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November 06 2009

Why you should watch Dollhouse when it comes back in December. This blog entry from Fast Forward Weekly makes some points about the show I haven't seen elsewhere.

An interesting article, but I think that the argument would have been better made by contrasting the show to other television shows, rather than films. Thematically it is perhaps right to compare Dollhouse to something like Blade Runner, but in reality the two are functioning on different playing fields in terms of what is expected of them.
Serialised TV's greatest strength and weakness is the amount of time it takes to tell the story the writer wants to tell. This means referencing a particular TV show may alienate a reader. However, films take a few hours out of your life, so most people have seen (or are very familiar with) the classics like Blade Runner. I think that's why he referenced it. I guess he could have chosen BSG for the same reason, but I would guess a lot of BSG watchers would have been very familiar with Dollhouse anyway given Tahmoh's involvement.
He wasn't trying to say Dollhouse existed in the same playing field as Blade Runner. Instead, he was trying to say they have some very similar themes. So if you liked that aspect of Blade Runner, you'll probably like the main theme in Dollhouse.
Terrific read, and hopefully it's roped in a few more viewers (*is still irrationally hoping for a third season*). Although I wouldn't let him near any children.
I'll see that 'Heh' and raise ;-).

Quite a nice write up that presents enough substance to intrigue without being too spoilery. Maybe just slightly condescending to people watching e.g. CSI though - i'm fine with being clear and honest about what the show's about and even taking a stab at the sort of person it'll appeal to but i'm not so keen on implying that if you enjoy e.g. CSI you won't like it or worse, you're somehow lesser. That's just gonna turn people off and mars an otherwise decent article.

And of all the name typos i've seen I think 'Ecco' is among my favourites, makes me think of Eliza doing a dolphin impression ;).
Ecco? Like the comfortable shoes?
I was thinking more the dolphin. Which're also 'for life' (i.e. not just for Christmas) so not entirely unrelated.
It's kind of bad that he's gotten the day wrong for when dollhouse is on (he said it was on sunday), but apart from that I thought it was an interesting article... I might have to actually watch blade runner again (last time I tried I got real bored and sleepy)

[ edited by mortimer on 2009-11-06 15:58 ]
I could never get past the big blue whale. And those nasty stinging coral things. Grrrr.
Ahh, Ecco... Welcome To the Next Level.

I think I understand comparing Dollhouse to films. There are simply more apt content comparisons there. There may be more esoteric shows I'm not aware of that compare well, but it's hard to be sure that most people would get the reference.
Why should I watch Dollhouse when it comes back in December? Because it's damned good television, that's why.
I'm not sure I really agree with his comment that some of the writers "can't handle high concept sci-fi." The episode he singles out as being particularly bad, 'Stage Fright', was written by the same people that brought us 'Epitaph One' and 'Belonging'. I think we can all agree that they were able to handle the high concept sci-fi pretty well in those episodes.

Also, don't the TV shows he lists as being great examples of the renaissance of television only play to a niche audience? The viewing numbers for Dollhouse are probably not that dissimilar to shows like The Wire or The Sopranos, but he says that Dollhouse probably won't be remembered as those will be and is not one of the "great" shows, due to it only playing to a niche audience.

To be honest, I'm not really sure I can agree with the whole "renaissance" of television aspect he suggests. I would say the 90s were much more important, with shows like Twin Peaks, The X-Files, and, obviously, Buffy having a far bigger impact on the type of scripted television that is on offer now. I must admit to not having watched much of those shows he calls brilliant (I will catch up on these shows, but they are often shown at random times and random channels here in the UK,) but I imagine that they may well be the critics' darlings, but probably won't have a big impact on mainstream television.

Aside from that, any article encouraging people to watch Dollhouse can't be a bad thing.
Liked how they mentioned Amy & Fran's scene in Vows. Her acting was amazing and the whole scene really brought up the moral questions first raised in Epitaph One. Scenes like that are Whedon shows at their best.
"Stage Fright" sure wasn't great, but I think it had some useful things to say. Pity they couldn't have been said better, of course.

Thing is, these niche shows start to grow when on DVD. BtVS and Firefly are now probably known and loved by far, far more people than ever saw them on air, and I'm hazarding that The Wire's the same way. Certainly I watched it on DVD.
Agree with the "niche" comments, although an alternate word could be "cult".

Certainly, I wasn't old enough to see either "The Prisoner" or "The Avengers", and have only caught up via repeats and dvd's. And, what the hey, "The Prisoner" has just been remade.

I just hope and pray that we get enough viewers to tune in for the December run, or that Fox, decide to be magnificent again and that we get a third series. My suspicion is that then people will maybe want to invest in the show and follow it's growth.

