Review: Welcome to the DOLLHOUSE

By Miles Baker
Special Correspondent for and self-proclaimed Browncoat.

A note from the author: I’ve tried to make this review as spoiler-free as possible. However, there are minor spoilers for DOLLHOUSE’s pilot episode. Also note, this review is written by a Whedon fanboy.

I think it’s fair to say that Joss Whedon fans are worried about his new series DOLLHOUSE. There have been rumors, production stoppages, a couple of pilots, delays and a few eye brow-raising interviews. But fear not, viewers, DOLLHOUSE’s first episode is mostly good and it’s something to be excited about.

I’m not going to lie, it’s not perfect. There are a few missteps — and some even glaring mistakes — made in the first episode, but there is a lot of potential in the concept, in the characters and in the story.

Dollhouse, the place, is a secret organization where wealthy clients engage them to provide a human being. That human being has had their memories and personality removed so that a new personality or skill set can be imposed on them. The mad scientists of Dollhouse use personalities based on composites of real people so the active can be whatever the client wants or needs: a lover, a fighter, a tutor, chef, who knows what else.

This is actually the second episode filmed for DOLLHOUSE, the initial pilot was rejected by Fox, which is probably why this episode feels like there’s a lot handed to you in terms of exposition. Clunky lines like, “Let’s have no ex-cop heroics, huh?” hinder the flow of the show and make me think, “Come on, Whedon, you’re a better writer than that. There must have been a more elegant way to introduce that.”

There are also moments that make he think, “Whedon, you’re a better director than that.” In a couple scenes it seems that Whedon can’t get the actors to the emotional place he needs them to, especially during the opening scene which really hurts this episode.

However, the show picks up by the mid-point as Echo, under the guise of a expert hostage negotiator, tries to return a kidnapped young girl to her rich father. By this point, you start to see how the typical episode will probably function in the case-by-case sense, and that’s where I think the show starts to show its potential.

The show can be anything it wants to every week: crime, espionage, screw ball comedy, whatever. However, that might also be the show’s weakness in the long run if audiences don’t really know what to expect. It also will be hard to emotionally invested in Echo or any of the other actives if all they do is constantly reset.

This series is dark, it’s even all-caps DARK. Actives seem to spend most of their time as whores and killers, and between jobs they are completely innocent and child-like, and there’s an implication is that a lot of them are sold into the business. And that’s just the tip of the dark-berg, things get even darker as Echo takes on the kidnapping case.

As far as this episode goes, it’s not the total success that fans were hoping for. It’s a show that still needs to find its feet and that puts this show in more than a bit of jeopardy with cancel-happy Fox. But from what I’ve seen, I’m convinced that there is a good series following this pilot even if it isn’t here yet.

DOLLHOUSE premieres on February 13th on Fox.

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  • Ronaldo

    Can’t wait for Dollhouse !

    As a Whedon fan I’m already prepared to be disappointed by the premiere. Buffy and Angel’s season premiere were all pretty weak.

  • I’m definitely checking out the show and trying to watch it when it actually airs.
    I think a good amount of the mis-steps can be blamed on Fox for generally meddling with the show. They did the same thing, of course, to Firefly which had the potential to be a great multi-season show but alas.

  • Nick.C

    People need to relax and not think of Joss as a GOD.Just enjoy the show and see where it goes.

  • Kaly

    Thanks for the review. I’m definitely looking forward to Dollhouse. Joss isn’t a God but he sure knows how to make entertaining TV. I’ve always liked ED and Faith became one of my favorite characters on Buffy/Angel. Here’s hoping they two can strike gold together again.

  • I can’t wait…I’m a huge fan of Mr. JW’s work….I’ve been waiting for this show to premiere since last year and now it’s almost here! “Who’s with me?”

  • Pingback: Dusk til Dawn: Your source for all things Whedon - Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Fray, Dollhouse, Dr. Horrible and more » Tuesday’s News Round-Up()

  • SimplyKimberly

    My heart is destined to break by the inevitable cancellation but I can’t not watch it. The awesomeness of Whedon compels me, and Eliza, and Tahmoh and the lovely and talented Ms. Jane Espenson.

  • Pain is scary

    I’m very nervous about this one because of what was touched on. The lack of character continuity from week to week may make it hard for me to like it anywhere near as much as I liked Firefly. Looking at Fanfic sites you can still see Firefly stories being written, and that is because the fans knew the characters very well. Can this happen with Dollhouse? Then on top of it, I’m very gun shy of getting to like any show Fox is in charge of.

  • Rex84

    I watched and was entirely underwhelmed. Shoddy script and worse acting. YIKES!

  • kevin

    Definitely an underwhelming episode. It felt like a 2 hour pilot that got shrunk down to an hour because of budget cuts, and took out a lot of the proper initial exposition you get from most pilot episodes. The majority of this episode played out like any given episode of a CSI or Law & Order. I fear that this will end up being very much a mystery/crime/monster of the week kind of show, and the serialized mystique provided by the show’s background will become an awkwardly wedged in afterthought during the beginning and final 5 minutes of each show. Beyond that, the problem with any show in which the main characters are required to act robotically is that you get very little emotion to latch onto. And even the emotion shown by the actors in this episode left much to be desired. Let’s just hope they fall into their roles better as time goes on. There’s also a fairly large question I have regarding how or why these ‘personas’ all feel some sudden need to come back home to get their ‘treatment’ each time, though i suspect they’ll explain it better in future episodes.

  • M@gnolia

    I watched online and thought it totally rocked. The final scenes in the hostage negotiation were RIVETING–my heart was in my throat the whole time. And the ending blew my mind. This bears no comparison to the first season of Buffy–or even Angel–as much as I loved both those shows. This is not a slow start–we’re off to the races. And if it’s screwball comedy next week then thank God cuz if it gets much darker, then we’re in for a scary ride…

  • jeff

    This would be a much better show if Eliza realized something was up.. and left the agency… and weekly, she would solve cases on her own, the dollhouse all the while pursuing her… aided in solving cases by the evil dollhouse geniuses friend (unknowingly), who sneaks around to give her partial identity swipes… allowing her to keep her memory and allowing her try to discover who she really is… kind of a Bourne movies meets Logan’s Run.
    I don’t like the idea of her forgetting everything every week. I can’t vest in my character as I like to do.

  • birchwood

    Having watched four episodes (online on Hulu), it’s obvious that this reviewer suffers from only being able to see the first one. I wasn’t a Buffy fan, but it’s the ongoing sub-plots that have me hooked on Dollhouse. Eliza’s character keeps my interest, and trying to figure out how the boss really feels about her job is just one of the many aspects of interest. Note that the rogue doll’s name is “Angel”….(an inside joke, perhaps?)

  • Randy

    Eliza showed what a great actress she is when she played a blind girl. It was a very moving scene when she reached out and touched the cult’s leader. The creator’s episode expanded the whole concept into the reality of our world, where robots that look and act like people are just coming on the horizon. This show’s concept is just one step away from our possible future and reality, and I think that is the beauty of the show. I love the wardrobe, music, and twists and turns that keeps me saying “wow”, as the most recent episode did. Eliza carries the show with her looks and acting ability, and the creative writing of the episodes are just gravy!!!!