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November 27 2009

Put away the Dollhouse. Andrew Ellard of Noise To Signal begins an analysis of what went wrong with Dollhouse. Part two is here as is part three. And before we complain, it is only the kind of analysis that could have been written by a fan.

I almost hate to say it, but: these are pretty solid articles in my mind. I'm not sure I agree with everything, but they hit upon some of the issues the show has hit. Also, I'd say a vast majority of the criticisms in the first two articles are actually addressed in season two - you just didn't get to see them (before the show got cancelled).

It's a really complicated, flawed, brilliant, and occasionally inspiring series in my mind. Blank slates don't sell. Strong, iconic characters sell. That's why everybody loves Jayne, and almost nobody loves Echo. As soon as Echo tells a joke or two and starts to step up, you've got a show.

I actually really ended up loving Dollhouse, and I'm excited to see the finale. There's something about the thing I can't quite put my finger on, but it's one of those shows where when it works, it actually means something.
"Man on the Street," "A Spy in the House of Love," and "Epitaph One" all felt like pretty big home runs to me. But I digress.
From what I remember, people seemed to like Echo more than they liked Caroline.
Also "Needs", "Belonging".
Some interesting points there. I don't agree with all of it- I think season one had some home runs- but I agree with the question of focus. I think if the show had been centered around Boyd- who I still see as the only character we can trust in Season One- it could have been fascinating. Especially now, as Boyd becomes head of security, and we'd start to wonder if he's been compromised.

I've loved season two so far, though. I'm looking forward to the final run.
Home runs in the first season? I didn't think so, but I do understand why some might feel that way. Spy in the House of Love was closest, I think, but even the vaunted Man on the Street was just okay, in my opinion.

I thought the articles have been spot-on when it comes to the failings of the show.
How are we defining "Home Run" here? Cause in the terms of the article, I'd say a home run episode it one which brings home all the little fist bumpy moments (putting men on base) that happened during the season.

So for Buffy s1, Angel brought home and paid off a lot of what had been set up but an episode like Witches, while a good episode didn't fundamentally alter the game.

Switching on Mellie in Man on the Street was great, finding out Mr. Dominic was a spy was unsurprising, Epitaph One didn't air, the reveals in Needs were set-ups, not changes and Belonging is a Home Run, but happened in Season 2.

None of those moments, aside from Sierra murdering in Season 2, comes close to the story changing power of "Holy crap, Angel's a vampire" or heck even "Oh, so Inara's in love with Mal"

Since Echo is the shows centerpiece, shouldn't we have gotten Caroline/Echo actually freeing something like a long time ago. So far that's the only man she's got on base and she's yet to hit that out of the park. And personally, all I've got for the actives so far is pity, which doesn't really lead to fist pumping but something more like a pat on the back and "good for you".

I think the article is right to suggest that had this been about Whiskey's self discovery, someone who actually has something to fight for, Topher developing a conscience, or Sierra's self-discovery, this would be a much better show. Those stories have been rewarding for viewers (like me) but you can't really sell people on the A story and that's a problem.
Dollhouse can really engage my mind. But my heart? Not so much.
One thing that has struck me for a while is Joss' own comment on the Angel Season 3 DVD set, on the commentary of a deleted scene from Waiting in the Wings. In what is a fantastic, largely straight-laced episode, one scene was cut. This scene featured Wesley and Fred ballet dancing (or to be more precise Fred dancing, Wesley stumbling), and is a very funny scene. It is also the scene Joss credits as his inspiration for the episode, as when he found out that Fred could dance he instantly wanted to do that scene.

Now here's the thing: he cut it. In the commentary he says that the episode wasn't working, and his oldest piece of advice which had never failed him was that if something didn't work, you take out the reason why you wrote it in the first place, and the rest will fit. Now, while I don't necessarily hold to that, I can't help but wonder if he should have applied that here. I love Eliza and I think she does a fantastic job, but I wonder how much better the show would have worked if Joss had cut Echo.

I know there's all sort of practical reasons why that wouldn't have happened, Eliza's contract with FOX plus the fact she's an exec producer for example, but it's just conjecture.
I can't say I loved season 1, it picked up at the end but I adored Epitaph One, I wish THAT had been the first ep. Second season has been much better but E1 is the only ep I've LOVED.
Actually Coleberg you're absolutely right - in the form season one wound up taking, Echo doesn't work as a lead character - what the show needed was to be an absolutely ensemble piece, with all seven characters taking equal roles, in the mould of Lost, Heroes, etc.