Anyhoo, my point being that "Dollhouse" already is a cult, and I think it's uniquness will mean it sells years from now. I think it is unlikely to be forgotten. I believe part of the hard sell for the show is that it is questioning the values of the day, and for many questioning their own values is not an option. But, I think years from now it will still be selling, unlike some more populist stuff because it is so of it's time.
Hopefully more articles like this will be popping up closer to December.
The viewing numbers for Dollhouse are probably not that dissimilar to shows like The Wire or The Sopranos


The final episode of The Sopranos was seen in first run by twelve million people. And after Season One it never slipped below half that.

You're off by a factor of 5x to 10x here, I'm afraid.

As for The Wire, it did have a small audience - but an unusual one (rich whites, plenty of African-American viewers). Yes it was largely location shooting, but in Baltimore (cheaper than LA I should think). Enormous cast, but few stars. And - let's face it - The Wire was better than almost everything ever made for American TV. It brought the right kind of attention for HBO, which was building a premium-drama brand. Fox has no idea how to sell Dollhouse to anyone but Whedon fans; everyone else thinks it's sexy pulp, and the philistines in charge of Fox are short-term bottom-line types.

To be honest, I'm not really sure I can agree with the whole "renaissance" of television aspect he suggests. I would say the 90s were much more important, with shows like Twin Peaks, The X-Files, and, obviously, Buffy having a far bigger impact on the type of scripted television that is on offer now.


Twin Peaks had a baleful but enormous influence on American TV, mainly through shows like The X-Files (which also had a baleful influence, cf. expensive incoherent navel-gazing conspiracy-arc shit like Lost and Flashforward and Heroes and Galactica). Buffy's influence has been more subtle and more complex.

I'd say The Sopranos has had a big influence in terms of changing the TV audience's expectations about protagonists - a lot of people watched an immensely fat mouth-breathing bear of a Jersey Italian walk around in his bathrobe every week, and no amount of T'n'A lets you unsee that sight. Plus you wouldn't have shows like The Shield or 24 without the uncompromisingly violent HBO shows like The Sopranos paving the way, never mind the various Sopranos knockoffs.

One thing The Sopranos has done is change the American relation to the gangster story. Well, that's a topic for another day.

Three of the four or five best shows ever made in America - The Wire, The Sopranos, and Deadwood - aired on HBO at the same time in the first half of this decade. The Sopranos arrived in 1999, if memory serves, and Buffy didn't hit until 1997.

On the other hand, there are two 90's shows that have had arguably bigger influences than The X-Files: The Simpsons and Seinfeld, which sucked the air out of the single-camera sitcom (the former by stealing its good traits and leaving aside its form, the latter by apparently exhausting its narrative potential and incidentally showing off the snappiest straight sitcom ensemble since god knows when).

That said, the three great HBO dramas are the best American shows of their time. American TV is on the downslope of that Golden Age right now, I'd say, with Mad Men a Big Adult Drama in the mold of The Sopranos. In a few years we'll have another upsurge, but until some new moneymaking methods occur to the Hollywood suits, the era of big-budget prestige dramas is probably gonna hide out for a while. Or so I'm guessing.
I think my favorite part of the whole interview was:

"Who would ever give someone money to make this? I wonder. And then I think: Oh yeah, Jesus. Jesus would give Joss Whedon money to make Dollhouse, because Jesus has really good taste. And he loves us. And hates CSI."

That's a pretty solid, logical and infallible argument.
Interesting Waxbanks. I didn't realise that HBO ever had such large numbers and assumed that The Sopranos never played to so many viewers. Am I right in assuming that it is very much the exception?

Of course, I should have mentioned The Simpsons and Seinfeld as influential 90s shows (hey, just look at my name.) You could probably include a couple more sitcoms, such as Friends and Frasier, although I guess those are probably highly influenced by older sitcoms.

Also, I was in no way demeaning the quality of the shows he mentioned. I just found it strange that he said these shows will be remembered as great, whereas Dollhouse wouldn't due to its small niche audience. In comparing Dollhouse to those shows, I think there are many other reasons he could have picked that would demonstrate why it wouldn't be remembered as one of the great shows (as well as many reasons why it should be included in that list.)

I think your use of the term "Golden Age" would be far more accurate than his use of the term "Renaissance."
Interesting Waxbanks. I didn't realise that HBO ever had such large numbers and assumed that The Sopranos never played to so many viewers. Am I right in assuming that it is very much the exception?

I believe it's had the biggest HBO drama numbers by a nontrivial margin, yeah. Though I can't be bothered to check Wikipedia to confirm. :)

I personally don't think Dollhouse belongs on a list with the big HBO shows, though it's as ambitious as The Wire in its limited way. It's just not consistent, coherent, or immediate enough, though I do love it so.

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