Saturday, March 7, 2009

First Impressions: Dollhouse

I've been holding off on reviewing this show, because frankly, I still don't know where I stand with Joss Whedon's latest project.

It's no secret that I've found his recent output disappointing, whether it's the horribly unfocused eighth season of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" or the sloppy last quarter of his "Astonishing X-Men" run. And news of pre-air tinkering hardly bolstered my confidence in "Dollhouse".

But I could never have predicted that the strongest feeling I'd get from this show is how strangely anti-female it seems to be: setting aside the rather gross implications of what these Dolls are actually used for, all the women we've seen so far are uniformly pathetic, whether it's last week's Beyonce stand-in or Ballard's simpering neighbor or Saunders. Echo's had her moments, but they don't really count, do they?

Because that's the biggest problem "Dollhouse" faces: the premise doesn't allow for character development. At least not in the short term. It's certainly a great platform to display acting skills, and both Eliza Dushku and Dichen Lachman do a great job of playing multiple distinct characters, but they're constantly being reset at the end of each episode - regardless of what may or may not be bleeding through. And even non-Doll characters aren't moving: Ballard's still playing his one note (even as Tahmoh Penikett demonstrates more range over on "Battlestar Galactica" this week), Topher's kind of a skeeze, and Lawrence... why is this guy around? Besides not liking Echo just because?

So yes, there are quite a few problems with this show. I appreciate Whedon trying to be experimental with the whole Doll concept, but there are some fundamental questions left unanswered, such as why you'd bother with a Doll since you can get the real thing for a lot cheaper - it's implied that Dolls are basically gestalt entities combining the best traits of a bunch of people, which theoretically makes them better at any task than a normal person... but that certainly hasn't borne itself out with Echo so far.

I'll be giving this show another two or three episodes, but to be honest, I kind of doubt a premise with as many holes as this one can turn things around in short order. We'll see...