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I want the fire back February 15, 2009

Posted by dolorosa12 in fangirl, reviews.
Tags: , , ,

So, unless you were hiding around an internet-variety rock, you’ll know that Joss Whedon’s latest show, Dollhouse, aired for the first time on Friday night. I think it must have been the most eagerly anticipated show in the history of television; no other TV writer seems to generate as much slavish adoration as Joss Whedon. As a fellow Whedonista once commented on Whedonesque, ‘you realise if Joss were to tell us to take to the streets and riot, our only question would be ‘torch or pitchfork?'”Whedon’s fans are not only devoted, but also incredibly skeptical of the networks, in particular Fox. We worry, with good reason, that the mercenary Network Executives In Suits will fail, yet again, to recognise Joss’s genius and mess his latest show up, making it impossible for it to succeed. When we heard about the rewrites, about Dollhouse airing in the ‘dead zone’ of Friday night, we knew we were in trouble. ‘Save Dollhouse‘ campaigns sprang up even before the show went to air.

Now that you have all that background, I hope you’ll understand the near-insane levels of excitement among Whedonistas on Friday night. As one we (or at least those in the US and those watching online) sat down to watch the latest creator of our beloved Joss.

Is it possible, from this perspective, to view the show objectively? I’d say no. Our mindset is already ‘In Joss we trust’. Joss can do no wrong.

This is why it’s so painful for me to say that I was completely underwhelmed. The premise of Dollhouse had sounded amazing: people with their personalities removed have new personalities implanted so that they can fulfill assignments for clients. The whole thing’s meant to be a metaphor for being an actor, how to be a successful actor one must be an empty vessel into which a writer and director can pour whatever personality is required. The show also stars Eliza Dushku, who has worked with Joss before, bringing the character of Faith to life with great pathos and poignancy. It should have been a winning formula.

But something is missing. Where is the snappy dialogue? That’s what I look for in a Joss show: the witty one-liners, the trademark slang, the mixing of pop culture references and literary allusions, the slightly different lexicons that distinguish one character from another. It’s the dialogue that sets Joss shows apart from their more mundane cousins. It’s Joss’s way with language that makes his shows the thing that other TV series can only aspire to be: shows with a heart.

I fall in love with Joss’s characters for their humanity, and it is through their words that this humanity shines through. Without memorable language, they’re nothing more than the mechanisms that drive a plot. It’s language that distinguishes River Tam from Cameron Phillips, Angel and Spike from Mick St. John and Cordelia Chase from every other queen bee to be found on the TV screen.

It’s not enough to have a cool idea, even if your previous cool ideas included:

  • being sick of horror movies where the little blonde girl got killed by the bad guy (usually in ‘punishment’ for being promiscuous), and created a series where the blonde girl chased the bad guys into the dark alleys and beat the s*** out of them.  Oh, and having the bad guys represent the horrors of highschool;
  • a vampire with a soul seeking redemption by acting as a supernatural private detective in the anonymous, uncaring streets of LA;
  • what the Star Wars prequels should have been: a band of lost souls looking out into the blackness of space, all seeing very different things; and
  • an aspiring supervillain charting his quest for a place in the Evil League of Evil in a vlog.
  • oh, and releasing the story of said supervillain in three acts, streamed free online and later available for download, made on the smell of an oily rag and bypassing the grasping networks altogether.

These brilliant ideas have earned Joss a crazed, hopelessly devoted gang of fans, who will love him no matter what. Whether we love Dollhouse, will, unfortunately, be another matter.

I’m reserving judgment until I’ve seen more episodes. And if I do end up being disappointed, I’ll likely blame it on the meddling of the Fox network. But I’d really like to have another group of characters whom I can care about as much as I care about Buffy and the Scoobies, Angel and his gang, Mal and his crew and Billy/Dr Horrible, Penny and Captain Hammer the Corporate Tool (whose fists are not the hammer). Here’s hoping.



1. Eric - February 15, 2009

I think we’re all a little underwhelmed at this point. There was no way the first episode could have lived up to our expectations, but I think the show will improve if FOX lets it live. In my opinion Buffy and Angel were both a little slow in their first seasons, but then they began to move beyond the simple stand-alone episodes into the great shows we came to love.

