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September 07 2009

Dollhouse season 1 DVD out today in the UK. SFX and Den of Geek have "exclusive" clips from the DVD to mark the release. And there's an interesting review of the boxset at DVD Times.

That DVD Times-review? Awesome. Although I don't agree with most of it.

I never caught the Beckett-connection.
I don’t think the set is a particularly striking one...
Bwuh?
Interestingly, it's number 6 on the Amazon sales chart here.
Anyway, the DVD Times is a good read, agree with it or not. It definitely derails for me when it gets to the by-now-cliched "all Dushku's characterizations are the same" thing. I'll never quite be able to grok what people are seeing that enables them to say, with a straight face, lines like "[h]er blind cult member of True Believer is little different from her counsellor in Briar Rose, her hostage negotiator of Ghost indistinguishable from her hi-tech thief in Gray Hour".

[ edited by The One True b!X on 2009-09-07 08:20 ]
Yeah, the DVD Times article was pretty interesting though, like seemingly everyone else, I disagreed with most of it. His claim that Eliza played all those characters exactly the same is ludicrous and, I think, objectively wrong. I mean, he could fairly make the claim that she didn't play her parts particularly well but saying the characters were indistinguishable is pretty silly.

My biggest problem with the article is him universalizing his reactions to the show. 'Audiences think', 'audiences need' etc. I get that he and others think that it's a big problem for the show that there's a kind of black hole at the centre of the show. But for me it just isn't a problem. And I wouldn't write a review saying categorically that it isn't a problem for 'audiences'. Clearly mileage varies.

And to get nitpicky:

- That's the first I've heard of test audiences reacting negatively to 'Echo'. Did I miss something or is that a misunderstanding on the part of the author?

- BSG and The Sopranos were hardly ratings powerhouses and so can't really be used as evidence for showing that large audiences are happy watch dark, morally complex shows. In fact, didn't Dollhouse get more viewers than those shows? (I'm really not sure on that so I'm open to corrction)

- The double agent reveals were obvious? There were only two (if you include Mellie as a 'double agent). One was obvious (Mellie) but the other (Dominic) was a pretty huge shock to everybody.

- He said Enver was bland. I have no rational response to that just: HE SAID ENVER WAS BLAND!

Edited to put it in English

[ edited by Let Down on 2009-09-07 09:39 ]
- That's the first I've heard of test audiences reacting negatively to 'Echo'. Did I miss something or is that a misunderstanding on the part of the author?

Well, Joss did say back then when "Echo" was thrown out:

But I tend to come at things sideways, and there were a few clarity issues for some viewers.


I guess one can read this as an implied test screening, where people left kinda confused. (Of course, one can also read this as "clarity issues for some viewers who were network executives".)
The menu design is the poorest I've seen for quite a while, a single, almost randomly picked still of Echo, over which the options are presented.


Very true. The presentation is awful. It felt like I was watching a bargain basement DVD from ten years ago.
Yeah, the "Enver was bland" comment really made me doubt his opinion.
As did suggesting that Epitaph one was made because they thought the show was going to be cancelled. It was made before the first episode even aired! Granted they could have feared cancellation even at that point but it still seems unlikely, not to mention stupid to sabotage your own show before it even starts airing.
I think they may have put more in "Epitaph One" than they would have if they'd known for a fact that they were coming back, IIRC Joss has implied as much in interviews but the basic idea works whether cancelled or not.

And yep, Enver is bland, Eliza's characters are indistinguishable etc. - these are comments that make me wonder if I watched the same show as the reviewer. In general, I dunno if i'd necessarily call the DVD Times review interesting, it just seems like a fairly long-winded summary of every other negative review ("Eliza can't act", "The characters are hard to connect with", "The first five eps aren't very good" etc. etc.) with a few I haven't seen before (e.g. Caroline "blathers" - nicely spun wording - Valley Girl clichés in the video even though that's not how I remember it and we apparently see it every episode even though we don't). And I haven't listened to the commentaries yet (been saving them) but based on his previous commentaries i'd be surprised if Joss sounded pseudy except to the most keenly negative listener.

