Dollhouse was one of the series I was most excited to see return this fall. Given the show’s not-so-great ratings last season, Whedon fans (myself included) were relieved to see that Fox was giving the show another season to build a fanbase. Unfortunately, the series hasn’t gotten off to a great start in its sophomore season, with the ratings dropping 20% from their already low numbers from the season premiere to last Friday’s episode. After reading a comment posted from last week’s recap, I thought I’d throw this question out there into the verse: Should Dollhouse be allowed to die?
Below is an excerpt from Cinema Blend reader Frank Watson’s comment:
“I believe it may be possible that Mr. Whedon has spent too much time lately working in the comic book genre, because "Dollhouse" feels less like a TV show and more like a *storyboard* of a TV show.
Now before we get into this, it needs to be said that I am a Whedon fan. I’ve seen every episode of Buffy, Angel and Firefly and I love all three series. Like so many other Whedon fans, I had high hopes for Dollhouse and in many respects, I wasn’t disappointed by the first season. That said, as season two picks up, I’m finding myself wanting to like the show more than I actually am and I’m questioning where it’s all going. Yes, I’ve seen the special “Epitaph One” episode that’s featured on the DVD set, so technically, I know where it’s going, yet I’m still scratching my head and wondering whether or not the time invested in this series, if it continues, will be worth the aftermath in the big picture.
Many might argue that it would be wrong to force comparisons between Dollhouse and Whedon’s earlier small-screen works. But as a Whedon fan, my expectations for Dollhouse were set far above the bar because let’s face it, that’s where his other work exists. In Buffy, Angel and Firefly, Whedon managed to take interesting premises (vampire slayers, soul-having vampires and space cowboys) and turn them into fantastic shows that didn’t rely entirely on a “big picture.” I was more insistent on not comparing Dollhouse to the earlier shows in its first season because both Buffy and Angel needed more than a season to take-off. But looking at the first couple of episodes of Season 2, I’m starting to worry that it might take longer than that to get me on board with this show. That brings me back to the commenter’s suggestion: Should Dollhouse be allowed to die?
The CB commenter admitted to only watching two-thirds of the first episode of season two before giving up on the show but looking at his remark about Whedon being too engrossed in the comic book genre, I have to say that the “storyboard” remark falls in line with some of my own comments on the season opener. The pacing was just weird and I really felt like they tried to put too much into that first episode. It was almost like watching two separate episodes crammed into one hour rather than the episode finding a natural flow between the different stories playing out. Granted, last Friday’s “Instinct” episode worked a lot better in that respect but I’m still finding my interest in the series dipping down a bit.
Going back to the comparisons between Whedon’s earlier work and Dollhouse, I think Dollhouse lacks a key ingredient that all of the other shows thrived on: Team spirit. While Dollhouse has a cast of excellent characters, all of whom have interesting story lines, there really isn’t a group dynamic in this show. I wouldn’t consider that a flaw by normal TV standards as there are plenty of other shows with large, ensemble casts that don’t spend all or most of the episode on screen together. That said, one of the truest charms of Firefly, Buffy and Angel was the dynamic of the characters as a group. Without that, Dollhouse doesn’t feel as cozy a place to visit as Serenity, the Sunnydale H.S. library or that big, old Los Angeles hotel. Is non-coziness a reason to complain about a show? Eh, maybe not but it’s definitely one of the things that sets the series apart from the other shows and one of the things I was looking for when I first started watching Dollhouse. Instead of a great group dynamic, Dollhouse banks on individual relationships between the separate characters and maybe the individual parts just don’t equal the whole because I’m not really feeling it.
I also have issues with the heroine of the series. I’m not going to bother getting into a debate about Eliza Dushku’s acting because frankly, that plays a very small part in my disinterest in Caroline/Echo. Echo stated in the first episode of season 2 that she wants to find Caroline. I may be alone here but I’m pretty indifferent about Echo getting Caroline back. We saw a few glimpses of who Caroline was before she signed up to become an Active and I can’t say that she’s any more exciting of a character than Echo is. Nothing against militant college-age, animal rights activists but she just didn’t do anything for me, so I have a hard time getting excited over Echo’s big mission if it means she’s eventually going to turn back into Caroline. To add onto that, we saw the return of Madeline in last week’s episode and she seems pretty content with her life post-Dollhouse, so getting the other actives (all of whom had their own reasons for signing up for the Dollhouse) their old personalities back doesn’t really hold a lot of weight for me in terms of the big picture.
And finally, there’s the stand-alone aspect of the show. Each week we get to see Echo on a different mission, which gives the show an Alias-like feel as she goes about playing make-believe with whichever client hired her. This is one of the more interesting aspects of the show and should be a reason for casual viewers to tune in but I’m not sure the recurring theme of the assignment-gone-wrong is going to be enough to hold the series up while we wait to see how the overall premise plays out.
So yeah, I have complaints about the series and no, I’m not surprised that the ratings are slipping. I don’t want to say any of this. I’d rather write a lengthy argument on why this show is so amazing and why people are missing out. Those are a lot more fun to write and considering Whedon is one of my all-time favorite TV show creators, I take no pleasure in criticizing his latest series. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t questioning whether or not this show must go on.
I’m sure plenty of you out there are already pounding your keyboards and crying “No! Dollhouse can not die! Give the show a chance!” But for those of us who are giving the show a chance, how long do we have to wait until the series finds that groove that has everyone on the edge of their seats, counting down the days until Friday night when we can find out what’s going to happen next? Because I have to be honest, that’s what I was looking for with this new season of Dollhouse and so far, I’m not there yet. Will I keep watching? Without a doubt. I actually do enjoy watching the show as much as I do most of the other series I’m watching these days. So by no means have I given up on the series yet, though the sizable dip in the ratings says that some people are, which is why I’m opening this up for some good, healthy debating.
Maybe it would be better for Dollhouse to get put in the attic, if only so Whedon can move on to a better project (maybe some more Dr. Horrible installments or something similar to that). Then again, if Dollhouse were to be cancelled by Fox, I’d worry that Whedon might give up on the small screen projects for a while, pushing an even greater gap between this show and his next TV project than the one we saw between Firefly and Dollhouse, but is that reason enough to want to see this series continue if it isn’t measuring up? Is a just-ok Whedon show better than no Whedon show at all? I’m still on the fence. Feel free to post your own thoughts in the comment section below.