I also wish its scifi elements had stayed exclusive to the mind-altering technology. That was complicated enough to understand, they really didn't need confuse things even further with the eye-camera thing in episode five. Fortunately that was seemingly the only instance where that problem occurred, but it was really grating.

The high concept stuff just made the show too convoluted. With each case the entire show took on a new identity every week (how appropriate), whereas it got interesting when the focus became primarily on the purposes of the Dollhouse and the imprint technology. So it was hard for any momentum to get going while it was in that 'mode' and it made it hard to understand what the point of the show was (ironically, the first scene in the unaired first episode where Adelle explained the point of the Dollhouse in a beautifully concise and understandable way is presumably the bit that made the network balk on that version of the episode - they probably expected advertisers would interpret it as an advocation for prostitution).
I think some of the issues are legitimate. There are a lot of issues connecting with a new character every single week, even if you try to inject some sort of innate Caroline in all of her actions. Echo's story has been largely missing from the scene, though. We don't really know much about Caroline. Sure, she was an activist, kind of a brat, but what else? What happened after she escaped the hospital? And I think more pertinent to the article's concerns, how is Echo developing further? It's extremely hard to connect to her character. Maybe that's what Joss wanted, not to jump right into it and to watch her evolve slowly, but I think they viewers would have appreciated a bit more speed on the developing of Echo's personality and a posse for her with Victor and Sierra. I still don't understand why Fox had issues with the original pilot, as it did such a good job setting up the show in a much better way than Ghost did (and the subsequent 5 episodes). We finally got there midway through season 1, but we should have started there, honestly.

However, we're only 4 episodes in season 2 and we've already gotten the best episode of the series thus far (Belonging). Echo has been given a purpose and something to fight for in Vows (though I guess this has sort of fallen by the wayside during the past 3 episodes?). I already liking her more than Caroline and I can't wait to see where it goes.

Regardless, I think Dollhouse has been very impressive thus far. Obviously, it's nowhere close to perfect and has had its own bumps, but I think the writers have taken an extremely complicated tale and told it very well. Even if no more episodes were ever seen, I think it's a show that all the people involved would be immensely proud of. Thankfully, we have 9 more to go!
Wait, we still have nine episodes left, right?

No reason to be so glum and down. Don't make me start tossing turkey drumsticks here :)
It's fair enough saying that Angel S1 didn't have enough characters, but I'm not sure it's fair to criticise Firefly for having 9, when Buffy... say, season 4, off the top of my head, had: Buffy, Riley, Willow, Tara, Xander, Anya, Spike, Giles.

Of course I'm sure the point the article is trying to make is that for a FIRST season, Firefly had too many characters to sufficiently introduce all of them (including backstory), but I always felt that Firefly did an excellent job of allocating the right amount of time to each character as needed. Same with Buffy, and same with Dollhouse. The fact that we don't get MUCH Topher/Adelle/Boyd/Whiskey/Victor/Sierra/Ballard/Alpha/November makes their pivotal scenes all the more interesting, and makes it feel that our finding out about them isn't being intentionally crammed into a few episodes.
So the critique of number of characters is probably the only point of that article where I don't really see where author is coming from. (I know the cute tagline they use is that this is a show with no characters, but I think many of us are in agreement that the characters (Ballard aside, ugh) in Dollhouse have incredible depth and complexity. Echo (the developing personality of the active, not Caroline) included).

Sorry for the disjointedness of the post. It's half three in the morning and I've been reading about the Soviet Union all night. I'm cranky.
I don't agree with everything and I get the feeling I like the show more than him, but he does make some very salient points about the problems Dollhouse had and to some extent continues to have.
I disagreed with the author's comments on the pre-credits for the Firefly pilot. We aren't being shown the reason he dislikes the Alliance. We are shown a man who used to have immense faith and passion, and then shown years later in his crushed state. That makes it much more interesting when we see him take humiliation (from Badger, for example), when we know he is fully capable of fighting back.

I agree with a lot of the rest. Found an article where Tim Minear is discussing the leasson learned during the first season of Angel:
We have decided that the emotional action is with our people. You can have an interesting plot and an interesting client, but itís difficult to create sympathy for someone youíre introducing for one episode.

I also had problems with conflicting messages. The secretive Dollhouse has an active on stage with a popular singer (seen by thousands and potentially videotaped)? Since so much time was spent in the safe environment of the Dollhouse, I never got the sense of danger of being exposed. I guess I was hoping for something like the quiet menace of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy".

