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August 16 2013

"Separating art from its creators". One writer/contributor in the AV Club Q&A argues that Dollhouse "can stand on its own merits" and "tends to suffer from its inclusion in, and comparison to, the list of Joss Whedon TV shows."

Well, I sure did not like Dollhouse, but I think this entry really treats it poorly, and raises old canards such as that it was a ED vanity project, which it was not. It was an ensemble piece.
You know, I loved Dollhouse and I thought this was great bit. The article is saying if it wasn't a Joss show, it wouldn't be called a vanity project. The writer isn't saying ED is incapable; he's saying that was the series media narrative and if it wasn't by Joss, it wouldn't be there.
I've been rewatching Dollhouse lately and have been enjoying it because I'm now able to forgive it for not being AWESOME WHEDON SHOW. It *did* add a layer of expectation.
As the article points out itself, it feels like people are wrong when they accuse it of being a Dushku vanity project. (They even feel like Dushku is underrated at that.)

I think it's fair though-- despite not being a space-epic I felt like it tried to do much more ambitious things than Firefly did but because it consistently struggled its first couple episodes of each season it's more readily characterized as a troubled work. (Granted yeah, maybe it only had more enjoyable episodes to me since it also had more episodes.)

[ edited by orangewaxlion on 2013-08-17 01:28 ]
I loved Dollhouse. It had so much potential and when it was good it blew me away. I feel the main issues were Fox's pushing for standalone episodes and ED not being a perfect fit. That being said, I think she doesn't deserve so much criticism. She did a good job with her role. The only problem was that she wasn't amazing, which she needed to be, and she doesn't have a lot of range, which isn't something she can change.
I actually only recently saw Dollhouse (so far actually only up to epitaph 1), and I have to say it was a lot better than I feared based on all the reactions I heard from everyone at the time. What this writer is talking about is basically the exact same thing I was thinking while I was watching it - that it was put down so much not because it was so terrible, but because a large portion of the audience was expecting something much more 'whedony', but Dollhouse was never actually intended to be like that.
One of my memories of the run up to Dollhouse airing (I'd seen the pilot in advance and ran Dollverse.com) was everybody asking me "Is it like Buffy, Angel or Firefly?". My answer: "None of the above". Which never went down well.

I actually liked the show a whole lot. Yeah, there's some crappy episodes here and there, but you know - not unheard of in TV. There's also a lot of interesting ideas explored, it feels different to prior work, and ultimately has one of my fave Whedonverse characters (Topher - who I disliked at first a whole lot). Plus season two was the dogs balls.
I recently re-watched season 1 on dvd and found that I really liked it a lot more than when I first saw it on tv - even those first few episodes that weren't as amazing as "Man on the Street", et al, were pretty good compared to most tv shows. Just because it was completely different than Buffy, Angel and Firefly doesn't mean it wasn't as good. It was, in many ways, more mature, more creative and more aspirational than many of his earlier works.
Again, I'm no critic, but I still say ELiza's range expanded dramatically over the life of that show.

[ edited by DaddyCatALSO on 2013-08-17 20:06 ]
It was grown up Sci-Fi... period. I mean, I don't want to be dismissive of any of his earlier stuff, but Buffy through Firefly deliver extremely sanitized narratives in which good/bad really isn't difficult to suss out although Angel does have its moments.

Dollhouse was different. I remember loud debates about who/what people like Ballard, Topher, and Adele even were. They weren't simple archetypes thrown together to propel a story: they were complex characters in really bizarre situations. Hell, how layered is just the episode Haunted in which an imprinted Sierra hangs out to be Topher's friend. How you feel about it is frankly a bit more nuanced than "I aim to misbehave."
Dollhouse has its merits. There were AMAZING things on the show, and less-than-amazing things. Sometimes, Eliza was great, and sometimes not. The Joss Whedon expectation probably did drag it down, but let's also not pretend that it was as great as it could have been. I blame a good deal of that on FOX.

