Will Dollhouse Deliver?

TVGuide.com, courtesy Kurt Iswarienko/Fox

TVGuide.com, courtesy Kurt Iswarienko/Fox


Friday night U.S time marks the premiere of one of the most highly anticipated and hyped shows in television history, Joss Whedon’s new Sci-Fi series, Dollhouse. The one-hour drama series from the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel marks the auteur’s return to television, after the short-lived run of his previous Sci-Fi series, Firefly. Starring Eliza Dushku as Echo, an ‘active’ living and working within a secret organization wherein, ‘actives’ can be hired and their personalities implanted with a series of characteristics necessary for their current mission. After their role is complete, these characteristics are removed from consciousness, leaving the active in a state of blissful ignorance, of almost childlike unknowing.

The series’ development so far has been marred by very public re-writes, re-shoots, work stoppages, a killer timeslot (and I don’t mean that in the post-modern ironic sense), and questions about the lead thespian’s capabilities. All of which the mainstream entertainment media have taken as a sign of disunity, maybe speaking towards a larger problem between Whedon and the Fox network. Whedon himself however, has assured fans that the situation with Dollhouse is very different to the struggles of Firefly, and asserted that these teething problems were all at his request, in the greater interest of creating a more captivating and compelling pilot and a unifying start to the season. See Ausiello’s interview here, and Eliza Dushku’s response to the situation here.

All this attention ensures that Dollhouse will have a healthy pilot ratings share, despite its Friday night timeslot, however the scrutiny will also mean that the show has a tough mountain to climb to live up to the hype. In this regard, perhaps Friday night is not a bad slot to begin in, enormous ratings will not be expected by the network and within the context of new media formats, the show will still be found by its faithful prospective audience through DVR and TiVo playback, and online viewing. With less pressure placed on ratings, the show may be allowed time to build a larger audience before being shelved prematurely due to under performing, which is more likely to occur on a Monday or a Thursday night when the networks pay their bills. Fox’s move to program the most hyped show of the millennium on a Friday may seem like a death sentence, but ultimately, it could end up working in Whedon’s favour; especially considering that early reviews of the pilot (the re-shot, second pilot) are not fantastic, which points to the show needing time to establish itself.

I for one am looking forward to seeing what the show has to offer, and I certainly hope that, given time, Dollhouse can live up to its predecessors. I am also interested to see what in fact Dichen Lachman can bring to the table, as whatever it may be eluded me during her days on Neighbours. Whedon, however, is somewhat known for discovering talent in unknowns, and I hope that Lachman is the same, for the show’s sake as much as for her own.

One aspect of early reviews that disappoints and concerns me is the observation that Dollhouse lacks the comedic wit that Whedon is famous for. The humour in Whedon’s previous works is a huge part of their charm, and to see it not utilized would be a great shame, and may in fact serve as Dollhouse‘s undoing. I hope, that humour will begin to be woven in to the text as the show progresses, but I can’t help but consider that lack of humour is a conscious decision made by Whedon to heighten the isolation and desperation of the actives’ circumstance within the dollhouse. I guess only time will tell.

Here in Australia, we will be unable to watch Dollhouse on free-to-air TV, as Channel Ten, who originally bought the rights to the show, has now sold them to FOXTEL’s Fox8. This is frustrating, especially since Dollhouse would have been a pretty good fit with Channel Ten. However, perhaps Whedon fans can take comfort in knowing that at least Dollhouse will air in Australia, which is more than could be said for Firefly. Furthermore, I still hold out hope that Hulu could pull off its international deal soon, allowing us to watch online for free. Otherwise, there’ll be a long wait ahead for A DVD release. Dollhouse premieres in the U.S on Friday the 13th of February at 9pm. Fox8 has not yet set an Australian air date.