I wonder if it would have helped to have a "public" Dollhouse (with promises of no sex or anything with questionable morality), the private Dollhouse that we've seen (rich clients getting whatever they want), and the purloined letter Dollhouse (whatever Rossum was doing around the globe). That would have allowed Actives with their normal personality (before doing public cases) not realizing they were being used for the "special" cases.
While I've publicly admitted that I don't so much feel the love for "Dollhouse" like I do for "Buffy," "Angel" and "Firefly," I do have respect for "Dollhouse." They are putting some very significant issues on screen to be examined.

I have found "Dollhouse", for a Joss show, a peculiar situation where I can get into episodes but have trouble with the grand arc for the reasons already discussed: there's no one to hold on to as a way to get inside the story.

Joss's other other shows offered a range of characters with archetypal qualities and with whom viewers could identify: Buffy's hero's journey into adulthood, Willow's discovery of her power, Xander's coming to terms with being an average guy, Angel's search for redemption, Wesley's development of an internal moral structure, Mal's struggle to keep his freedom, River's rediscovery of a self taken from her by force, etc. But in "Dollhouse" we have a menu of more-or-less bad guys versus a continually morphing set of nonentities with whom to possibly identify. "Epitaph One" offered the lifeline of a small group of individuals defending their liberty and identities, but "Dollhouse" as a series otherwise lacks this route into the story. Echo just doesn't give us that, even though it appeared she was intended to do so.

In the other Joss shows we got to be participants; in this one, we are held at an emotional arm's length. So far, at least- with nine episodes to go there's no telling what might happen. We all know how Joss & Co. can spin things on a dime. It'll be interesting, for sure. And if nothing else, "Dollhouse" has provided an opportunity to discover some stunning actors (Enver, Dichen and Miracle among others).

One other point. I wonder how much, if any, of these aspects of the show are due to the "Firefly" experience. Joss (and others involved in the show) fell in love with it according to their own statements. When "Firefly" was cancelled it was clearly very painful for them, especially Joss, as his public comments have made clear. I wonder if he has perhaps been unable to let this show in to himself, to take that emotional risk, and if this has resulted in a show without the brilliant emotional resonance his other shows have had. Or maybe that's just my issue and I'm projecting, 'cuz "Firefly" certainly hurt me.
gossi stated:
"Blank slates don't sell. Strong, iconic characters sell. That's why everybody loves Jayne, and almost nobody loves Echo."

It's frustrating that they don't sell in this case, 'cause some of us don't always need "strong, iconic characters" to sell us on a show that is engaging and curious enough on its premise, strength of scripts, acting, score, and cinematography alone to keep us watching to see how it unfolds (and besides, Dollhouse has strong iconic characters in the supporting cast--some of whom in certain episodes have become the focal point/main characters more than Echo. I never felt like I was missing out for lack of a Jayne or Spike or Xander or whoever else you wanna pick out of the loveable casts of previous Whedon shows).

But majority rules and the same patience, time investment, and penchant for giving a chance to the writers/trying to understand what they might be trying to do can't be expected of every joe audience member, so, oh well. No bitterness, it's just the way it is, and it was nice to get another TV show with half a brain or more for a couple seasons and I've got tons of smart/fulfilling TV left to watch/rent after it finishes (and there's plenty to do aside from TV, plus I work Friday nights anyway). Hugely looking forward to the final 9 eps starting next week.

[ edited by Kris on 2009-11-27 05:39 ]
Dollhouse can really engage my mind. But my heart? Not so much.


BINGO
manreaction Not to be nit-picky but Riley, Tara, and Anya aren't main characters in s4, they're recurring characters, all of whom are more notable for who they are dating (and what they bring out of them) than for who they are. Riley never goes beyond that, Tara disappears when Willow isn't around and Anya doesn't get developed 'til Giles starts flying back and forth from England every other week.

Buffy, throughout it's run, kept around 5 main characters.
Yes, but you have to draw a line somewhere and that was "where".

For those of you keeping score, Willow was my character which I miss and adore.
I think there's only been one out of the four Joss shows where the active online fandom cared more about the lead character rather than the supporting cast. As for Dollhouse, I wonder if one of the main problems was that many of us rushed in expecting to get warm fuzzies and instant gratification. And that didn't happen. There is no white hat to root for. No plucky little girl, a monster seeking redemption or a captain trying to keep his family close to him. Dollhouse was evil to the core. Which I quite like from time to time. And that made Epitaph One all the more powerful, when we saw that the characters we despised were human after all.
yes, the "gray hats" are always much more interesting television. Which apparently doesn't make for a wide enough audience.
"Firefly' had too many characters? Egad. Which ones would the author cut? Large casts fail when you can't lock on to each member, find a way to care about their life, their backstory, their motivation. Firefly was to drama as Cheers was to comedy: This is how you do ensemble. I loved and cared for each and every cast member.

