Watch What We Say: Dollhouse

By Jason Lee

March 19, 2009

Technically I'm not a hooker, but I still have a pimp.

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Spring is here and the broadcast networks are trotting out new shows to make up for the fact that they put some real crap on the air last fall. Well, are any of these mid-season replacements worth your time? BOP gives you the inside scoop.

This week on Watch What We Say: An active, a rogue active and a dollhouse.

Hush. Once more with feeling. Surprise. For any typical human being, these words may seem like no more than typical instructions given by a teacher in a drama class. But for the lucky among us that can count ourselves as fans of the brilliant TV writer / producer Joss Whedon, these words mean much more: they represent some of the greatest episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer ever. Indeed, I might even dare to go so far as to say that they represent some of the best hours of television ever to have hit the airwaves. And I could list more. The Body. What's My Line. The Gift.

Alas, this Shangri-La was not to last. After spending five years on The WB, Buffy migrated to what was then UPN and, most fans will agree, fell short of matching the incomprehensibly high bar that it had set for itself.

Joss' other shows suffered a similar fate. Spin-off Angel, while a ratings success for The WB, never attracted the same sort of critical or popular acclaim that Buffy had. Firefly found neither critical success nor ratings success and eventually morphed into a feature film that under-preformed for Universal Pictures.


So accepting this scenario, what's a widely-recognized-TV-genius to do?

Answer: return to your roots. Revisit themes of girl-empowerment. Investigate once more what it means to shoulder the burden of a destiny that was not of your own picking. Dwell again on the paradox of having astonishing abilities but not the authority on how to exercise them. See what it's like to live as a single, lonely person.

And thus, we have Dollhouse, which airs Fridays at 9:00 pm on Fox.

Set in a duplicitous, power-hungry world where the most sacred, valuable thing is anything "real" or "authentic," Dollhouse follows the actions of a shadowy organization wielding an impressive array of amnesia-inflicted "Actives" that can be imprinted with any personalities or memories at any given time. Say you need a hostage negotiator. This organization can imprint their Active with the real memories and real skills of the best hostage negotiator for your given situation. Say you want a girl who'll serve as a back-up singer for your popstar but will also intuitively protect the singer no matter what (in essence, a hidden bodyguard). Yeah, they can do that, too.

As unsustainable as this premise sounds, Whedon has been able to produce a remarkably engaging, suspenseful and even surprising set of episodes so far. He's woven a richly-textured fabric that skillfully places fans just on the outskirts of ever fully knowing what's going on.

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