Tear Your Dollhouse Down


News of Dollhouse’s cancellation will undoubtedly prompt the Whedon-friendly Internet to grouse about the show’s failure to capture a significant audience.

Some will blame Fox for burying the series in the Friday night graveyard and under-promoting the project to boot, others will say Eliza Dushku wasn’t a good enough actress to pull off the “Doll” concept while still others will blame the audience for not giving the show enough of a chance to unveil its pleasures.

Some will simply re-open old wounds concerning Firefly and Angel.

None will point out that the central concept – people selling off their identities to become robotic prostitutes – simply wasn’t strong enough to carry a series indefinitely. I’m not saying that Whedon and company didn’t make an interesting point or two, but there’s only so many ways to say “HEY LOOK GUYS, THIS IS SOME REALLY BAD $H!T!” before the message becomes repetitive.

(And just how many times did Topher’s supposedly brilliant programming skills prove unequal to the task, exactly?)

Perhaps the show would have worked better as a limited series, a la the original V or The Prisoner. Although I don’t think Whedon could equal The Prisoner, he’s a skilled enough storyteller to put together a cohesive message with a tightly structured beginning, middle and end.

Better yet, the Dollhouse concept would have been great fodder for an sci-fi exploitation film like Looker. Just tell Eliza Dushku to study Susan Dey’s robotic performance in that Michael Crichton movie and off you go …

Sadly, none of those options played out and Dollhouse became another example of how “high concept” is mistaken for creativity these days. Just because something sounds great on paper doesn’t mean it will work on screen.

Of course, Whedon isn’t the only creator guilty of falling into this trap. (Flash Forward, anyone? How about Point Pleasant?)  Storytelling has been overwhelmed by the “Art of the Pitch,” which condenses everything Twitter-like into a few well-chosen buzz-words.

Inevitably, the weight of one failed concept after another will prove too heavy to support. Producers will move on in search of the next big thing (i.e. whatever passes for “reality” at that point) and fans of genre entertainment will be stuck with a trash heap full of kick-@$$ sex-bots, heartbroken vampires and time-traveling islands.


One thought on “Tear Your Dollhouse Down

  1. I think it's a good example of a show saying it's about something, and constantly teasing that it's about to say it…and then it never does. Eventually you realize it was never going to. One tries to dig up connections here, but when the show takes such pains to avoid making them, what can you do? The idea that people at the Dollhouse were "ethical in their way", or sympathetic because they were damaged, or that they were trapped, or that they were trying to accomplish anything…or even that they were badass and creepy and slightly inhuman themselves…these are all the things that being constantly suggested eventually had to be there, or else it was just "oh hey, this drug company has perfected mind control, so they're using it to rent out made-to-order hookers and midwives"…There's so much there, that absolutely crashes to the ground, because no one put any supports under it. One thing that always bothered me: where does Topher get his memory-implant ingredients from? They're all from real people, we're told.Like, somebody went out and found a shit-hot midwife, and put her in the memory-extractor machine…just in case someone wanted a…Wait, in case they wanted a mind-controlled midwife?If there was some kind of analogical commentary here, then the dozens of things that didn't make any fucking sense at all wouldn't need explaining. But since there really wasn't any commentary like that, then they did…so that no one bothered to do what needed doing in terms of explanation, or point-making, or character-building, or musings on the fragility of identity (!), or anything, just made the whole show like that one episode where Echo is trapped in a bank vault…Trapped in the bank vault she got into by blowing a huge hole in its wall, and the hole's still there, oh my goodness HOW WILL SHE ESCAPE…!!!!There's your metaphor right there, I think.

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