Watching Whedon’s Dollhouse

One of the many perks of running, is…

Hang on. There aren’t a lot of perks, really, other than the pleasure of being boss of a site that’s well respected and much quoted. Yeah, we got invited to the Serenity premiere in Los Angeles. But I live in Amsterdam. Which means I never get to go to premieres, conventions, screenings or other meetings. When the Paley Center in New York invited us for a panel discussion on television and online fandom, one of the USA based mods got to go, but I could not. And unlike many of our members, I’ve never met any of the actors, or Joss.

All of this is perfectly fine with me. Yeah, I run the site, but I also run and a couple of other sites. I’m not the biggest fan, I don’t keep up with all the news, I don’t know episode titles by heart, I couldn’t tell you which of the writers wrote what. I like communities, but I don’t get too involved. (My pet theory is that people who like to run online communities are actually all mysanthropists deep down.) I consider this a good thing. A little distance from the subject matter is essential. It helps keep me objective. And possibly sane.

I do receive a fuckload of annoying PR in the Whedonesque inbox, all about stuff that means nothing to me, not being American, not living in America. And probably wouldn’t mean anything to me if I were American, living in America. But I digress.

Perks. I has one. A kind soul gave me access to the Dollhouse screener, which contained an unfinished version of ‘Ghost’, the first episode. In case you’ve been living in cave, Dollhouse is Joss Whedon’s new television series for Fox, starring Eliza Dushku and Battlestar Galactica’s Tahmoh Penikett. You can read a synopsis of the show on Wikipedia. It is set to premier on February 13.

I remember catching my first glimpse of Buffy on TV (it was the sixth episode of the series’ first season: ‘The Pack’) and feeling compelled to keep watching it, unable to flip to another channel. Like being drawn in by Bob Ross’s hypnotic voice.

Dollhouse didn’t do that, in fact, the first time I watched it I zoned out several minutes into the first act. I like Eliza Dushku a lot, after all she was my favourite slayer. In this first episode, I think she did ok as ‘Caroline’* and as the innocent doll ‘Echo’. She’s also fairly good as the brazen character she’s ‘imprinted’ with in the first few minutes, but I found her far less believable as the character she becomes next, when she’s hired to mediate between a kidnapper and the abductee’s father. In fact, she looked so awkward and miniscule in her skirt suit and specs, it took me right out of the story. And that’s when the supporting characters began to stand out – especially on second viewing.

Tahmoh Penikett, playing the FBI-agent Paul Ballard, is as strong as he is as Helo in Battlestar Galactica. Harry Lennix, who plays Echo’s ‘handler’, doesn’t get a lot to do in this first episode, but he could be interesting. Amy Acker – who I never liked as Fred in ‘Angel’ – does a lot with her bit part as the Dollhouse doctor and I immediately wanted to know more about her scar-faced character. The actress who stood out the most, though, is Dichen Lachman. She plays ‘Sierra’, another doll. We catch a few brief glimpses of her throughout the episode, before she makes a striking entrance right at the end of the show. Kick ass, not unlike like Jessica Alba in ‘Dark Angel’, but with more exotic features. I couldn’t help but wish she’d been cast as Echo.

Whedon’s shows are always about the ensemble, and it isn’t the first time the supporting actors do more for me than the lead. I never liked the character Buffy that much and it took a while for me to take to any of the cast of Firefly, which completely failed to grab me in the first few episodes. So while not exactly confident, I am hopeful the series will prove to be a grower and that Dushku will prove to be as big a talent as Whedon says she is.

* Huh? Yeah, she’s called Caroline in a flash back, where she is reminiscent of the more vulnerable Faith we sometimes saw in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’m just going to pretend Joss named her after me. Indulge me.

3 Replies to “Watching Whedon’s Dollhouse”

  1. Re: Eliza’s versatility… Yeah, Joss has repatedly gushed about how versatile Eliza is. I hope so… we’ll see.

  2. I think she has great moments where she can draw you into her performance completely, but then sometimes I just don’t believe her – it looks too much like acting. And while I didn’t *like* the character Buffy for instance, I always believed SMG’s performance 100%.

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