especially in the early episodes, so I like him for that as well. I also think the actor playing him is excellent.
I know we've focussed on which Joss characters and shows have had an impact on Dollhouse but one of these days we'll have to have a new discussion about what other tv shows have influenced the show.
I reminds me of La Femme Nikita at times. But lots of emotions other than fear and mistrust.
I know this has been probably been discussed at nauseam but maybe I'm not objective and maybe I have a crush on Eliza but does anybody out there think that Eliza get's a bad rap about her acting in DH? I think she is doing a great job amist all that is being asked of her. I've had no problem believing the different personalities besides the first episode. Am I alone in this thinking?
No. Eliza's performances have worked just fine for me.
I think 95% of ELiza's work has been first rate. Blank-state Echo though...
Eliza's acting has been a strength rather than a weakness of the show, in my opinion.
one of these days we'll have to have a new discussion about what other tv shows have influenced the show.

One of these days I will make a comparison between Dennis Potter's "Blackeyes" (a 4-part BBC miniseries in the 80s) and "Dollhouse". I promise, I will.

[ edited by wiesengrund on 2009-05-21 19:10 ]
I think 95% of ELiza's work has been first rate. Blank-state Echo though...

Really? I think some of Eliza's work has been really good, and some has been kind of uninspiring. But, blank-state Echo is one of her best. It perfectly captures the creepy-happiness of the whole Dollhouse situation, and I think she does it quite well. It's by far my favorite of the roles she plays. Is it just me? I thought it was odd that the article picked it as a negative, as well.
I don't know if it's just you, Septimus, but I don't like blank slate Echo either. She seems like she's overdoing the doe-eyed innocence thing. I agree with the review that Enver's doll state is the best. But in general, I had very few problems with Eliza's acting. I even bought her hostage negotiator.
I don't think the season was perfection, but I'm always a little baffled at what articles peg as the negatives. Almost without fail, articles say "the acting" and "can't identify with anyone", neither of which has been the source of problem for me.

I re-watched the first half of the season the other day, and for me the weakest element was the direction. There was some pretty half-assed and uninspired directing in too many episodes this season. A lot of "just set the camera down and let's move on" feel. (I actually realized that a lot of my issues with "Stage Fright" turned out to be issues with how scenes were shot and staged, and how actors were directed.)
Isn't a 6 or 7 pretty much the lowest score IGN gives anything? I kid, I kid. Sort of.

I dropped Dollhouse a few episodes from the season finale, and only got past the first few because of Joss. It started to pick up, but it still was basically a show about a bunch of people I don't care about doing things I can't particularly relate to.
I was rewatching the second and third episode recently, and I was much more impressed with Eliza's acting this time around. Even with those two characters, who aren't dissimilar to Faith, I think she did a great job with coming up with different mannerisms and distinguishing features. In particular in The Target, I thought she did a great job playing an energetic, athletic, sassy-ish woman who wasn't just Faith in a good mood. I think having half a season to separate her from Faith in my mind makes those early episodes much more impressive.

As for the varied reactions to her doll state, I can only figure that's because none of us know what a blank person would actually be like. So she doesn't fit how some of us imagine they would be, while for others she's exactly how they'd expect a wiped person. I'm fine with her doll-state--not blown away, but she certainly does the job. But I'm gonna give Enver the real props here as well, especially in Man on the Street.

ETA the English language.

[ edited by Jobo on 2009-05-21 19:26 ]
I think its clear when you compare the blank-states of Victor and Seirra to Echo. I feel totally convinced by Victor and Sierra, but totally not convinced with Echo. Victor especially, seems to capture this 'childlike' quality, something I think is a very good way of playing the blank-state, because it best demonstrates how the brain is designed to work when not weighed-down or effected by 'personality'. How a 5 year old interacts with you is far closer to what I would think a blank-state would be like, much more so that Echo who seems to be more of, I dont know the exact word, but 'stupid' is whats coming to mind. Like, an adult who doesnt know anything, rather than a child who is still 'a person with a brain' that is still going to 'think' and try to comprehend the world.
I just finished the review and like others here, agree with perhaps half of it. I've been viewing Dollhouse season 1 with an eye similar to Buffy season 1. BtVS found it's voice in season 2. Dollhouse deserves it's chance to speak as well. This is why I'll be loyal and present the evening season 2 ep 1 airs.
And while I adore Eliza, and she's the reason (besides Joss) I watched the show, I seriously, seriously think Amy Acker needs more screen time to make the show work. That woman can freaking act, so let her. (Assuming she's in S2. Which she better be.)

