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"Dollhouse"

By admin Published: February 13, 2009

About a week ago I wrote a review of "Dollhouse" based on seeing the premiere. I had mixed feelings. Since then, I have seen two more episodes. Feelings still mixed.

I have tried to keep the degree of optimism I first brought the show, as a fan of both Joss Whedon (although the appeal of "Firefly" still eludes me) and of Eliza Dushku. Although she still hasn't done anything as impressive as Faith on Whedon's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," I would have tuned immediately to a "Buffy" spinoff/sequel focused on Faith, and still think someone missed a bet in not doing one.

But that's wallowing in nostalgia when there is a new series to consider here, and I wish I felt as enthused as I used to feel for a new season of "Buffy." All right, not all new seasons, and definitely not the first one, but some. And where "Buffy" suggested some promise fairly quickly, even after three episodes I am not convinced that "Dollhouse" has much of anywhere to go. And that Fox promo presenting "Terminator: TSCC" and "Dollhouse" like a pair of Grindhouse features does nothing to give me hope.

For those of you tuning in late, "Dollhouse" stars Dushku as Echo, one of a secret company's collection of dolls -- people who can have others' memories and personalities implanted in them so as to fill almost any role, then have their memories erased until they are need for another job. Someone like Echo can become a perfect date, a businesswoman, a creature of action, even -- as is seen in a later episode -- an expert safecracker.

But, as you would imagine, there are problems with this life. For one thing, Echo was not always a doll, and the show raises questions about her pre-doll life. There's an investigator who is obsessed with the Dollhouse and trying to expose it and its often illegal activities. There are personality conflicts among the people running the Dollhouse. And, perhaps most importantly and disappointingly, the doll system itself is flawed, leading not only to a rogue doll on the loose but to unexpected glitches in the dolls themselves.

The logic flaws in the show are abundant. The tonal shifts allowed for in the concept are far more limited in practice, not least because there are limits to what Dushku herself can do convincingly; she seems especially to struggle with polished authority figures, her voice lacking the depth for such characters. The show often declines into action-movie cliches, including an episode that turns into a prolonged chase recalling an old woman-in-jeopardy movie (so maybe the Fox promo isn't as far off-base after all). And while it offers a number of serialized elements, they don't make up for the weakness of individual episodes -- especially when the show falls back on one idea twice in the three shows made available for preview.

I really want to like this show. I keep begging it to give me a big reason to add it to my viewing. It's not as if I am weighed down by Friday-night options, with the possible exception of overflow from Thursdays. I will probably tune in at least once more. But when I do, I know it will because of my old fan feelings about Dushku, and my wishes for Whedon, rather than for anything I have seen on the screen so far.

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