It’s pretty safe to assume, at this point, that those of you who care have already scoped out Joss Whedon’s latest show: Dollhouse. I’m also fairly sure that most of who who have seen the show have come to one conclusion or other about it. My synopsis: great underlying concept executed so poorly it makes Buffy the Vampire Slayer look awesome. And I liked the Buffy movie better than the show. Seriously guys, Dollhouse sucks.
Yet I continue to watch it.
I think this has a lot to do with exactly why it sucks. Ninety percent of the show is one retarded adventure after another that basically goes: someone with too much money on their hands needs a superhottie with no traceable ties to fix whatever’s wrong. Whatever is wrong, is usually retardedly simple and has no need of superhottie action star. Blank girl gets zapped full of personality that is usually vapid and shallow, mission commences, ham-fisted existentialism is had, tits go up, mission ends, superhottie gets zapped back to Blank girl we’re supposed to identify with. Then something ominous happens in the last five minutes to hint that not all is right with Blank Girl and that she might actually be developing a personality. Those last five minutes are awesome. The rest is crap. Can you see the problem?
Problem one: our main character has all the personality of a half-baked fetus. Sure, she’s kind of like River Tam from Firefly, but without the crazy and quirky insight that made her interesting. This is not a character, this is a prop. You can’t follow props, you can’t identify with them. The show may revolve around this prop becoming a person, but she can’t be our main character until she’s actually a character. This show would be much better served if we followed the FBI agent trying to track down our Blank girl, or her Handler, or hell even the damn Techie. I’d watch a show that followed a man who’s job it was to erase people’s identity and put in new ones. It could be a great examination of what makes people human, not only in what he does to his “patients” but what his job does to him psychologically. It could be awesome. Alas. It was not meant to be.
Problem two: If we must be shackled to Blank girl, at least make the adventures of Blank girl interesting. Her missions should give us some kind of insight as to what kind of person she was before she was blanked. Her missions should, I don’t know, make some kind of sense. The last one, I swear to God, sent her in to a religious cult as a blind believer so the feds could get some dope on the leader of the cult who was apparently smuggling guns. Except that he wasn’t. He had enough to arm Nicaragua, sure, but the church wasn’t a front, he honestly believed in his crazy warped religious voodoo. Tried to set his parish on fire so to prove God loved them when He wouldn’t let them burn. Seriously. If that’s not enough proof that the missions suck, remember the one where she’s supposed to be a bodyguard for the black version of Brittany Spears? ‘Cept the Brittany clone wanted her crazy stalker/fanboy/assassin to kill her? Case and point. Make the missions interesting and insightful if you have to go that route.
Problem three: the Dollhouse business plan makes no sense. You’ve got a super-secret business that uses hyper-advanced technology to provide super-exclusive impossibly perfect services to insanely wealthy clients. If it was public, I might buy it. Exclusive, elite, shadowy, impossible to get inside, ok, I’d buy that. But secret to the point of myth? A myth that everyone knows about but nobody believes? Come on. They’ve got the world’s most advanced brothel, offering an infinitely large array of services, that’s so secret no one even believes it exists. How the hell do you get clients? You can’t run something that big and expensive by word of mouth. The Dollhouse itself I think aggravates me more than anything else.
Problem four: we know next to nothing about Blank girl. At some point in her past she did something that got her into trouble. She signed on with the Dollhouse and they made it go away in exchange for 5 years of service. Something’s eroding with her programming, letting her remember portions of the personalities she’s programed with. This is all ok. Except nothing changes. The show keeps dangling the same tidbits about her in front of us each episode and the tidbits never seem to add up to anything. We don’t care enough about Blank girl for this to be effective. We don’t know enough to care about her. See problem one.
The fundamental concept of: organization x imprinting memories/personalities into people y to do z is a classic sci-fi set up. You can get a lot of really good examination and commentary on the human condition with that. Dollhouse seems to have forgotten that to do an existential show, you need to actually be thoughty and pose engaging questions. Instead, Dollhouse goes for glitz over substance, and you know what? This glitz isn’t that shiny.
Yet, I am sure I will keep watching, perhaps in the hopes that the last 5 minutes of every episode will equal up to one half-way decent TV movie.