We were as surprised as anyone to see Joss Whedon back at Fox with a new series after the FIREFLY debacle of a few years back. And for a while last season, it looked like DOLLHOUSE might suffer the same fate; iffy ratings and a difficult-to-quickly-impart concept has spelled doom for more series than we can count. But what DOLLHOUSE has that FIREFLY didn’t is a Fox-friendly sexiness that the network has been emphasizing heavily in its ads. Eliza Dushku is a decent actress when given the material, who possessed an amazingly mature face even during her early appearances as Faith on Whedon’s BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. Her strong presence can be largely credited for the undercooked TRU CALLING lasting for two full seasons from ’03-’05, and was responsible for bringing Whedon on board for DOLLHOUSE.
Dushku plays Echo, an employee (for lack of a better word) of a shadowy organization called the Dollhouse. The numerous ‘dollhouses’ across the globe employ a group of ‘actives’ who have agreed to a 5-year contract, during which their own memories are removed and stored, allowing them to be used as virtual blank slates by well-to-do clients and have whatever memories (and skill sets) temporarily implanted. The existence of the Dollhouse is kept a closely guarded secret; not just from the general public, but from various state and federal law enforcement agencies for obvious reasons. In addition to Echo, we’re introduced to Sierra (Dichen Lackman), November (Miracle Laurie) and Victor (Enver Gjokaj). Working the back office for Dollhouse are a team of handlers who guide and monitor each of the actives while on assignment, including Echo’s particularly busy handler, Boyd (Harry Lennix). There’s also scientist Topher Brink (Fran Kranz) who handles the memory implants, and the Dollhouse’s showrunner, Adelle DeWitt (the fabulous Olivia Williams, looking sexier at 40 than her co-stars at nearly half that age.) Were also introduced to an FBI agent (Battlestar vet Tahmoh Penikett) who knows that Echo used to be a girl named Caroline and has reason to believe that she’s in danger.
The episodic nature of the setup allows for a syndication-friendly run, and Whedon has proved his acuity at meshing strong self-contained plotlines within larger story arcs. This gives star Dushku the chance to show more range then almost any other actress on television, with the literal possibility of playing a new character every week. But this also will present a challenge to Whedon and the writers to build her character out; even though we’re already seeing elements of previous personalities surviving Echo’s end-of-show wipe, Whedon will have to be careful measuring this out to retain the integrity of the series.
It’s unknown if Fox renewed Dollhouse out of faith in Whedon, but it would be nice to think that after the networks appalling treatment of Firefly, they may have learned a lesson about allowing a potentially strong show the time to find its footing. A full second season should tell the tale, and we will be there watching.
Fox’s 3 disc Blu-Ray set contains all 12 first season episodes of Dollhouse, including a scrapped pilot episode (sections of which were used in subsequent episodes) and an unaired 13th episode, “Epitaph One,” which is apparently exclusive to the Blu-Ray set. We get the sense this episode was being held in reserve in case the show wasn’t renewed, as it’s near apocalyptic tone seems designed to give closure to the fledgling show.
The episodes are presented in their correct 1.78×1 aspect ratio. We saw most of these episodes on the FOX HD channel when they originally aired, but the quality of this Blu-Ray presentation dwarfs the compressed cable signal in terms of quality. Color and detail are simply superb, and the disc presentation equals the best current television drama crop. We found the lighting during the set-bound scenes to be a bit on the flat side, but location photography – “The Target” for example – can be breathtaking, and Fox’s Blu-Ray delivers a wholly accurate image.
The Dollhouse episodes run just under 50min each, which we were very happy to see. It wasn’t long ago that the average running time for a network drama was peaking at 43min, and we hope this is indicative of fear on the part of the major networks of forever losing the hour drama to cable television
Several episodes – including the pilot, “Ghost”, the superb “Man on the Street”, and “Epitaph One” – feature commentary tracks. Whedon flies solo on “Man in the Street” and delivers the most useful information; he’s joined by Dushku on “Echo” for a giggly love-in that tests patience, and writers Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen (son of Joss and wife of son of Joss, respectively) chime in on “Epitaph One”.
Next up is just under a half hour of deleted and extended scenes, providing some extra character moments, and will certainly be good for a quick run-through. There’s also a series of typical production featurettes, though footage of the initial table read in “Making Dollhouse” is quite interesting.
UPDATE: This review was originally posted under an incorrect byline.