And I grow increasingly weary of the hoary "How do you care for a character who's wiped clean each week?" critique of Dollhouse. Many, if not most, of the episodes dispensed with that handily. The premise is sound. It's just not geared for mass consumption.
The article hit the nail on the head with nearly every single point. The only things I disagreed with were his summations of Firefly.
As for Dollhouse, I wonder if one of the main problems was that many of us rushed in expecting to get warm fuzzies and instant gratification. And that didn't happen.

Head of nail ? Meet hammer. That's 3 internets won in as many days. Which is a lot of internets.

The complaints in the article are legitimate (about 'Dollhouse' anyway, I don't agree with many of the comments about Joss' previous shows) in the sense that they're often true. But they're not legitimate in the sense that many of them are kind of the point of the show and in some cases what actually makes it brilliant IMO (the times it's brilliant anyway, which i'll admit isn't every week) - Echo develops gradually and has no clear desires for a while ? Well, yeah, she's a non-person that we get to watch turning into a person - to me an amazing journey to witness, to many apparently not so much because they need to like her straight away, need their warm fuzzies.

[ET tweak some tenses - show's still on and I fully expect it to be brilliant a few more times/ETA]

Well enough written, not much new though. Characters aren't likable, Echo isn't enough to get hold of etc. etc. Plus ca change ...

It's half three in the morning and I've been reading about the Soviet Union all night. I'm cranky.

You're cranky now ? Wait until you find out there is no Soviet Union anymore, boy will you feel daft for wasting your own time. I did the same thing with Newtonian physics, spent ages on it then someone mentioned Einstein and I was all like "You mean there's a newer version out now, ZOMG WTF ?!". Still kicking myself.

;-)

[ edited by Saje on 2009-11-27 10:34 ]
I disagree with nearly every statement in that article. I think the author's understanding of Buffy, Angel, and Firefly is at best limited and he seems to have missed much of the point of Dollhouse. While I didn't feel like Dollhouse was making a solid connection with me in the first few episodes, I felt that my attention was very much rewarded later on, and in a way that was surprising to me. The people behind this show seem to have deliberately resisted the formula that attracts droves of viewers and keeps them watching. In fact, they've often done precisely the opposite by delaying or denying the viewer the expected payoff and instead supplying a subtler, unexpected reward down the line. This is definitely not the way to make a hit TV show. And, man, I so appreciate that. It's refreshing to not feel like I'm being pandered to or manipulated or handed what some focus testers think will be satisfying to my demographic. This show has at times been dissatisfying to me and I had to devote some time to thinking about why and discussing it with other people who watch the show. This show has not been easy in any way and that is exactly what I've enjoyed most about it. The expectations I had when Dollhouse began have been defied and subverted, and I'm grateful for that experience, especially because I very much doubt that network television will ever again provide it.
What dorkenheimer said.

Dollhouse can really engage my mind. But my heart? Not so much.


This.

With a few exceptions: 'Belonging', that Whiskey/Topher conversation and Topher breaking down in Epitaph One. But that's pretty much it, I think. I did really enjoy all the stuff the show made you consider and think about, but it rarely managed to move me. But hey, there's still a few episodes which could potentially be very moving left :)
I think, the author is right in some points, although he should have watched the already released season 2 episodes before writing such an article (because he criticised some points that were "fixed" in s2).
Also I think that the Firefly Pilot was the best pilot you could hope for and probably even the best episode in the whole series.
I tend not to be swayed by Dollhouse criticisms of the form 'You can't form an emotional connection with anyone on such a show' - such charges come off as self-justifying abstractions and simply don't describe my experience of the show at all. I was hooked by several of the characters, e.g. the fake Mellie, precisely because the characters were designed (by Joss in one frame, then by Topher in the story-frame) to elicit sympathy and affection. The show did its trick.

And stuff like this -

Show me their minds in trouble, then weíll talk. How can we be happy for a girl getting her dream to sing, or a consultant facing her troubled history with kidnapping, when itís not a real dream, a real history?


- misses the metafictional point of the show entirely.

A simple test for Dollhouse criticism is to ask, 'Is this person bemoaning some uncomfortable structural element of the show, some basic part of the premise, specifically designed to make reflective viewers uncomfortable?' If the answer's YES, and the critic is specifically complaining that the show is 'fascinating, but rarely fun,' then I start to disengage.