I agree so much. Amy acted circles around everyone else, consistently, from her first moment on-screen through the last episode. I understand if Happy Town has dibs, but it would be a great blow to the show to lose her.

I really liked this review. It summed up a lot of my misgivings about the show. I'm still a loyal Whedon fan, and will still tune in with great hope for Season Two, but you won't see my buying Season One on DVD because I didn't much enjoy it the first time around.

To be fair, that's true of the first season of quite a few great shows (except, as someone pointed out, Veronica Mars and probably Heroes as well). It does take a while for most shows to find their feet. I'm not just some Kids In the Hall, "back on the horse!" glutton for punishment. I really do have faith left in Whedon and want the show to do well, and I want to like it, but I also have to be honest with myself and admit that so far, it hasn't engaged me.
blank-slate Sierra bothers me. I dunno if it's the way DL's face is but she always looks dead in the eyes to me. Particularly when Boyd punched Hearn through the glass and she said *that wasn't quiet* I dunno...just grated on me.
I think it's true that the 3 blank slates we've seen the most of ARE different. Victor is the most child-like (good point, jobo). Echo tends to look a little lost or confused. Sierra looks the most "just blank."

Obviously, which one each of us prefers DOES depend on what we imagine the blank state should be like. SO, there's an element of subjectivity there.

The other issue, of course, is that Echo's blank state (at least) may not be supposed to be totally blank. So, she could be lost/confused because she IS sort of struggling to piece things together and/or acting more "blank" than she actually is.
For E.D., it may be her very distinctive voice. No matter how different she makes the accent or inflection or personality, you can still tell that it is her voice.

If you read Mr. Goldman more carefully, he says that E.D. is a good actor, but not one whose skill-set matched what he thought was needed for this particular part. John Malkovich is one of the best actors around, but he didn't seem particularly chameleonic (??) for "In the Line of Fire".
I think this review has some useful insights that I agree with, but my general overall reaction is still love for this show.

I didn't agree that it would've made more sense to make the Dollhouse staff into "likeable villains" (a la Spike or the Mayor). I think it's far more interesting that they aren't cast as "villains" at all.
So he's kind of more like the Spike? :-)

But I love Spike. :)

I also think this will be the first Joss show that I won't be getting on DVD. I'll keep watching, though.
I largely enjoy and find credible Eliza's acting on the show. I'm even okay with her tabula rasa portrayal, because she's supposed to be more aware than November, Sierra or Victor; they form the backdrop from which Echo's differences and awarenesses stand out, and if there's more going on in her expression - more guile, more emotion, or what have you - I take it as intentional by both the writers and Eliza herself.
I'm really thinking about the characters on the show - and everyone's chief complaint seems to be that you can't "love them or hate them" - which is what I love.

The characters are all gray, and I love it. Because it's more like real life. The corporation is an equal mix of evil and good... and so are we.
The decision to have characters with varying shades of gray is both the strength and the weakness of the show. I love that aspect of Dollhouse, but it is understandable why viewers who are used to easily identifiable good guys and bad guys have a hard time with this approach. There are certainly other shows with gray characters, but even on shows like Dexter the main character - while definitely gray - is clearly identifiable as a better person than the ones he kills.
Interesting comment about Dexter. For that show, he is clearly heroic, in the sense that he was born/created a "monster", and he tries to be more than that. (Or you see that his human qualities are emerging, that he didn't think he had.)

Maybe that's why Dollhouse feels a little distancing. I don't see that any of the characters in the show are struggling with their weaknesses, not nearly the way they do on Buffy/Angel/Firefly. We see Adelle using Victor as a crutch in "Spy", but it hasn't resonated in any other episode besides that one. (Same with Topher's loneliness in "Haunted".) I enjoyed the scene where Ballard had to shower after succumbing to his emotional weakness, and a lot of people here seemed to dislike it.
People disliked that scene ? I thought it was one of the strongest scenes in the episode. I stay out of the discussion threads because they are way too long to catch up when I finally get to watch an episode.

