Aug 6, 2009

[TV] Dollhouse: Season 1

Dollhouse: Season 1While I won't go as far as claiming that I'm a hardcore Joss Whedon fan, I do appreciate his work and respect his writing. You have to admit that he comes up with some pretty interesting story concepts that play heavily in terms of the realms of science fiction and fantasy, of which many geeks count themselves a part of. I was decently okay with his earlier works like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel and definitely loved the gone-too-soon Firefly and Dr. Horrible's Sing-Alng Blog. Let's face it - we're just campy that way!

There's always a danger to instantly trying to like something just because you're a "fan" of the creator or some of the actors involved, which is probably why I avoid associating with the individual personalities and instead tend to fall more for franchises and particular universes. I can count on a particular franchise to remain consistent and let me down when I expect them too as opposed to sticking to people and always risking if something is good or not, haha. Okay, I'm not making as much sense as I intended to.

Anyway, here's me taking a look at his more recent TV masterpiece, which turned out to be better than I had feared it would be.

The first season of Dollhouse was a little tricky for me to get into but it certainly started with an unusual premise. Here, there's a fictional organization that runs The Dollhouse, a facility that stores several mind-wiped people called "Actives" who are pretty much blank slates until memories and imprinted into their brains. Thus, they have the ability to become pretty much anyone their clients want them to be for a very high price.

At the center of all this is Echo (Eliza Dushku), who is fast becoming one of the most in-demand actives. At the same time, she seems to be manifesting unusual moments of clarity when she either remembers snippets of her past life or retains aspects of her imprinted personalities even after being "wiped" clean. On the outside, an FBI agent named Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett of shirtless Battlestar Galatica fame) is obsessed with trying to prove the Dollhouse is real and eventually starts to receive clues that somehow lead him to his goal.

Now given the core of the story is all about a person who in theory has given up her true personality and takes on a new one every week, I found it difficult to immediately get into the show given the lack of a main character to hang on to. You barely have enough on the head of the Dollhouse, Adelle DeWitt (Olivia Williams), given she was crafted to be all secretive and the main technician who oversees the dolls, Topher Brink (Fran Kranz) is just too stereotypical and annoying. The other dolls are also unremarkable and devoid of personality (as is their design) while Boyd Langton (Harry J. Lennix), Echo's Handler, is really just a supporting character that we learn very little about. Thus the story really took a while before I warmed up to it, and naturally it was dependent on the dolls no longer being perfect dolls but instead having their true memories and personalities slowly surface.

If you make it past the first half of the season, then you'll understand why the show survived as long as it did and why it was ultimately picked up for a second season. The first half of the season was dedicated to helping the viewers understand just how much possible with having programmable human beings while the second half finally addressed all the plot threads being tossed around as it began to answer some of the questions about the Dollhouse and many of its characters.

It's not a show for everyone, that much I can admit. Even Battlestar Galatica and Star Trek had a wider audience range compared to Dollhouse given the unique world it presents, the similarity with our own reality and of course the challenge with keeping up with the various personality switches of the dolls. Because of the programmable nature of the characters, the show ends up experimenting with different drama genres where some cases involve kidnap negotiations, others involve assassination attempts and the mandatory psycho boyfriend scenario. One has to give credit to the actors for managing to admit to the varying personalities required of them and the many different situations they find themselves in.

For those who get the DVD, you'll also get the unaired bonus episode entitled, "Epitaph One", which features a character played by Felicia Day. Be careful with this one - it's not meant to directly connect to the existing episodes but instead takes place at least 10 years in the future. Despite the time-setting, the show actually manages to reveal some of the history of the Dollhouse and how many of the key players came to be.

This first season of Dollhouse gets 3.5 hot and heavy shirtless Tahmoh Penikett scenes out of a possible 5.


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