This is still a sensitive essay. I've just kinda...heard much of this before.
What Coleberg said.
Agree with Waxbanks. I can't really disagree with any of the points the original article makes, but I find them to be essential questions and aspects of the show and not problems, as the author does. It will probably mean I could never love Dollhouse as much as I have Whedon's other shows, but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy the journey and be fascinated by the questions it continually raises. Also, I found that Man on the Street, Needs and Briar Rose were really fantastic episodes and stood up perfectly to Whedon's other shows. I don't know about fist pumping, but that really isn't this show. Those episodes thrilled me, surprised me and got my mind working.

I also disagree with the comments he makes about Firefly. I only watched it on DVD, but it didn't take me until Our Mrs. Reynolds to love the show. The pilot was by far the best pilot Joss has ever made and is probably the best pilot for any show I've seen. Also, the large cast was never a problem with the show. In fact, it was one of the things I loved about it. Not one of the Firefly crew was expendable (at least, not until Whedon saw fit to kill a couple off,) and I liked all of the characters in different ways.
The writer is right on. His analysis is sound, and well considered. And in the end, here is what matters- the show was canceled so whether or not you agree or not is actually moot, so to say. You liked it; not enough others did, and he suggests some reasons why.
I think there's only been one out of the four Joss shows where the active online fandom cared more about the lead character rather than the supporting cast.

Which one would that be, Simon?
... the show was canceled so whether or not you agree or not is actually moot, so to say. You liked it; not enough others did, and he suggests some reasons why.

This only makes sense if not enough people liking it can be considered a fault of the show. Commercially it's a fault but then no-one here is arguing that 'Dollhouse' is actually a rip-roaring commercial success (clearly it isn't).

FWIW I agree that these are some of the reasons more people didn't like it but I also think many of them are actually strengths and not weaknesses (or at the very least, deliberate and part of the aim of the show). Finding fault on that basis is like faulting a philosophy debate for being too philosophical - you might not like how philosophical it is but you still have to accept that's not a failing for a philosophy debate.
And in the end, here is what matters- the show was canceled so whether or not you agree or not is actually moot, so to say. You liked it; not enough others did, and he suggests some reasons why.


This suggests that Network TV offers a reasonably accurate 'method' to see how 'likeable' a television show is and I'd disagree with that Dana. I do agree that the author of this piece makes good point and points his finger at the reasons why Dollhouse is my least favorite Whedon show.

However, discussion on this is not moot because the show got canceled and/or got bad ratings. Creating success on network television is a complex problem and 'likeability' is not the only variable in the equation.

There is, for instance, advertising, with two main variables:
(1) Did the advertising bring in enough viewers?
(2) Did the advertising bring in the right viewers?

Then there's competition, i.e. what was the show up against (other television, movies, real-life appointments)?

And only after all the circumstances are accounted for (which is impossible to analyze), can one start to look at the influence of the show itself. And even then 'likeability' is still a pretty hard thing to pin down. There's also complexity, accessibility, mood, etcetera. The only number we can look at and assume reflects on the quality/likeability of the show, is the audience drop-off during episodes which was also quite high, I believe (at the very least hinting at the fact the show was hard to like more than just the ratings/cancellation). But even there, we're not sure why people tuned out, seeing as we didn't ask them. There's enough possible reasons to turn off a show apart from 'I didn't like it enough'. Heck, in the past, I even stopped watching Firefly during the original airing, retried it later on DVD and it ended up being one of my all-time favorite shows. So apart from the fact that turning off because one doesn't like it, isn't a 100% accurate predictor for likeability in general, it probably isn't even 100% accurate for that person.

So while I think it's fine to criticize the show (I do so more often than not) and point at reasons why one would think this show wasn't likeable, one can't simply point at ratings and/or the cancellation or even the more-accurate-than-the-others audience drop-off numbers and say: see, not enough people liked the show. There's no inherently obvious correlation which allows us to do so.
Simon-Hmmm. You know, I believe I agree with you.
I agree with some points, definetly, but as a whole greatly disagree with the article. And maybe it's because I wasn't a whedonite when I started Dollhouse (I had only seen Dr. Horrible, and didn't know what a Joss was when my girlfriend told me to start watching Season one one iTunes, and from there I got every single movie/show/comic he had ever done on amazon) but I never disliked Dollhouse, whereas I might have if I had started it expecting a Buffy, Angel or Firefly. I started it expecting a sci-fi show, and loved it the first episode. I loved it obsessivly at Man on the Street, obviously, but I never had a problem with it, and when it got great, I got obsessive.
He lost me with his dig at the Buffy movie script. I have read it and it's tight and surprising and balances that fine line between funny and suspensful in common with the series. Whatever is wrong with the movie, it isn't joss script. Just compare merrick's death between what was written and what was on screen.
DeezyG, I think you just hit upon one of the biggest issues Dollhouse has faced. Expectations. Expectations from the network, expectations from the international networks (who were slightly missold the show by 20th I suspect), expectations from Buffy fans, Angel fans, Firefly fans etc. I remember, whilst doing Dollverse, one of the most common questions from Joss fans was 'What show is it most like? Buffy, Angel or Firefly?'. My answer, upon seeing it, was none of the above. And the response was often 'Oh. But really, which one is it like?'. Then we had 'Is it funny?'. Then it aired, and we had 'It's not funny enough, I want more jokes'.

