Saturday, February 14, 2009

Dollhouse S01E01 - "Ghost"

Fans of Joss Whedon have been collectively counting down to tonight's debut of Dollhouse for a while now. None of the previews had really done anything to impress me, but as I got in the car to drive to a friend's house to partake of the horrors of network television (commercials!) I was cautiously optimistic. Eliza Dushku certainly seems capable enough of carrying a series, and Mr. Whedon hasn't really let me down yet.

I said "yet", right?

For those of you unfamiliar, Dollhouse revolves around a fairly simple premise. The Dollhouse itself is some sort of agency that lends out "Actives", memory-wiped individuals who get Matrix'd ("I know kung fu") into having whatever abilities their clients desire. When the job's done, they go back to being blank slates until they get hired out again. Eventually their commitment to the Dollhouse is up and they get let back into normal society. The problem here is that instead of taking this solid premise and building it up over time, Dollhouse tosses us in the deep end of a pool of shit.

Characters, plotlines, subplots, background... all of it is thrown out on the table here. Active word "thrown" - "Ghost" is a scattered mess of information. At first, Whedon goes out of his way to explain just what the Dollhouse is, how it's Actives are nothing more than perfectly brainwashed drones, doing whatever their clients hire them to do. Whedon really babies his audience through this background, and it rubbed me the wrong way. I'm not a fucking child, and although most network television viewers are, Whedon has never really made a career out of pandering to them before this.

Then there's the characters themselves. Hoo boy. We are introduced to Dollhouse with Echo/Caroline's recruitment to the entourage. She's escaping a mysterious past where she fucked up somehow and now needs to erase her memory for five years and make it all go away. It's like the French Foreign Legion for babes, without the kickass hats. We meet Echo's boss. And her boss' partner. And Echo's "handler". And the nerd/tech guy who does all the science! And another Active. And the doctor, who has more characterization than most of these others because she has nasty scars on her face, ooo! Aaaand then there's the FBI agent.

Yep, the FBI! Scary boogeymen of terrible subplots everywhere, the FBI are apparently involved in some kind of human trafficking investigation. We learn this long before we really know anything about the Dollhouse, of course, ruining any tension it might have created down the line. Our FBI agent, played by the pucker-mouthed Tahmoh Penikett, is a rogue fed who plays by his own rules and likes to stick it to the man. We meet Agent Paul Ballard as he's getting chewed out by some sort of suit for his crazy antics. This scene is oh-so-brilliantly overlaid with another of Agent Ballard kickboxing against a much bigger, tougher, scarier opponent. (Who is apparently some sort of Samoan/Viking hybrid, judging by his mix of clipart tribal tattoos.) As his boss gives him a dressing down, the tattooed menace in grappling (not Muay Thai) shorts trashes our hero Ballard, ultimately sending him to the mat just as his boss-figure asks him if Ballard will finally be able to swallow his pride and play by the rules, damnit. In-the-ring Ballard rises to the occasion and smashes his opponent with an elbow and a flying knee, while in-the-office Ballard agrees to play nice. The fighting is miserably choreographed and pathetic, and the lameness of this scene could sedate a horse.

The whole FBI subplot illustrates nicely the biggest problems with Dollhouse. Terrible characterization, cheesy themes, and a complete disregard for pacing or story arcs. I mean, jesus fuck christ, the very first episode has Echo taking on the role of a hostage negotiator trying to save a little girl who's been kidnapped. An abduction episode would be awesome a way down the line, once we've gotten to know Dollhouse better, but in the pilot it just feels like so much cheese forced onto our plate. We haven't even had time to sit down at the table here, Joss. Let it settle.

Gone are Whedon's playful marriages of whimsical insults and light action. There is not a single laugh to be had in Dollhouse. It feels like Mr. Whedon is going for a more dramatic approach here, amplifying all the worst parts of the River Tam storyline from Firefly to 11. When Echo starts to talk like a child as she regresses further into her implanted memories, any Firefly fan will see echos of Summer Glau.