2. Sibylle - February 15, 2009

I was disappointed too, actually, I’m sure for different reasons. I have never watched a whole Whedon show. When Buffy was airing I was too scared of the vampire make-up to watch and I thought the show was cheesy. I really regret this now, I realize I was prejudiced.
Anyway, I thought Ghost was really weak – nothing is explained, it’s too serious and I thought Eliza’s acting was a bit wooden. I couldn’t differentiate it from any other CIA show (aka Alias and all), it just has a science fiction twist. I’ll be watching the rest and hope that it improves.

3. dolorosa12 - February 15, 2009

@Eric: Yes, Buffy was a little slow in Season 1, but there were flashes where you could see its potential (I’m thinking of ‘Out of Sight, Out of Mind’, ‘Prophecy Girl’, and even the opening scene, which let you know this was no ordinary horror show.) Let’s hope Dollhouse improves.
@Sibylle: I’d advise you to give the earlier Whedon shows another chance. Perhaps start with Firefly, since it only has a few episodes (boo to Fox for cancelling this wondrous show). It’s been my experience that people who didn’t watch Buffy when it was on air got into Joss’s shows by watching Firefly. Season 1 Buffy is incredibly cheesy, but if you can sort of see through the cheese (it’s important to watch the series in order) you get through to Season 2, which is incredible, and things only get better from there. There are two things that utterly transformed me. One is His Dark Materials, and the other is Buffy, so you’ll understand when I say how much it means to me.

4. Lol - February 16, 2009

I enjoyed it, but was underwhelmed as well. The problem is that Echo can’t really have distinctive, snappy dialogue if she’s always a different person. I’m hoping it will come together in the next few episodes. It may be difficult to build a compelling plot arc with this concept. Normally a story hangs on the solid identity of the protagonist and of course in this case, of course, there is none.

5. Raphael - February 16, 2009

Yes, my feeling after finishing the first episode was “well, it’s okay.” That said, when Ronni here first introduced me to Buffy, I watched the first episode (which, if anyone cares to remember, ends on a cliffhanger) and then just dropped it and watched other things for a month or so. Then I felt bad towards Ronni, picked it up again from episode two, and never looked back. In other words, the first episode, witty dialogue and all, was so bad as to not excite me at all.
The first episode of Dollhouse, perhaps entirely due to pro-Joss bias, does excite me somehow. I like the fact, at least, that SPOILER ALERT the Actives have roles as diverse as courtesans and prostitutes, not simply killers/operatives/Operatives. And what’s all this talk I heard in the trailers about them living in a Dollhouse? Don’t look like a Dollhouse to me. “You got a Dollhouse? All I got was that dumb-ass house sounds like its a lobby.”

6. dolorosa12 - February 16, 2009

Yeah, I’d definitely agree with what you both (Raphael and Lol) said. I’ve been having further thoughts, and will blog about them in the next couple of days.

7. Sibylle - February 16, 2009

Will try Firefly. It’s actually the one Whedon show that sounded the most attractive to me anyway. I’ll check it out after finishing the first season of Battlestar Galactica (so far, it’s a fine show, not life-changing but more than decent).
I started watching the first season of Buffy last year because many friends of mine are addicted to it, but I gave up after an episode focusing on a “freaky friday” moment (mother and daughter switch places thanks to magic). It seemed like such a cliché to me I didn’t try any more episode. I WILL come back to it eventually, though, especially now that Ronni said the second season was better. I can’t talk to my friends about Buffy, the minute I said I thought the beginning was cheesy and cliché, they shut me out of the conversation 🙂 I get it, though – I can’t take criticism about Harry Potter or Gilmore Girls either.

8. dolorosa12 - February 17, 2009

Don’t worry, I know exactly what you mean. We tend to get very fanatical about the things we love, and that’s a good thing, but it’s sometimes hard to separate ourselves from our obsessions. (I know, I’ve written about it on this blog!)
I’m watching the first season of Battlestar Galactica at the moment too. It’s good, but, like you say, not life-changing.
(If it helps, I love Harry Potter and Gilmore Girls, although not perhaps as much as you!)

9. The limits of my world are the limits of my language « Geata Póeg na Déanainn - February 19, 2009

[…] week, I was rather exasperated with Joss Whedon’s latest show, Dollhouse. The absence of Whedon’s trademark snappy […]

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