Posts Tagged ‘eliza dushku’

Dollhouse: No Big Hunk Can Steal Her Away From Me

Saturday, February 21st, 2009

Two episodes in to Dollhouse, and our hero Echo is once again having sex with men for money. Since she can’t give consent, this makes her TV’s most rapeable action heroine. Fox, if you want to use that in your promos, be my guest. I think it gets across the message you want to sell.


I’m beginning to worry that this show is Joss Whedon’s mid-life crisis. While it does seem plausible that rentable reprogrammable people would be used for sex, let’s bear in mind that Whedon invented this flaky, dubious concept. These rich men hiring hot girls for sex are doing so because that’s what the writers want them to do, and we may be only a few weeks away from an episode in which someone hires two girl dolls to dress up as nurses and wrestle in Jell-O ‘because the plot demanded it’. It’s worth remembering that most mercenaries do not moonlight as hookers. 

I think the show might be a game of chicken that got out of hand. Apparently the concept arose because Eliza Dushku told Joss Whedon over lunch that she was looking for roles that would stretch her as an actor, which tend to be few and far between for women in the business. Whedon came up with the Dollhouse concept to serve that need, but he hasn’t made it work. I suspect he would have scrapped it if it weren’t for Dushku, and that Dushku wouldn’t have done it if Whedon hadn’t written it for her. Whedon can’t write this; Duskhu can’t act it; but they’re both obligated to ride it out because of the other.

Dushku’s acting improves a little this week when she’s playing the girl-in-peril, which is a role that’s well within her range. The problem is that she can’t do the innocent naif part that’s the lynchpin of the character (for want of a better word). When attempting ‘child-like’ she can only manage ‘what’s that smell?’

The plot this week - a Most Dangerous Game ‘tribute’ - was a step-up on last week’s kidnap nonsense, though it did take a quarter of the episode to get to it, and improving on last week is not a challenge. Whedon didn’t write or direct this week’s but there were some Whedonesque lines that may have been him - especially from Xandrew - and they still don’t click. This just isn’t a witty show, and Xandrew is too weaselly to be charming. This week’s choicest dialogue clunker came from Dushku, though, who gave us, “You know what gives someone the right to live? Not hunting them!” That is so true.

What did we learn this week?

  • When dolls die, they die in dainty hide-the-genitalia poses.
  • Harry Lennix’s greatest skill is the ability to pull guns out of his arse.
  • The audience is very stupid and does not know what ‘tabula rasa’ means. We must have it explained to us. Possibly every week.
  • We’re going to have to put up with that “Did I fall asleep” thing every week, and possibly also the elevator scenes where Echo says, “Wait there; I really want to go back to that guy and snuzzle”.
  • The trust-imprinting process requires the recital of dialogue lifted from As The World Turns or General Hospital. I feel they cut that sequence short, as we didn’t get as far as, “You complete me”.
  • The set of the Dollhouse is actually Wolfram and Hart, but they’ve added a zen reflection pool and some beanbags.
  • Plot alert! The naked guy at the end of last week’s episode was Alfa the broken doll, who is obsessed with Echo/Caroline. This is potentially the show’s most interesting thread. This is potentially the show’s only interesting thread.

And now, a little spoileration. If you don’t want to know the results, look away now.

During the production phase of the show there were several actors cast as ‘dolls’, including two dolls named Victor and November. In recent pre-publicity it was revealed that those characters had been dropped from the show, but the actors had been retained and new roles were being written for them. Because, yes, that’s what happens in the caring, nurturing world of television. They just can’t stand to see an actor go without work.

No, unless you’re Ali Larter, this is blatantly not the case. I think Victor and November are still in the show, and still dolls, and they’re the ones Mrs Dr Evil is using to keep an eye on Agent Hotness. We met one of them last week - the Russian mob lackey - and the other this week - the smitten next-door-neighbour. 

And in case you hadn’t already twigged - Alfa, Echo, November, Sierra and Victor are all names taken from the international radiotelephony spelling alphabet. This has me very excited for the possibility of guest appearance by 80s British TV cop Juliet Bravo. It also has me wondering if there are dolls called Golf, Hotel, Kilo, Xray and Uniform. I’m most looking forward to meeting Romeo and Yankee (I’m picturing Rodrigo Santoro and Chris Evans), and wondering if they can get away with Zulu.

