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The Whedonverse's newest planet
on 16 February 2013
"I'm a scary, depressive fellow," said Joss Whedon. "There's no meaning to life. That's kind of depressing. There's no God. That's a bummer, too."
Joss's latest slice of scariness imagines a wicked corporation that turns people into endlessly reprogrammable organic robots - a lover, a mother, a thief, a detective...whatever the customer wants. Like Buffy and Angel before it, the series begins a little uncertainly. There are several episodes about prostitution which I feel come dangerously close to being meretricious, and others which are cruel in the extremity of their physical or psychological violence. Soon, though, the prospect of imminent cancellation seems to concentrate the writers' minds wonderfully, and the second season gives us a helter skelter thriller that twists and turns its way to an entirely satisfying conclusion.
The tone of the show is broadly similar to that of Joss's earlier TV productions, if perhaps just a touch bleaker. There's plenty of laugh-out-loud humour leavening the drama, but not a great deal of the kind of warmth we got from dear old Xander or Willow. By the final episode of the twenty-six, though, the series becomes a worthy successor to the Vampire Slayer's - another inspiring tribute to heroic altruism in a world tortured by evil powers.
Eliza Dushku is very much the star of Dollhouse, but never to the exclusion of her admirable colleagues, The cast includes such familiar Whedonverse favourites as Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Summer Glau, Felicia Day and a brilliant Alan Tudyk, as well as several alumni of 24 and Battlestar Galactica. The production values of the show are almost cinematic in their glossy luxury - this is one show that demands to be watched on Blu-ray rather than DVD. (Better than average extras include an unaired pilot, interesting behind the scenes featurettes and an amusing chat involving Joss and many of his colleagues.)
In sum, then, if you can tolerate a fair amount of sex and violence, you'll be rewarded with a clever, inventive, witty, ambitious comedy-drama with a wholesomely affirmative message at its heart. No fan of Joss's earlier work need hesitate.