Are there any different extras then, people who have both ? It's pretty cheap so if there's anything worthwhile on there I might consider getting the R2 (D) too (the 'D' is for DVD BTW, not just because I couldn't resist ;).
I got mine on Saturday thanks to Amazon.co.uk shipping early, I think the only difference is that there's no trailers for other shows/movies on the R2 DVD.
and we apparently see it every episode even though we don't

I wondered whether the reviewer meant that we saw it repeatedly in the 'previously on' section. Though now I can't remember if we did

but based on his previous commentaries i'd be surprised if Joss sounded pseudy except to the most keenly negative listener.

That must have been in the part of the review I skipped. That's ridiculous - Joss is keenly attuned to any possibility of being pretentious. He follows pretty much every eloquent expression of a serious thought with a joke. Incidentally, one interesting comment I read about the progression in Joss Whedon's work was that he's increasingly less afraid of being pretentious (from Buffy's quippiness to Dollhouse's overt philosophizing)

Edited cos pretenCious isn't a word

[ edited by Let Down on 2009-09-07 12:57 ]
I do agree that Lachman shows a greater range than Dushku.
>>I do agree that Lachman shows a greater range than Dushku.

On that, I can also agree.
I think the characters Ms Lachman plays are more diverse (because, not being the hero, she's "allowed" to play bad characters or totally ineffectual characters whereas Echo/Eliza always has to be heroic and tough in some way since it's her story, her we're meant to be cheering for - that's something I hope and think may change BTW, now that we've had more time to get to like Echo). I also think that her style and acting quirks are less familiar to us - none of which is to knock Dichen Lachman BTW, I think she's done a superb job in every episode she's appeared in.

I wondered whether the reviewer meant that we saw it repeatedly in the 'previously on' section. Though now I can't remember if we did

Yeah in fairness neither can I (I don't think we did but I wouldn't swear to it). Pretty sure it doesn't appear in the actual body of every episode though.

Re: pretentiousness, yeah maybe. I think it could also be a function of his characters getting older and more prone to self-reflection/philosophical pondering (which makes it easier/more believable to be explicit about it). Could also be Joss has more faith in his own technical abilities as a writer so that he trusts himself to include overt philosophising without becoming didactic.

All that said though, is it really true ? Just about as concise and overt a statement of Joss' existentialist philosophy as you could imagine comes in season two of 'Angel' (in 'Reprise'/'Epiphany') so maybe he's done it every time the characters gave him a believable opportunity to do so ?


ETA: Except i've done my usual thing and ascribed to Joss what might well have been someone else (Tim Minear in this case). Bad me, bad.

[ edited by Saje on 2009-09-07 12:43 ]
Actually, in this case you're right to ascribe it to Joss. He confirms he wrote it on the Q & A on the Serenity DVD.

It's definitely true that Buffy and Angel have a fair bit of philosophizing. But I still think it's true that both shows (especially Buffy) are more likely than Dollhouse to undercut a serious thought with a joke

Could also be Joss has more faith in his own technical abilities as a writer so that he trusts himself to include overt philosophising without becoming didactic.

Yeah, I think that's pretty likely too
Interesting review on the DVD Times. I have never seen (even with rewatching) much difference between the characters Eliza plays except in a couple of cases. I don't think Joss is pushing her as much as he might. I just saw Emma Caulfield at a Con and she said that during the filming of The Body, Joss kept making her do that one speech over and over again. That they even went into meal penalty and he didn't relent. And the result was brillant.

Of course, I don't think there has been a character Eliza has played on Dollhouse yet, that calls for that depth.
Wow, to me Ellie Penn is totally different to the woman in 'The Target' (does she have a name ?) who's totally different to ultra-passive Beth in 'Echoes' who's noticeably different to Esther in 'True Believer' etc. Even the little blink-and-miss-'em return from engagement characters often strike me, in just a few lines, as different from both Eliza and many of the other characters she plays.

