Dollhouse: Season One [DVD]
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The complete first season of the American sci-fi drama created by Joss Whedon. Eliza Dushku stars as Echo, a young woman who is part of a group of people known as 'Actives' or 'Dolls'. The Dolls are people who have had their personalities wiped clean in order to be imprinted with any number of new personas. They are then hired out for particular jobs, which can be anything from committing a crime to enacting a fantasy. Although the Dolls are all volunteers who have agreed to work for a period of five years, the organisation is highly illegal and under constant threat from Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett), a federal agent who is determined to expose the Dollhouse and bring it down. Episodes comprise: 'Ghost', 'The Target', 'Stage Fright', 'Gray Hour', 'True Believer', 'Man On the Street', 'Echoes', 'Needs', 'Spy in the House of Love', 'Haunted', 'Briar House', 'Omega' and 'Epitaph One'.
It’s fair to suggest that there are television series that have sprung out of the blocks with more confidence and momentum than Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse. The latest show from the creator of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Firefly centres on Eliza Dushku as Echo, a woman who has different personalities transplanted into her depending on the mission she’s been hired for. It’s a tremendous premise, and one laced with just the kind of threads that Whedon has shown real skill at exploiting. But the first half of the season is a muddle. It takes some time for the show to settle down and find its feet, and the first couple of episodes in particular are more disappointing than anything else.
But then Dollhouse suddenly finds its feet. And while it doesn’t iron out all of the creases, once the show slips into gear, it finally begins to realise some of the immense potential here. What’s interesting too is that this first season DVD set includes the terrific missing episode that was never broadcast when the show debuted in the US.
A second season of Dollhouse is incoming, and given how soundly all concerned recover their footing with season one, that’s something to genuinely look forward to. This maiden season? It has its problems, but when it finally hits top gear, it rewards both your financial and time investment. --Jon FosterSee all Product description
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Like most series, it starts a little rickety as it establishes itself and the characters, the problem being that one of the main characters (played by Eliza Dushku) doesn't really have an established character at all since she plays a "doll" - a person who wants to escape their past by signing a contract with a shadowy corporation and having a new identity programmed in on a regular basis to satisfy "clients" who generally seem to want these dolls for seedy purposes at best. While it becomes obvious that a residual character remains after each mind-wipe, this doesn't really change much about the overall plot conceit in the short span that the series was eventually fated to play out (2 seasons) and there was a sense of it being firmly episodic sci-fi like the old Star Trek series, where the same people move between scenarios and conundrums and their characters seldom seem to change as a result of their experiences. So this felt like a bit of a regression in that regard, when the rest of the Sci-fi universe was moving on. Even so, the series eventually hits some sort of a stride, but becomes a victim of its own desire for complexity and mystery. Although "all is explained" by the close of season two, the first season pretty much rambles to a close with a sense of Whedon trying to give it some form before it gets cancelled - which to his credit he manages and gets a second season.
In itself, season 1 is watchable but disposable - it entertains for the desired timespan and is then done - leaving us to hope for more structure and diirection in season 2. This arrives, but I guess because the series was under close scrutiny and under threat of cancellation, the structure is basically the tired old theme of faceless corporations pulling the strings and another brilliant-minded character (Alan Tudyk - who was "Wash" in Firefly) intervening to do his own exposé in his own way. It was what Chris Carter did to damage the X-Files and Millennium, it has been done to death and really needed to be reinvented in some subversive way. I really thought Whedon would be the guy to pull this off, and I really hoped he'd pull through, but the second season was far weaker even than the first in its hurriedness and its sense of being written on the fly, with ideas being put out there that were not fully realised and which needed to be walked back in subsequent episodes.
As this is a review of season one, this is relevant because, if you are hoping that it is the beginning of a satisfactory story/plot arc, you'll be disappointed and may as well devote yourself to a series that failed less dismally (I'd recommend Firefly, personally, since its potential for a far broader expansion of its universe was far greater, and it ended as it began, with a great cast who far more convincingly entered their roles and played them to the end).
Untimately the fates of Dollhouse and Firefly were determined by backers without the courage to create something that might fill a niche, but would be remembered well in the final outcome. As such they both came out half-baked when they could have been so much more. Maybe Whedon should work with European backers next time? :)
I felt it has some good points:
- it was a novel and intriguing idea;
- the writers came up with some interesting variations on the general theme; and
- the lead actress (Echo) acted well, as did the other "dolls". Echo's mentor and the cop were also pretty good.
- I kept feeling that they had badly miscast some of the other key characters, such as the computer guy and the boss lady. Either that or their acting was poor - they just did not seem to gel (by contrast, I'd thought that the casting of TSCC was perfect);
- the show sometimes felt like it was intended to appeal to an audience of six year olds (eg most of the jokey "genius" dialogue involving computer guy, which just made me cringe); and
- the first few episodes seemed to be back to 1970s TV, with a simple "action story of the week" (think: The Six Million Dollar Man etc).
We're pleased to have made it to the end of the season one, and don't feel the need to watch season two. We thought it was ok, and it killed a few hours, but didn't find it to be anything special.
PS: I bought Firefly at the same time as Dollhouse, for the same reasons. After experiencing four discs of Dollhouse, I'm no longer looking forward to watching it. But that will probably be another review, in due course.
Dollhouse is a highly illegal organization that plucks its "artistes" (dolls) from the outside world, drains them of all memories and subjects them to reprogramming to satisfy the needs of the ultra rich. Now everything is being threatened. Some of the programmed new identities begin to malfunction. A traitor within is seriously undermining. One doll, Alpha, his brain dangerously overloaded, has escaped and is intent on sabotage. Meanwhile investigative Federal Agent Paul Ballard grows ever closer.
Challenging viewing. Joss Whedon's name is the main incentive to watch - addicts of "Buffy", "Angel" and "Firefly" keen to sample more of his inventiveness and, at times, startling changes of direction. Some, though, may find this new venture heavy going, wishing for certain aspects to be be simplified (e.g. clarification from the start why Ballard is so obsessed with tracking down Caroline). Too much is revealed rather belatedly in dribs and drabs, causing much confusion about what is going on.
As Echo (Caroline) Eliza Dushku impresses in a variety of guises, perhaps never more so than in episode five - she, convincingly blind, infiltrating a religious sect headed by a man urgently sought by the police. Acting throughout is generally strong, it pleasing to see again Alan Tudyk (ex-"Firefly" and "A Knight's Tale"). The fight sequences certainly pack a punch.
Commentaries help, especially with the last episode, where ten years have suddenly passed. Bonuses clear up several matters that puzzled - further proof DVDs are by far the best way to watch.
Good, even gripping, in parts but the whole does not fully satisfy. I wanted to like it far more than I did. Perhaps another viewing will help me all the better to appreciate its worth?
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