It's not those things. It was never going to be. It was never going to the next Lost-Hit-TV, either.

I have a deep love for how the show has turned out, and can't wait for it to get back on air. I can absolutely see many issues with it - but it doesn't mean I don't love the thing. The flaws in the premise which make it difficult to position are what makes it interesting.

I'm also going to go out on a limb and say some of the last batches of episodes are going to be Jossverse fan favourites for any show. There's some quality TV in there.

[ edited by gossi on 2009-11-27 20:27 ]
I've never actually outright said my opinion towards Dollhouse, ever - Now, I've always found it better than I expected it to be. Without a doubt this is because I read a lot of the criticisms and problems before watching the show (watched it on Sci-Fi UK) but what struck me, even on the first episode was how perfect it worked thematically. Adding to that, it was funnier than it needed to be and more interesting than it could have been. I wasn't overjoyed with the engagements but I thought it was decent to see some of the action, I'm always indifferent to these "case-of-the-week" in shows, so, again, I never saw anything that was drastically different [case-wise] to an episode of House. Although, seeing a engagement run smoothly might have been nice. I wanted to see why Echo was so popular. Anyway, as I said, the engagements didn't bother me because of how awesome the Dollhouse itself was: I took a liking to Topher instantly. I enjoyed Adelle. Boyd was intriguing and pretty much all the characters appealed to me in some Battlestar-esque way.

Anyway, even with Dollhouse's ups and downs, Dollhouse has often made me emotionally raw. I pretty much gasped after every "big" episode and not every show does that. Only Joss shows do, as a matter a fact (okay, an episode of The OC or something might have done it as well).
I think there are lots of valid criticisms in these articles. (I'm too woozy and off from a food coma to read everybody's comments, so I skimmed.)

"Man on the Street" is by far my favorite Dollhouse episode, and I will now do my best to try and explain why.

In each series, you get an episode or three that really are about the mission statement of the show. With Buffy, every episode of the first three seasons kind of speaks to that ("High School Is Hell," that is) but it's at its best in Season Two, I think. With Angel, you get it in To Shanshu and, I think, in Judgement. (Actually, Season Two is my fave for both Buffy & Angel, which makes me wonder how I'd feel about a season two of Firefly.)

"Man on the Street" was that for Dollhouse, I think. Where the point is (was? because it feels a bit lost to me now) that things are not always clear, and you can't just go rushing in thinking you're going to fix everything, and sometimes you have to face the fact that what was right in your head maybe isn't. This is all looking at it from a Paul-centric perspective. Which is odd, because I don't love him at all, but I feel like he was supposed to be our "in."

The conversation in the kitchen with Patton Oswald's character - that is what Dollhouse is about for me. We see it again with Adelle later - I always have had this sense that when she first signed up for this, she really thought she was doing a good thing, offering people a second chance and participating in valuable research.

So, I always find Dollhouse interesting, but when it's really exploring that gray area - and not uniformly declaring everyone a villain, but also not championing anyone as a hero - that's when it's at its best for me.
The [Firefly] pilot was by far the best pilot Joss has ever made and is probably the best pilot for any show I've seen.

I'm with Vandelay on this one, I think. The two-part pilot ('Serenity') is as tight a piece of work as Joss has ever done: meditative and action-packed, full of well-executed action/suspense sequences and gorgeous bits of talk. Way more sophisticated than 'Welcome to the Hellmouth' and a hell of a lot more tonally consistent than the Angel pilot. Good as those earlier scripts were, 'Serenity' had two big advantages over them: (1) the better part of a decade's TV experience behind it, and (2) a blank slate worldbuildingwise. And Malcolm Reynolds is as rich a character as S2 Buffy right off the bat.

But then I also think the unaired Dollhouse pilot is a fine piece of writing in its way - better than what aired in many ways, setting up a nastier, far more complex show. I understand why it didn't air, and the decision paid off (accidentally?) in some ways, but it frustrates me nonetheless. So I disagree with the essayist in question in this score.