(though there are similarities between them. Ellie Penn shares some traits with the professional interrogator in 'Spy in the House of Love' and the kinda-sorta-psychologist in 'Briar Rose', maybe even the dominatrix. The woman in 'The Target' is similar in some ways to Jordan from 'Stage Fright' and neither of them are that far from Caroline and maybe even Eliza herself as far as we can know her. Passive Beth is a bit like Echo in some ways etc. But then take any 12+ entirely separate people in real life and I think they'd have traits in common)

Mileage varies, as usual ;).

Actually, in this case you're right to ascribe it to Joss. He confirms he wrote it on the Q & A on the Serenity DVD.

Like I said, clearly Joss' authorial voice, to even doubt it is banoonity. Ahem ;).
I agree that those characters Eliza plays are all very noticeably different. But I do wonder to what extent this is due to the writing and to what extent this is due to Eliza's acting. The ME writers are very good at writing dialogue, on the whole (with, surprisingly, some exceptions in early Dollhouse episodes) and the words, style-of-words and flow-of-words that characters use already form them to quite a big extent. With Eliza's characters I can't seem to escape the idea that I'm looking at slightly different intonations and superficial top-layers, laid over Eliza herself, whereas Enver usually has me convinced he's somebody completely new, forgetting the actor for the character or - when that doesn't happen - at least marveling at the high quality of the performance.

However, I'm hesistant to vocalize this difference as critique of Eliza's acting. It may very well be that I'm much more used to her as an actor, having seen her as Faith quite a few times and, because of this fandom, having viewed her work in a few other things as well, while I wasn't at all familiar with Enver's work before Dollhouse.

Still, though, I have to admit to seeing the basis for some of these criticisms - wether they're fair or not - although the way in which they often get expressed ('all these characters are the same!') seem slightly over-the-top, silly and/or obviously untrue to me.
Maybe the reviewer just means that every character Eliza plays is really sexy and magnetic? Or not. I'm with those who think she's great - and I was ungenerously skeptical before the show aired. Also being unwowed by Enver just leaves me with a big HUH?

Did anyone read the customer review on the amazon.co.uk page by the antiquary titled "a flawed diamond"? Very funny :).
Yeah, that was pretty cool. And hey BTW, how're ... things ? ;)

I too was ungenerous in my scepticism or generous with my scepticism, depending on how you look at it - I was sceptical basically. But I think she proved me either too generous or too ungenerous, again, depending on how you look at it. Or don't look at it... Wait, what do I think again ? ... Um, Eliza = good.

It may very well be that I'm much more used to her as an actor, having seen her as Faith quite a few times and, because of this fandom, having viewed her work in a few other things as well, while I wasn't at all familiar with Enver's work before Dollhouse.

I think it at least leaves room for doubt anyway. There're plenty of great actors that don't totally submerge themselves in the part, who if you look at their work have a set of tools that over the years you become used to (especially if you've seen a fair bit of them behind the scenes too). Robert De Niro springs to mind as one example.
Hmm, I was undecided about sc/keptical with a c or a k. I see you went the other way. Is that one of those US / UK things? As a Canadian with British parents now living in the US my spelling is ... confused about its nationality. (And THINGS are different and sleepless and occasionally kind of crappy but mostly wonderful - thanks for asking - for one thing I am learning to type with one hand, so, there's a handy new skill).

I think Deniro is a great example of the kind of actress Eliza is, actually, not just in the sense of a familiar set of tools but in the way his (and her) particular charisma and manner are sort of unsubmergeable (not a word, I know, stop pestering me, spellcheck, I told you, our relationship is over!). They are both perfectly competent in varying roles but what makes them special and compelling is some hard-to-pin-down quality they have that doesn't change from role to role. Enver is more the Meryl-Streepish-disappears-into-a-role kind of actor, which often gets more respect, but Eliza has that "star" quality.