I am certain we will get more struggling in the future. This season had only 12 episodes for us to get to know the characters. And the first 5 dealt with the engagements for the most part. In TV terms I think you are right. The show is a bit distancing because the characters aren't clearly defined from the start. But, like Tabz mentioned, it feels more like real life. Or, as someone posted a while ago, like a novel. It is a new approach to how a TV show can be told and it will be interesting to find out if it will be successful in the end.
We see Adelle using Victor as a crutch in "Spy", but it hasn't resonated in any other episode besides that one. (Same with Topher's loneliness in "Haunted".)

Interesting that you mention these two together, because I think Adelle's use of Victor is meant to resonate with Topher's use of Sierra as a birthday friend. It's part of why she allows it; she identifies with it. So in that sense, her story in "Spy" does resonate later, in "Haunted".
The One True b!X: I should have stated clearly, I meant resonate with Adelle's character arc. For the example you gave, you are guessing. If "Spy" didn't air, the events in "Haunted" could have been exactly the same, and we would be talking about how Adelle has pity for Topher (which is still true). My first time watching, that was my reaction, instead of it being guilt/sympathy (??) over her actions with Victor. (You are probably right, but the storytelling is ambiguous.)

Michael: The show is a bit distancing because the characters aren't clearly defined from the start. But, like Tabz mentioned, it feels more like real life.

Yes, but... The show is presenting us with these specific characters, presumably because they are interesting or they will have interesting arc. If the concern was about real life, we would be seeing the janitors and cafeteria staff in the spotlight. Grey is bland and boring. Black and white, like a zebra, is much more visually striking.

One of the most popular Firefly episodes was "Out of Gas". Besides being very well made, it showed how the characters got to be where they are "now". We don't have that for Dollhouse, other than a fraction of Echo's story. When I think about Boyd, a potentially interesting character played by a good actor, I'm having trouble thinking of anything that we know about him that wasn't already presented in the pilot episode.

The most "realistic" fiction is where the reader feels there was a history before the story began. (I'm thinking Lord of the Rings, in particular.) The other three Mutant Enemy shows had history for both characters and environment, that got richer even in a single season. I'm having real difficulty thinking that Dollhouse has any history, other than the Alpha incident.

[ edited by OneTeV on 2009-05-22 22:59 ]
It is obviously a matter of personal taste, but I like the grayness. And even your zebra is only visually striking as long as it is both black and white. Black or white is usually far less interesting.

And I do feel there is a history. Obviously there is the ex-cop background of Boyd. What led him to work for the Dollhouse ? Was he once like Ballard ? We got glimpses into Sierra's and November's background. Clearly there is much more to explore, but I think we are off to a good start. It's not a Lord Of The Rings history yet, but that book was able to build on The Hobbit. And Middle Earth in The Hobbit only offered a fraction of the history that we got with LOTR.

Actually, I think I would like a story about the janitors of the Dollhouse. Someone has to clean up there and they can't just hire a random janitor.
I agree about AND > OR, as far as b&w goes. And I never thought about the security clearance needed to be a custodian of the Dollhouse.

Do you see my point about Boyd? There are lots of interesting questions about him, but no indications (based on the first season) that the show is planning to explore them. The only backstory we have about him is that he was an ex-cop, and that was given a dozen episodes ago. It would have been interesting if we saw, from his actions, hints of why he is now working at the Dollhouse. For example, Shepherd Book has history. "Firefly" never gave the viewer his backstory, but the viewer feels that Book has done great (and terrible) things long before he stepped on Serenity. That was what I meant for Boyd; his being a policeman explains his cop-skills (backstory), but nothing about how his experiences as a cop shaped who he is as a person (history). Did his moral code lead him to be a cop? Did being a cop lead to those morals? Or was he a crooked cop, who is trying to be a better person now? I think his behavior would be affected by the answer (even if the viewer is never explicitly told that answer), but there are no indications of that yet.
Yes, I definitely see your point about Boyd. We only got parts of his backstory in the first two episodes. In the future we need to find out more about him and about the other characters as well. But I think we got some nice glimpses into their past so far.

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