Pilots are a hard thing, but Joss hit a homerun with 'Serenity.' It's good to recognize his achievement there. Even The Sopranos 1x01 is a bit of a mess - not quite tonally certain, nowhere near the richness of the show that followed. The first ep of The Wire was great, but not yet on par with later episodes; same with Deadwood (though that quality differential is smaller than with The Wire). Same with Life on Mars and even the awesome UK The Office, never mind the barely-watchable early eps of Seinfeld.

The first episode of The Singing Detective is perfect, but short-form series don't really count.

Anyhow - yeah, hands off 'Serenity' for god's sake.
"Six Feet Under" is a series that delivered one of its strongest episodes of its run with its pilot.

Simon wrote:
Firefly.


Thanks for clearing that up. Figured as much based on my own feelings, it almost had to be either that or the first 1/2 seasons of Angel I figured. Anyway, wonderfully ironic that it's the one show that clearly presents itself most as an ensemble-type show, isn't it.
A series doesn't always need to have a *likable* central character to succeed -- Tony Soprano was fascinating, but I'm not sure anybody was rooting for him much of the time. I'm not sure how in the form he was presented in he could possibly have survived on network television. "Dollhouse" doesn't have the Tony Soprano issue -- none of the characters are that dark on an ongoing basis (Adelle and Topher at least *think* they're doing the right thing), but the series has a unique premise and a somewhat unusual way of exploring that premise. "Unique" and "unusual" are qualities that networks don't necessarily like or want; more, they are qualities that not all viewers like or want. I'm not so sure the problem is at all with "Dollhouse" or its construction, but rather in the notion that this was ever mass-audience fare.
I stopped reading at dorkenheimer's comment, because he/she said pretty much exactly what I was planning to say.

Add Simon's comment about not getting the warm fuzzies and instant gratification that so many seemed to expect, and there isn't really much more to say.

Except that this article was IMO an exercise in excessively wordy non-comprehension of not only Dollhouse but also Firefly and a good deal of BtS and AtS as well.
Easily one of the worst analyses of the show that I've read.

One more thing, because it drives me crazy that I've never seen this mentioned. Surely I'm not the only one to whom it's occurred that we were meant to like the emerging Echo persona better than Caroline.
I've always believed that issue was going to feature prominently in the Echo/Caroline arc, had the show been given the chance to continue.

Coming back to read the rest of the comments, when I have time. Because agree or disagree, they're always worth reading. Sometimes way more so than the article being commented on. (Bad grammar, blame Thanksgiving hangover.)
;)

EF:typo. Blame Thanksgiving hangover again.

[ edited by Shey on 2009-11-28 02:57 ]

[ edited by Shey on 2009-11-28 02:59 ]
One more thing, because it drives me crazy that I've never seen this mentioned. Surely I'm not the only one to whom it's occurred that we were meant to like the emerging Echo persona better than Caroline.
I've always believed that issue was going to feature prominently in the Echo/Caroline arc, had the show been given the chance to continue.


Oh yeah, definitely. I wonder what would have happened if Echo had found out more about Caroline. I doubt she would have liked what she had seen, similar to how us viewers have disliked her. That would have been actually fantastic.
I completely agree with Jayme, and Gossi, I've asked before on Dollverse but took it back and thought I was crazy... Have you seen any of the remaining 9 DH episodes? Sometimes it seems like you have, lol

[Edit: I do NOT agree with jayme with the OC, but to each his/her own ;D]

[ edited by DeezyG on 2009-11-28 04:11 ]
My feeling about this:
Dollhouse can really engage my mind. But my heart? Not so much.

I like the warm fuzzies, and lots of shows give me the warm fuzzies--Chuck, Glee, Castle, Bones (warm fuzzies mixed with nauseating gore!) + many shows that are no longer on the air. I guess my heart is not that difficult to engage.

There aren't, however, any other shows right now that engage my brain the way Dollhouse does. For me, it has been a very interesting ride. Really looking forward to the Final Nine.
I liken Dollhouse to Babylon 5 season 1. B5 planted the seeds of a long form drama while creating consistent character's that even at the end of the series you could still recognize although their outlooks and dispositions had entirely changed. At the same time, it was the slowest, and one of the hardest things in the world to watch because it was finding it was finding it's footing as well. But on a second viewing, it becomes obvious just how much of it was a "set-up" process. Season 1 was an act, not the play.