"Ghost" is utter shit. There is no subtlety, no fun, and no reason for me to want to revisit the Dollhouse present here. This is a ball being dropped in the worst way. io9 claims that the second episode is an improvement upon the first, and that doesn't really surprise me. From "Ghost", there's nowhere to go but up.

Verdict: Epic Fail [2/10] (these 2 points are for Eliza)

http://www.fox.com/dollhouse/

18 comments:

Whatever Unicorn said...

Do you think you could put a little summary of what Dollhouse is in there? Without heading to wiki, I have no clue what's going on. Maybe this is something that most tv watchers know about, but all I got is that this involves the government, is shitty, and has some connection to Firefly(?).

frank as fuck said...

I just noticed that I cut that 'graph out to make room for more hatred. I'll see what I can do.

frank as fuck said...

Done.

Oh, I also linked this entry on the Dollhouse official site. Nerd rage incoming!

autothrall said...

2 points more than this crap deserves. Whedon is the most overrated TV writer ever.

Are you guys sure we should review single episodes of TV shows though? As opposed to seasons? Not sure how I feel about that. Granted, more $ goes into making a single TV episode than like 100 albums, but still...

No comments = no nerd rage (here, anyway).

Narian said...

I don't think we should, for example, review ever single episode of Dollhouse by itself, but maybe for series premieres it would be good to do. Otherwise, season reviews half-season reviews is what we should focus on for television because there's just so much information to review in a whole season for just one review.

frank as fuck said...

Nah, single episode reviews would be too much. I just figured it would work for a series premiere. I'm with Narian on this one.

Kudos to whomever put the image up there, I wanted to avoid anything that might get us in trouble since I linked it on their official blog, but that should work nicely.

frank as fuck said...

It came to my attention through the internet that there was originally supposed to be a 2 hour long pilot that Fox deemed too complicated. So instead, we got a 1 hour long pilot that's twice as complicated, or something.

I'm guessing that with the Friday night slot, this show won't see season 2, if it even gets halfway through season 1.

Oh, and I stand by my 2 points for Eliza!

Narian said...

Image courtesy of myself, and if anyone has any problems just take it down (hopefully this won't happen!)

PS: Currently watching the episode, I'll leave my impressions after.

Narian said...

Just finished the episode and my initial impression is that I liked it and will watch ep2. It seems better than Buffy/Angel, but I'm hesitant to say that it will be better than Firefly.

RobinD said...

Everyone likes to blame the Fox bogeyman, but more than likely it just sucks because it sucks.

autothrall said...

Firefly is the only Whedon show I've ever been able to stomach (aside from maybe a handful of Angel episodes), and even that has a few annoyances.

frank as fuck said...

I wasn't trying to blame Fox, just saying that if that's true, it's very apparent in the amount of content shoved into this 50 minutes.

Anyway, this episode is available on Hulu for anyone who missed it.

http://www.hulu.com/watch/57885/dollhouse-ghost

Did anyone else get some echoes (sorry!) of Gunslinger Girl? I have a feeling that any theme Dollhouse wants to explore in regards to the handlers/brainwashing/etc, GSG has already done, better.

Whatever Unicorn said...

Ah, that extra paragraph did the trick.

I like the idea of reviewing new season premieres because they're so important to how the shows are received. I'm not sure that I'd be all to interested in seeing a bunch of them reviewed, but I also don't watch tv, so I have no stake int he issue.

I was planning to review Spaced and Extras at some point, although that would be by seasons since they both had two seasons of six episodes.

autothrall said...

Ugh, I cannot have an image of this horrible actress at the top of my blog!

I shall rectify this by adding reviews soon!

frank as fuck said...

When your premiere lags behind "Supernanny" by almost 2 million viewers... quit.

JD said...

@Unicorn: Spaced had two seven episode seasons.

JD said...

Also, in my opinion Whedon has never made anything worthwhile.

Dreadkommander Nekrokreuz said...

Finally checking this out on Hulu. This is dogshit. Who thinks it's okay to write dialogue like this?