That said, while I'm eager to see more of Echo, I still (ungenerously? or generously?) think that Faith was the role of a lifetime for ED - perfect part meets perfect actress.
Re: Eliza's acting

I don't think I've seen a Caroline/Echo scene/episode in Dollhouse equivalent to my favorite of Dushku's best in the Buffyverse (the first one that always comes to mind is "Five by Five" in Angel Season 1, but in particular the torture of Wesley and the crumbling "I'm bad! I'm evil!" beating on Angel, begging him to kill her), but it's early yet. She's not so set in my mind as Faith that I'm unable to see her unobstructed as other characters (heck, she did an awesome job playing Buffy-in-Faith's-body) and I would've thought that Echo's role in "True Believer" would've convinced most doubters. I don't expect the show to blow its load often and early, although that does happen to a degree with a lot of shows that have the axe near their neck earlier and more often than stronger-out-of-the-gate projects (both Firefly and Dollhouse had a couple or a few stellar episodes). 'Cause nowadays there isn't time to do Buffy Season 1, you need to make it Buffy Season 2-level audience gratification (both action and emotional attachment-wise).
(heck, she did an awesome job playing Buffy-in-Faith's-body)

That was actually one of the reasons I was sceptical before seeing her in 'Dollhouse', I wasn't as convinced by Eliza as Buffy as I was by SMG as Faith (there's a bit where Eliza does a "Buffy hair gesture" that was CLANG ! to me, much too mannered, too obviously played). I was wrong though, simple as that.

I see you went the other way. Is that one of those US / UK things?

In this case i'm not sure it is, not sure if either side of the Atlantic shows a particular bias (it's not like grey and gray for instance). Just looks more right to me with a 'c' (it does make less sense though, maybe it is the British spelling after all ;).

Glad everything's cool BTW, congrats (don't forget to swap hands every now and again in the interests of balance ;).

And yeah, I was actually going to mention the difference between 'actor' and 'star' but I didn't want to seem to be denigrating Eliza as an actor. It's true though, some actors are chameleons (like Meryl Streep or another example is Alfred Molina, a great British actor that I literally sometimes don't immediately recognise in his roles) and some have a presence that they not only can't hide but really shouldn't because it adds to the roles they play. George Clooney's another actor like that (he's arguably not in De Niro's league but it's the same idea) or John Wayne - you can play off their screen presence and get something special from them but you're still using that "star quality" (there's a decent little film called "Mr Brooks" which uses Kevin Costner's slightly bland all-Americanism to good effect. In it he plays a slightly bland all-American who's also a serial killer).
I'm surprised how lengthy that DVDTimes write up is and it's sort of an interesting balance of "this has a shot but kinda sucks." Some of the stuff singled out seems off the point to me though.

For one, he acknowledges the fact that Epitaph One was meant to serve as a series finale but I think it's interesting any show would lay out their overallplan so early on in the game. (Sort of like that Flash Forward show... but we'll see.) I thought there's just enough details they left ambiguous and frankly we have no idea what timeframe any of it happens in. It could all be within this coming season or it could have been spread out shortly across that decade...

As for the acting thing-- I think Dichen did a better job but that's in part since she got to play a broader range of generic archetypes. Dushku is better than I used to give her credit, but practically every single one of her characters had to show some degree of badassery which I sort of attribute to Dushku herself. That said, I think she did pretty well with the wary "my husband does porn!" housewife and dead woman investigating her own murder (even if it seems like that latter one ought have been English). And I'm joining the hordes protesting that Enver is amazing. Bland might describe some of his roles in a single episode, but that's since he seamlessly slides into some of the bit roles that we otherwise might not pay attention to on other shows. For the most part I think he's had the most dynamic range of accents which all sound more or less plausible to me. (And it would be sort of fascinating to see him and Reed Diamond have a Dominic-off.)

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