Unfortunately, Dollhouse wasn't on PTEN and came into existence with too many expectations. People were able realize later that Babylon 5 was good. Dollhouse was being analyzed as something that had to be great while the pieces were being set up on the board. As a result, it got cancelled just as the pieces started to move. And *shock* it was good when the pieces started to move.

To me, its a case of artistic ambition that was overcome by the reality of a "NOW" audience. They needed either immediate family or immediate conflict. They got neither.
As for Dollhouse, I wonder if one of the main problems was that many of us rushed in expecting to get warm fuzzies and instant gratification. And that didn't happen. There is no white hat to root for. No plucky little girl, a monster seeking redemption or a captain trying to keep his family close to him. Dollhouse was evil to the core. Which I quite like from time to time. And that made Epitaph One all the more powerful, when we saw that the characters we despised were human after all.

Good points- not only for Joss's fans but also for the Fox execs who have to justify spending millions of dollars. "Dollhouse" doesn't offer that easy entry point. For some viewers that obviously works (not surprisingly, many of them here) and for some it obviously doesn't. Unfortunately it doesn't work for enough viewers to continue as a going concern. :-(

There are probably few people amazed by this- "Dollhouse" is complex stuff requiring thought and most TV viewers aren't looking for complex shows about which they have to think (Joss fans being somewhat different than most). And then there's the ARG aspect which adds a new dimension in a way that is pretty unique (Press releases? Leaked documents? Creepy faux-corporate Web site? A tweeting Senator?) and which has not been leveraged like this with other TV shows. Had "Dollhouse" had a chance to develop fully, I suspect Joss and Co. would have been really quite groundbreaking here and all but removed the fourth wall. We wouldn't have "gotten into" "Dollhouse," it would have engulfed us.
Loved the B5 comment, azzers. I watched the entire first season thinking "this is Ok and occasionally very good - I need a SciFi fix and it has a lot of potential".
Then season 2 exploded with goodness and pay-offs, and I was so glad I stuck with it. In today's TV market, B5 would have been lucky to have lasted through the first season.

Also agree with Cunamara as to where Dollhouse was heading. What a loss.
waxbanks said:

A simple test for Dollhouse criticism is to ask, 'Is this person bemoaning some uncomfortable structural element of the show, some basic part of the premise, specifically designed to make reflective viewers uncomfortable?' If the answer's YES, and the critic is specifically complaining that the show is 'fascinating, but rarely fun,' then I start to disengage.


Agreed.

This is still a sensitive essay.


I actually thought so too (even if I didn't agree with it) up until the Miracle Laurie-part. Intertwining the (in and of itself for me disengaging) "X is not like what Joss had done before"-point with such poor-handed tokenism-critique was really too much to keep my assumption of good faith alive.

[ edited by wiesengrund on 2009-11-28 12:51 ]
Yes. When I posted my initial comment on this thread, part 3 wasn't live. Miracle is a great actress and I wasn't cool about that bit at all.
A simple test for Dollhouse criticism is to ask, 'Is this person bemoaning some uncomfortable structural element of the show, some basic part of the premise, specifically designed to make reflective viewers uncomfortable?' If the answer's YES, and the critic is specifically complaining that the show is 'fascinating, but rarely fun,' then I start to disengage.

Yeah I agree with wiesengrund, that pretty much says it I think waxbanks (though I think we've been on the same page in that regard pretty much since the show started). Seems like people pay a lot of lip-service to "being challenged" by TV, how it's what they look for in a show etc. Most of the criticisms of 'Dollhouse' lead me to believe people actually mean "being challenged [in exactly the way i'm most comfortable with]".

In general Part 3 (which wasn't there when I first commented) is much weaker IMO from point missage on a fairly large scale (re: the fictional-even-within-the-show character of Mellie) to simple errors of fact ("But even with the tricksy Ďsend programmed woman to kill rapist laterí conclusion ..." ?? Huh ? Priya was "programmed" as herself i.e. not programmed but restored). And if he thinks "Belonging" ended with "Kill rapist, stop badness." i.e. problem solved because the rapist was killed then I can't believe he watched the same episode I did - Priya was so damaged by this "resolution" that she apparently opted to have her mind wiped. Yeah, very happily ever after. Apart from the not.


ETA: Ah, oops. He's talking about Hearn and the "sleeper" programme in Mellie (rather than Topher's "solution" to the Nolan/Priya issue). Remembered he hasn't seen season 2 yet so can't be commenting on that. He also hasn't seen Madeline yet (though his comments about Miracle Laurie are still unmerited IMO). Which suggests to me that you should probably watch as much of a show as you can before "analysing" what went wrong with it.

[ edited by Saje on 2009-11-28 13:46 ]

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