Joss Whedon is a pretty multitalented guy, writing and directing the box office hit The Avengers (2012) and following up with the TV show Agents of SHIELD, but he has a checkered history with commercial success. His résumé includes Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997–2003), Angel (1999–2004), Firefly (2002–03), and the Firefly spin-off film, Serenity (2005).
My subject here is Dollhouse, which failed to attract sufficient ratings to be profitable for 20th Century Fox Television; it was renewed for a second season only with a budget cut and a cancellation date in view.
The premiss is similar to the French film Nikita (1990) that led to a franchise, with Canadian TV series La Femme Nikita (1997-2001), the American version, Nikita (2010-2013), and probably also Alias (2001-2006).
Sexy women with guns. Fetishised violence and thanatos.
Dollhouse had an interesting twist on the fetish assassin theme: its characters were all brain-wiped and programmable to fulfill whatever mission wealthy clients would pay for.
The hook is that one of them, Echo (Eliza Dushku), becomes increasingly self-aware, gradually understanding that she has been brain-wiped, and motivating a rebellion of sorts among the other ‘dolls’, to determine their own missions and purposes.
I think the entire genre runs out of steam pretty quickly. Storylines become increasingly improbable, and the tease can last only so long before it becomes boring.
Nevertheless, I thought this one was probably better than the others, even if some episodes of Alias were pretty impressive. What Dollhouse offers that the others don’t is a fatalism about people that sits well with the increasingly authoritarian, police-state measures imposed in the US. It might sit as a zeitgeist piece in decades to come. Or it might disappear completely from view in future considerations of early 21st century TV. All the same, I thought the series worth my time in increments across a couple of weeks.
20th Century Fox Television, Mutant Enemy Productions, Boston Diva Productions 42-50 minutes per episode, with 14 episodes in season 1, and 13 episodes in season 2.
Written, directed, and produced by various (see IMDB credits list).
Featuring Eliza Dushku as Echo, Harry Lennix as Boyd Langton, Fran Kranz as Topher Brink, Tahmoh Penikett as Paul Ballard, Enver Gjokaj as Victor, Dichen Lachman as Sierra, Olivia Williams as Adelle DeWitt, Miracle Laurie as Mellie, Amy Acker as Dr. Claire Saunders, Reed Diamond as Laurence Dominic, Liza Lapira as Ivy, Summer Glau as Bennett Halverson, Alan Tudyk as Alpha.