Not many shows (of interest to me) debuted in February, but my most anticipated new show finally emerged from its cocoon of hype. Buffy and Angel creator Joss Whedon’s new series Dollhouse premiered two Fridays ago and I hadn’t been this excited about a show for a long time (and if you look around the internet, you’ll see that I was far from alone). Eliza Dushku stars as Echo, one of the “actives” (a.k.a. agents working for secret agency who have their personalities and memories re-programmed for each assignment). The premise sounded pretty cool, and with Whedon at the helm there was promise of a clever, inventive good time. Unfortunately, I found the first episode to be surprisingly mediocre. The personality types featured in the missions so far have been pretty run-of-the-mill. I had seen similar things on Alias, and Sydney Bristow never needed to be brain-wiped each time to achieve those personalities. When Echo goes on a mission as a hostage negotiator, she really seemed to be acting rather than becoming that person. In large part, Dushku’s performance was to blame. As much as I loved her as Faith on Buffy, even two episodes into Dollhouse, the limits in her dramatic range seem to be showing (alas she’s no Meryl Streep). The second episode showed much more potential. Flashbacks alluded to a history and mythology to the Dollhouse that seem pretty interesting. Also, the second mission (another “perfect” girlfriend personality — does every guy supposedly want the same hot extreme-sports-type girl?) took a decidedly darker twist. The one thing that seems to be missing so far is Whedon’s trademark clever dialogue. The main scientist-nerd character, Topher, is full of the ironic sarcasm, but it’s so out of place that it feels like he’s visiting the Dollhouse on an internship from Sunnydale High or something. Having to be the oasis of cleverness is actually making him seem kind of annoying already. Plus, they need to work on the default behaviour of the blank “dolls” because the vacant look and the dreamy speech is really getting on my nerves (if I have to hear “Did I fall asleep?” one more time…) — plus they seem to wander a lot for people who have nowhere to go. I’m still looking forward to this show every week, because I know that it will only get better. However, it’s definitely off to a rocky start. 4 out of 5.
So volume 3, Villains, was not as good as we’d hoped. The bad habits that the series got into in season 2 continued. So volume 4, Fugitives, was going to be a return to the glories of season 1, right? Well, so far it has definitely been an improvement, but I still see signs of those bad habits. For one thing, the personality flip-flop between who’s good and who’s bad is still a problem. HRG and Claire still have that contentious relationship, arguing about where his true loyalties lie. What was originally a clever spin on the archetypal parent-teen conflict has now become endlessly tiresome. Nathan is supposed to be the villain who is trying to imprison all the other superpowered people now. Why the hypocrisy? Why doesn’t he imprison himself? I guess they’re trying to bring back Nathan from season one — the political climber, but too much has happened to him since then to just reset. Overall it’s great that they are focusing on the characters working together, but they still have a long way to go to fill in many of the believability gaps. I am sort of enjoying Sylar’s heat wielding apprentice (though I can see how he might get annoying soon), but I’m a bit concerned for Sylar’s own daddy quest. We did that with the Petrelli brothers last season and with Matt Parkman as well. I guess the only real surprise would be if Sylar Sr. turned out to be a wise, grounded, non-superpowered gentleman (but given that they’ve cast Smallville baddie John Glover, I doubt that’s in the cards). Now that Hiro lost his powers and Ando got some, the premise of a role swap seemed intriguing. Unfortunately instead it’s actually made Hiro whiny, mopey, and petty, so let’s get him back his frakkin’ powers already. I hope that with the return of writer producer Bryan Fuller, things will start to shape up. So far it’s still just 3.5 out of 5.
I had already stopped watching this series early on, but I had hoped that this recent revamp would make it much better (I still hold out hope for these 80s redos — despite so many recent failures — call it the BSG halo effect). While the revamp helped, things didn’t change nearly as much as I had hoped. From what I can tell, they got rid of a large part of the supporting cast (who used to form a whole covert agency that supported Michael Knight) by eliminating anyone over 30. Now all we seem to be left with are the three youngest ones who still run all the tech support for Michael from an impossibly advanced little Knight-cave (while having petulant Friends-style little squabbles). So far I’ve seen two episodes since the revamp and they do focus (as the original series seemed to do) on Michael helping random people, rather than the espionage-type stuff. That’s both good and bad because sometimes the situations can seem a bit contrived — seriously, a fight club in a middle-of-nowhere bar? (What is it with TV writers and fight clubs, anyway?) The acting has not improved, and the writing is still implausible and cheesy. My verdict is that the show has now become barely watchable, but it’s definitely far from must-see. 3 out of 5.