I remember seeing one early episode of Dollhouse series 1 on TV and not being that impressed. To me it seemed to be very similar to a favourite of mine, Alias: a female star who is not what she appears to be, working for a mysterious organisation, with a grizzled black partner, a guy on the outside who loves her and a crazy science guy who is the comic relief. So why did I buy this? I spend several hours a day commuting and catch up on TV series on a portable DVD player; I was running out of things to watch and this was bargain priced.
Initial impressions of the first series were much the same as my original thoughts but, hey, it whiled away the journey. It's not that the individual episodes were dull, there is plenty of action and it's well written, but it's hard to engage with a lead character who is a blank slate unless programmed to be someone else. It's only when the mysterious Alpha finally makes an appearance that things really kick off and we realise that not everything is as it seems. Towards the end of the season, the makers were told that the series was going to be canned so, given that Firefly ended with so many questions, they decided to make the 13th episode a summary of where the story arcs were going, told largely through some new characters. I didn't know this in advance and I have to say that 13th episode was one of the most mind-blowing TV events I've experienced. So much so that I watched it again when I got home - the story expands on a massive and unexpected scale.
Now obviously I knew there was a whole second season in the box, but instead of dismay that I now knew the ending, there was excitement that I would find out exactly how this situation had come about. In the second series, the problem with doll character engagement is solved as they begin to evolve new personalites. Our pre-conceptions are toyed with as characters have true identities revealed or die unexpectedly; the pace is relentless as everything is squeezed in rather than dragged out as TV series so often do. Some of the acting is quite poor (stand up Miracle Laurie and Summer Glau) but the general standard is extremely high, for example Enver Gjokaj (Victor) and Olivia Williams (Adele DeWitt). Williams, being English with an English accent in a US series, is typically typecast as a villain but, through an unusually subtle - for a TV series - performance earns our sympathy and respect. Gjokaj has a wide range of emotive acting skills and his imprinting of Topher in "The Left Hand" is hilarious.
I am so glad that I didn't give up on Dollhouse - it has gone from a so-so viewing experience to one of the most memorable in recent years.