Thursday, February 12, 2009

I've Got A Bad Feeling About Dollhouse

I know that post title sounds harsh - I'm a big fan of Joss Whedon and his writing, and really want nothing more for Dollhouse to be a commercial and critical success. But I'm kinda worried about it with really nothing to base my feelings on other than my gut, and TV viewers time-honoured tradition of avoiding or abandoning much-hyped shows.

Look back at nearly every TV series that was a hit...they pretty much all became hits. TV fans are funny that way...they like to discover a series and fall in love with it, not be told to love it.

Whedon's first TV effort Buffy the Vampire Slayer wasn't a smash out of the gate. It arrived with little fanfare, but slowly and surely grew into one of the most acclaimed and influential TV series of all time. That said, it still never achieved CSI-like 'hit' numbers. But fans found it and fell in love with it and stuck with it. That's usually how it works, especially in genre television. The X Files, Battlestar Gallatica, Charmed, Supernatural, Smallville...some may have been quicker out of the gate than others, but it was the slow yet consistent growth of the fanbase that ultimately elevated them.

Look at the most of the recent or current hit North American TV programs on the tube --- The Sopranos, The Shield, Mad Men, House, Bones, CSI, NCIS, Grey's Anatomy, How I Met Your Mother, Two And A Half Men, The Office, even Corner Gas --- they all began somewhat quietly and slowly grew into what they became or are today. Sure, Lost started on somewhat of a bigger note...there are always exceptions to the rule...but I still don't remember it being touted as 'the next big thing!'

That said, I can't turn around these days without seeing an article or an ad for Dollhouse: premiering this Friday night on FOX! And I know its important to market and promote new shows...hell, it's better than no promotion at all! But there seems to be a fine line between creating interest and awareness for a program...and touting it as 'must see TV!' Strangely enough, unlike hyped movies, most people will resist if they are told they 'must' watch and 'must' love a TV show. But they are cool with it if a series becomes must see on its own.

Firefly, Whedon's last TV series before 'Dollhouse', was touted as the next big thing. It was expected to rocket out of the gate and keep going up. It never did...didn't even last a whole season. A lot of factors contributed, including network meddling and too-high expectations, but I will go so far as to say that it just never felt like I was watching something 'special' as much as I was watching something that thought it was special. Dollhouse is looking like it may also have that lack of 'specialness' working against it.

For starters, I feel I've already seen it before...either a show called Alias, or a show called Dark Angel, starring Jessica Alba.

Dark Angel: A genetically enhanced, 9-year-old female super-soldier who calls herself Max Guevara (also known as X5-452), escapes along with eleven others like her from a secret government institution where they'd been created and subsequently raised and trained to be soldiers and assassins. The series picks up ten years later as it follows the life of the now 19-year-old Max (Jessica Alba) as she searches for her missing 'brothers and sisters', and tries to live her life, evade capture, and learn to trust and love.

Okay...and the basic premise of Dollhouse?

Dollhouse: The show follows an organization that employs mind-wiped DNA-altered humans known as Dolls who are implanted with false memories and skills for various missions, fantasies, assassinations, and tasks. When they are not 'at work' they are living in a real life Dollhouse which gives the show the name. One of those mind-wiped humans, a young woman named Echo (Eliza Dushku ), is slowly starting to become aware of herself and what's going on - and wants to stop it and escape while helping the other 'Dolls'.

And then there's some of the posters:

Now maybe its just the same photographer at FOX who only knows how to take one pose (see also Fox's Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles)...

...but Dollhouse and Dark Angel sure look and sound the same. And 'Dark Angel', with all it's hype (brought to you by James Cameron), never really connected with viewers and thus fans in a big way. I'm worried that 'Dollhouse' may suffer the same fate.

And now, these new pics of Dollhouse's Eliza Dushku have swept across the net...

...and I fear when a show starts releasing tasteful but nude pictures of your star before the first episode has even aired...well, it smells of desperate.

Series TV fans want to discover the sexy (and the drama, and the funny), not have it shoved down their throats.


Good Dog said...

Will, I feel much the same. The majority of my favourite films and TV shows are ones I've discovered myself. When the hype starts pressing on me that I must, must, MUST see something I tend to turn my back on it.

