Oh dear. As I watched the first episode of Joss Whedon’s new series, Dollhouse, a sinking feeling came over me.
Joss Whedon is the creator of cult tv series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly. His work is regarded as some of the cleverest, wittiest and engaging tv of the last 15 years. So, with expectations of this new series set high (or at least at Whedon-level), we watched the first episode of Dollhouse this week. And I’m sorry to report that it was all very underwhelming.
It has been a long time between drinks for Whedon’s tv work, with his last major foray into tv-series-land being his 2002 sci-fi Western, Firefly. Seeing as Firefly, which was adored by fans, was cancelled before the completion of the first series, what hope does Dollhouse have?
Sure, I feel I’m being a little unfair judging the series on the first episode but, um, it’s the pilot. Its whole point is to set up the series and the characters and have you slack-jawed by the end credits, wanting more.
So what’s amiss in Dollhouse?
The premise is quirky enough: series set around a Stepford-like house with men and women whose personalities and memories are wiped and imprinted with others so they can go on missions and “do good”. It raises heaps of ethical questions – which will hopefully be explored throughout the series – and is unsettling enough to put you in a fantasy world where you suspend belief (always helpful in tv).
The acting and production values are fine. I’ve never been a fan of Eliza Dushku, who plays the main character, Echo. (You may remember Eliza as the “other slayer” Faith in Buffy.) That said, she’s fine in this production.
But all the things that make a Joss Whedon show memorable seem to be absent:
1. Clever dialogue – there are a couple of clever lines by the “mad scientist” character, whose name I didn’t even catch, but they were of ‘meh’ wit level.
2. Funny – it’s just not.
3. Engaging characters – um, I don’t care about any of them, even the main character. It’s hard to like a character with no personality.
4. MYO (Make Your Own) Family – there is no rag-tag group of outsiders thrown together with a common purpose.
5. Bad guys – who are the bad guys? Or is this the new po-mo Joss where, like Dexter, everyone is good and bad? This only works when Point 3 is present.
6. Girls kicking ass – The promotion for the series premiere shows a weapon-ready, tank-topped Ms. Dushku (see example I’ve provided for your consideration, above). Maybe I took it way too literally (silly me) and expected that Whedon would be delivering his signature girls-kick-ass style. There is one gun-toting, non-Dushku babe moment, but it won’t be going on the “empowerment tv for girls” list just yet. Sigh.
So, things have got to really pick up for the series to keep my attention over the coming months. I know there will be many, like me, wanting, hoping, and wishing that the Whedon-ator delivers.
File under “Has the potential to be Brilliant”.