Dollhouse: Tear Your Playhouse Down

Saturday, February 14th, 2009

The first episode of Dollhouse, the new series from Buffy creator Joss Whedon, aired last night. Whedon is a messianic figure among nerds, and Dollhouse has been hotly anticipated by his acolytes - so much so, in fact, that campaigns to save the show from cancellation have been underway for months. 

Those fans may want to sharpen their pencils and dig out the addresses of the Fox executives. I suspect this show is not long for this world.

Dollhouse is a tough sell even before you’ve seen the first reel, as the concept is outright bizarre. Eliza Dushku stars as Echo, one of several personality-free operatives who can be imprinted with new identities and new skills and hired out to do, well, anything. If you have the money, you can hire a doll to do whatever job you want. So they could be mercenaries. But they could also be prostitutes. It’s the best little dollhouse, in Texas or anywhere.


There are two problems here. First of all, it’s creepy. It sounds like a show about sex dolls who fight crime. That’s not nice. Whedon calls himself a feminist, but he’s really more a fetishist, with his particular thing being strong-but-vulnerable babes. He grew up reading Chris Claremont’s X-Men comics, and Claremont’s damsel/dominatrix complex has imprinted itself on Whedon. Like a lot of nerds, I don’t think he treats women as equals, but as something exotic and ‘other’, and a show about controllable superwomen seems like suspect territory for him to head into. (There are male ‘dolls’ as well, in theory; I don’t know how much time the show will spend with them.)

The second problem is that the concept is not very compelling. There are many places you can take a premise like this, but there’s no clear and obvious conflict. A vampire slayer fights vampires. A space cowboy goes up against outlaws and the law. A supernatural detective solves supernatural crimes. There’s no audience hook to ‘kick-ass sex doll’ except Whedon himself.


There is conflict, of course. The Dollhouse is an illegal operation, and FBI agent Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett) is the Van Helsing looking to shut it down. There’s also an internal conflict for Echo, who used to be a troubled girl named Caroline, and is perhaps not entirely done with being Caroline.

This is all rather troubling as well, because most of the characters work for the Dollhouse, and the Dollhouse is essentially a slavery/prostitution racket - verging on child abuse given how innocent the dolls are in their dormant state. At one point Echo is even said to be getting her virginity back, which is just icky. If we’re meant to like the characters at the Dollhouse, the show has problems, and if we’re not meant to like the characters, the show has problems. If characters like Amy Acker’s Dr Saunders and Harry Lennix’s Boyd are meant to be sympathetic, it doesn’t work.


And then there’s the Dushku problem. I like Eliza Dushku, but she is not a versatile actress. This show will require her to play all kinds of different roles and personalities, and in just the first episode she already runs into trouble trying to convince. As a girlfriend-for-hire in the opening scenes, she scrapes by (but the girl cannot dance). As a bespectacled and besuited hostage negotiator, she comes across like a soft core porn secretary waiting for the wah-wah to kick in. 

I’m already more interested in the other ‘doll’ featured in the pilot, new girl Sierra, played by Australian actress Dichen Lachman, and that’s less because of anything she does and more because she looks extraordinary, and therefore interesting. 


Even in spite of all its flaws, Dollhouse might still have been watchable if it had borne the chief hallmark of Whedon’s writing - wit. Unfortunately, this is a very humourless show, and again that perhaps comes down to the dry, dark concept. There’s not much room for wit in a show like this. The character being dubbed ‘Xandrew’ gets the only jokes, and they’re not funny ones. This leaves Whedon writing dreadful lines like, ”You ever try to clean an actual slate? You always see what was on it before.” That’s neither good nor true! Add to this a run-of-the-mill child kidnap plot and there’s nothing here to get very excited about.

That said, I did like about the show was the sunken beds the dolls all slept in. I’d like a sunken bed; it looks like it could be cosy. They totally ripped those sleep-pods off from the Backstreet Boys video for Larger Than Life, though.


In the end, Dollhouse’s problems come back to the concept. It didn’t sound good on paper. It doesn’t feel good in execution. It’s too unpleasant, too convoluted, and it doesn’t make much sense. If you have enough money to hire a mercenary or a prostitute, why not just hire a mercenary or a prostitute? The character of Agent Ballard attempts to answer this question in the show, and the best he can come up with is, ”If you have everything, you want something else. Something more extreme. Something more specific. Something perfect”.

In other words, there is no answer. I was hoping to see how Whedon would make this concept work. He didn’t.