Thinking about it, there was a TV show when I was a kiddie that featured an organization that employed a young boy implanted with skills for various missions. That was Joe 90. Dollhouse has the edge in that Eliza Dushku is better looking than a wooden puppet.

Oh, and I prefer nude pictures to be tasteless. But that's just me.

Dono said...

It'll definitely be interesting to see what Whedon brings to the table this time around. I can see Dollhouse being really good or really average.

The pictures are nice, but they certainly don't make me dislike Dushku any less.

I'll take David Boreanez,Sarah Michelle Gellar,Nathan Fillion, or Neil Patrick Harris over her anyday.

jimhenshaw said...

Let's hope Joss Whedon has more on the creative ball than Fox's marketing department.

But given the pilot re-shoot and script delays, I have a feeling the series is being fit into a pre-determined set of "what the audience wants" beliefs.

That plus the Friday night slot(which coincidentally shares an opening date with the also "must see" re-modeled "Friday the 13th") makes me think this'll be another "Firefly" at best.

Why would you program a series like this on the night the target demo is most likely otherwise engaged?

But there's another similarity between "Dark Angel" and "Dollhouse" that might play a larger part in their "failure".

Used to be, if you were designing a series which depended on the lead characters becoming different people each week, you cast actors with a lot of range.

Both Alba and Dushku have talent, but I haven't seen either disappear into any character they've played or exhibit a wide range of other thesp skills.

When you're kinda getting the same performance each week, the concept that somebody's a chameleon won't have the impact it should.

morjana said...

Hi, Will.

I agree with you on all of your points.

Plus, I'm not a fan of the "pouty actresses" genre. And Eliza is one of those pouty actresses.

Plus, I was concerned about the use of prostitution in Joss' "Firefly," and now he's using it again in "Dollhouse."

I haven't decided yet if I will even watch the pilot episode. And it airs today. I'm just ... so not interested.

nils said...

Here we go...

This series would have been good. On Showtime. Or HBO. If the original pilot, and resulting arcs had been left intact and put on a network that (more or less) fostered creativity and less-than-mainstream stories, I think we would have had an interesting and dark weekly character study that went somewhere, rather than the traditional FOX 'hot chick on motorcycle' skewing that has taken place.

I'm a firm believer that someday, Whedon needs to walk away from FOX. I don't care what executives are gone or what their new mandate is... its still one of the big four networks, and its still going to act like one.

That being said, I think the latter half of the season will pick up critically, from everything I've been reading.

And Buffy season 1? I'm the most die-hard Whedon fan there is, and even I have trouble watching the reptile episode. Here's hoping Dollhouse makes it to Season 2... I guarantee you the show will hit its stride.

Cunningham said...

And yet, you can't blame them for going with their strengths - this is an action show with a hot female lead.

They can't compare it to ALIAS because that's on another network, so they have to compare it to something they own...

And no one here seemingly remembers the UNGODLY FREAKIN' HYPE that was THE WEST WING -- "This is IMPORTANT TELEVISION brought to you by big, important writer Aaron Sorkin."


wcdixon said...

Sorry Bill, I was going to mention West Wing as an exception but couldn't remember if it arrived on scene with big fanfare or not.

Hey...they are selling show as they (FOX) see fit to sell it...and I don't have as much of a problem with that (even though it all smells a little 'familiar') as much as the 'over-selling' going on. It's a freakin' genre action scifi-ish show with a yummy female biggie! Yes, with Whedon at helm it might be able to rise up into 'awesome cool' in a fanboy/girl kinda way, but thats about it! Let's be real here.

The overhype gives it no place to go but down...I'm sorry.

nils said...

"teh Whedon" is back on the air... and it didn't suck! At all. In fact, I would agree that all this negative press was a result of the overhyped expectations you talked about Will.

I guess once the numbers come in we'll see if all the hype/mixed reviews turned out to be a good thing or a bad thing... At this point (non-sucky first episode), maybe it doesn't even matter anymore.

Grrrr Arghh!!

wcdixon said...

Yeah well...I fell asleep during the airing of the pilot.

Here's a good analysis of series and first 3 episodes though:

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