That said: anything Tatiana Maslany does on Orphan Black kind of puts anything Eliza ever did on Dollhouse to shame. That's not so much a criticism on Eliza as it is me being in complete awe of what Tatiana can do. Incredible actress on an incredible show. One that Dollhouse fans might like as well, for that matter.
I haven't RTFA yet, but I think the idea has a lot of merit. Roseate from the idea of its heritage as a show from Joss, it may've gotten a fairer shake from some people. I thought Eliza was fine, but rarely blew me away in it, but I enjoyed a complicated relationship with the show. I do also think that orphan black belongs to a similar lineage of grey shows and Tatiana Maslany's performances are amazing full stop. As gossi says above, love the show and grew to really appreciate Topher as one of the great Whedonverse characters.
How you feel about it is frankly a bit more nuanced than "I aim to misbehave."

Not really. One of the things that bugged me about the show and it's reception during its run was how much some people tended to go on about how "layered" and morally "complex" it was when - to me at least - it very rarely came across as actually being either (maybe on its surface, but if you actually stopped to think about things they rarely stayed that way.) Example: Sierra's imprint from "Haunted" - creepy and pathetic (in reference to Topher.) Not complicated at all.

[ edited by brinderwalt on 2013-08-18 16:19 ]
brinderwalt,

Ah, there is the familiar attitude about Dollhouse I've known and sorta loathed. I'm with azzers on this, that Joss was trying to rise above simplistic moralism with Dollhouse, in a way that he was also doing with Firefly from another angle. For me, the closer-to-life setting and the nature of the characters' relationships both to each other and the audience foregrounded this in a way that was more compelling for me than in the sidebar (and, granted, all too brief) glimpses of the Alliance and their history.

Out of curiosity - having not seen Orphan Black yet (thought it is on the list), what entertainment qualifies as actually layered and complex to you, and what else gets the claim that you think it doesn't deserve in the same way Dollhouse did? (I have some speculations on the second, I admit.)
I've watched both Dollhouse and Orphan Black. My take on the two shows is that they basically have diametrically opposed strengths and weaknesses. The singular strength of Orphan Black is Maslany's incredible acting, which is a tour de force that needs to be seen to be believed. Outside of that, there's really nothing outstanding about the show, either in the other actors' performances or the writing/plotting of the show. It's a decent show, but kind of pedestrian.

Conversely, Dollhouse had great performances by several of the "secondary" characters (Enver, Olivia, Fran, Dichen...) as well as pretty spectacular writing/storytelling from "Man on the Street" forward. The one comparative "weakness" was Eliza's performance. And I'm not saying she was bad, just that Maslany was much better in direct comparison - a comparison that would also apply to pretty much anyone else, btw.
@brinderwalt - I figured that might be some people's reaction and that's ok. But I love most of Joss's stuff so I like it for different reasons. I use Firefly specifically because that show was rather narratively stacked into black and white between the Alliance and everyone else. He may have shown more later, but by the time Mal says it you really can only share his opinion because of how little depth is shown.

To me, it's just worlds of part from a show in which we spend an entire season with the audience actively rooting against the guy trying to bring the Dollhouse down. Especially when that's exactly the endgame Echo is going for and as an audience what we want to see in truth.
What this article says about Dollhouse is entirely fair and true. People were too hung up on it being like its predecessors, and it had the unfortunate network issues quietly killing it behind the scenes from the very beginning. I'm still amazed that it got two seasons, and that it ever had the chance to give us some of the darker dramatic scenes that it did. The show had a frustrating inconsistency, but there are some scenes and some episodes that are among the best of the Whedon shows.
My problem with DH was not that it was morally complex, it was that at times it seemed morally corrupt. The issue of consent was never far from my mind with the show- all the Dolls being used for sex, for whatever, without informed consent.
Not to say that your point is not a valid criticism as to why you may not enjoy the programme or to defend the actions of the Dollhouse, but the dolls give consent as soon as they join and sign the contract. The only exception is Priya, who is the most tragic of all of Whedon's creations. Everybody else knows what they are signing up for.

And I would never say the show forgets that it is a dubious premise for a predominately action show. It may have on occasions left the audience to make its own conclusions, but it never said that it was a joyful place. I do think a lot of the more hard hitting approach was probably curtailed by a network that was confusing sex with sexy though.
I kind of see what he's saying, especially the end part, but personally I think for all its flaws Dollhouse stands very nicely next to Joss' other television work, what it lacks in polish and consistency of tone it more than makes up for in daring and darkness.

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