Among the dolls
Jimmy Fowler recently gave you his TV pick on this blog, so here’s mine. When Dollhouse started airing on Fox on Friday nights two months ago, I thought it was intriguing. Since then, it’s gone from “intriguing” to “freakin’ brilliant.” You need to see this. If you’re already seeing it, you need to tell your friends. With its ratings, there’s no guarantee it’ll be back next year, though further down in this post you can find out what to do about that.
If you’re new to Dollhouse, you probably know it’s the latest by Joss Whedon, who created the magnificent Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The show revolves around the Dollhouse, a secret business in L.A. that programs entire personalities into its human “dolls,” sends them out on missions, and then deprograms them afterward so that they forget everything they’ve done. It’s primarily an escort service, and if that icks you out like it did for some TV critics, well, it’s supposed to. (Here’s where I should mention that there are hot male dolls as well as female ones.)
However, the Dollhouse does more than satisfy its wealthy clients’ kinky sexual urges. The dolls are engaging in secret-agent espionage stuff, too, and the mystery of the Dollhouse’s true purpose remains to be unpacked. The main character is Eliza Dushku’s Echo (the dolls are assigned code names taken from the NATO Phonetic Alphabet), who’s starting to remember earlier experiences that she shouldn’t be remembering. The premise of the show lets the actors effectively play different roles each week, yet Echo does have an underlying self that is slowly emerging. That’s important; Whedon’s shows are about strong, complex female characters, and though Echo isn’t nearly as well-defined as Buffy yet, she’s developing.
The show’s got everything else: butt-kicking action sequences, plot twists that make you go “Whoa!”, creepy elements like The Attic (where dolls are sent when they’re defective), and a fascinating gallery of morally shady characters supervising the dolls. My favorite one of those is the Dollhouse’s amoral computer geek (played by Fran Kranz) who constantly calls himself a genius but easily comes unwound under pressure. Fans of Whedon’s trademark sense of humor should check Episode 7 (“Echoes”), when the Dollhouse staff gets spiked with a mood-altering drug. There’s even a haunting portrait of a client (played by Patton Oswalt) who uses the dolls to re-create a romantic moment that he never got to enjoy with his now-deceased wife.
Here’s my recommendation: Start with Episode 2 (“Target”), which is a better intro to the show than the pilot, then skip directly to Episode 6 (“Man on the Street”) and proceed from there. The pilot and Episodes 3-5 are of variable quality. They’re meant to be seen on their own.
If you’re already a fan of Dollhouse and want a second season, you’ve got two options. The first is the time-tested one of contacting the network and letting them know you like the show and want it back. The other one is newer: Watch the show on the internet instead of on TV. You see, when you click on Fox’s website or Hulu or other sites that stream TV shows, you’re actually giving the networks reliable figures on how many people are viewing their programs. This is in stark contrast to the Nielsen ratings that the TV industry has been using for decades, even though nobody believes them. As the song says, the internet is really really great!
Various notes: Dollhouse has two actors of Asian ethnicity (Dichen Lachman and Liza Lapira), with a possible third on the way (Tim Chiou as Echo’s new handler). Represent! Also, it features two actors of Albanian descent (Dushku and Enver Gjokaj). Uh, how do you say “Represent!” in Albanian? … Dallas native Amy Acker appears on the show as the Dollhouse’s in-house doctor who’s been physically scarred and traumatized by an attack from a rogue doll. … I must admit my favorite actor here is neither her nor Dushku (whom I like), but Lachman as a doll who’s had really bad things done to her. The actress’ name reflects her Nepalese-Australian heritage, and she’s good enough to carry her own show. … The 28-year-old Dushku is not only the star but also the show’s producer. There’s a lesson for the actresses out there: If Hollywood’s male-dominated power structure isn’t handing you opportunities, go out and make one.