Saturday, February 14, 2009


Dear Joss Whedon,

I watched the first episode of Dollhouse last night.

Joss, we've been together since 1997; I did watch the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, but really, the date of my lovefest is from the Buffy The Vampire Slayer TV show. I stayed with you during all the ups and downs in both Buffy and Angel. Now, it's true I didn't follow you into space and I regret that, and took up the cry of Serenity, eventually.

So, I will continue watching Dollhouse. Despite my misgivings, which remain after last night's episode.

The good? Well, there is you, Joss; and because of that, I'll stick around to see what Big Backstory is going on, to watch characters develop and stories deepen. You've assembled a great cast: Amy Acker, Reed Diamond, Olivia Williams, and be still my heart, Tahmoh Penikett (I love you, Helo!)

But... man. A dollhouse? Really? Humans with no memories, who get personalities downloaded into their brains, then rented out to fulfill whatever dream or need or want they have?

I know you've written some great roles for women: Buffy Summers and Zoe Washburne to name two. But the space prostitute, er, companion storyline of Firefly was always one of the weak spots of that series.

And Dollhouse... sorry, Joss. I don't see the humor nor adventure in a storyline where rich guys make human girls into their playthings -- their dolls -- to fulfill their emotional and physical needs, as we saw in the first few minutes of the show.

It's especially troubling when, unlike Inara, the women are not in on it, but rather empty vessels to be filled with the type of super-women the men want. The BuffyBot was at least a robot, not a real person; the same goes for the robots of Westworld. Echo wasn't acting in the first few minutes; she really was that dream-girl. And the Echo in-between downloads is oddly disconnected. Which means I don't connect.

Oh, I know; the main story in the episode had nothing to do with sex. Instead, it went very Nikita (and the backstory of Echo also, well, echoes Nikita's story.) It was about being a hostage negotiator! Echo's job will change every week!

I understand that this is being done in part to highlight the acting range of Eliza Dushku. One of the things I've always liked about good science fiction TV is the ability for actors to stretch and show multiple talents and faces. Perhaps if I were a bigger fan of Eliza, I'd be more excited about the show. But I want to watch a Joss show; not an Eliza showcase.

Will I DVR this show? Yes. Am I in love with it, the way I was with Buffy? No. Will I give it time, it case things turn out to be something other than what they seem? Yes.

Take care,



Sara Z. said...

Yeah, personally I don't think Eliza has the range to showcase. Compare to Jennifer Garner in Alias. And, yeah, I know Eliza has great legs, but dang that dress in the opening sequence was SHORT! I had to suspend my disbelief as high as that hemline to buy that a real person---even a fantasy---would wear that.

Liz B said...

That dress was horrible! I wondered how many takes it took to shoot that without it riding up.

Anonymous said...

Nice letter! I'm in total agreement with you. "Dollhouse" felt more like a JJ Abrams male fantasy than a nice cool draught of Whedon. Where was the witty banter? The bizarre characters? The show became most interesting when we had the asthmatic hostage negotiator with a mastery of statistical averages -- but now she's probably gone forever. I'll give it a couple of more episodes. I'm guessing because of its wretched Friday-night time slot that Fox isn't completely sold on "Dollhouse" either.

No one said...

All three of you commentators are stupid.
1) Sara Z, have you ever to a real college town/hip city club? There are girls who wear WAY less revealing outfits than Dushku's number in the episode, obvious highlight of her amazing physique aside. Well within the standard of realistic dress, though less so of the television standard, which admittedly is the extent of experience most people are comfortable with.
2) Liz B, that dress will ALWAYS ride up, that's the very point of the dress. Our era is on a mean level is as or even more hypersexualized than any era in human history, ever. This can be taken both ways, honestly I prefer to see it as both liberating and empowering for both sexes. For one it acknowledges the sexual needs of females to be noticed by males and
2) it recognizes that males love an undiluted view of the bodies of those females who occupy their sexual interest. Furthermore a Joss Whedon fan should be glad he's able to make the concession to mass audiences and allow sex appeal to (at least partially) influence the viewing public and ensnare/trick more viewers into watching the show. The market is ruthless and far below any kind of moral or ethical standards ANYONE might like to impose. Be grateful that such a creative figure as Whedon is both willing and able to provide those low-class romp factors and also deliver higher-class narrative possibilities, albeit in different characters (the "dolls" of eliza dushku and her compatriots versus their handlers, the erasure specialist and what's-her-name played by Fred from Angel. As far as network television goes, Dollhouse is a godsend.
3) For GOD'S SAKE, forget about the central character! The genius of Whedon in longform media strive at the periphery: the female doctor (played by Fred from Angel), the Handler, and the other relevant but admittedly peripheral characters in the story. Eliza Dushku is just a sexy blank slate who becomes a sexy blank hero. I for one didn't give two sh*ts about Buffy or even Angel or the Captain (of Firefly, I forget his name) for that matter--the genius and greatness and heart of Whedon's best work (sing-a-long blog, which only had like 6 characters anyway, aside) resides in the periphery, and that's where our emotional investment should reside. Let's be honest: Buffy was just plain annoying and Angel was self-righteous and his inner turmoil was equally annoying. It's the side characters that have been both interesting and compelling.
Dollhouse offers much more of such compelling side stories. "The moral relativist with an emotional attachment to:" "the incredibly hot obviously troubled character with a conflicted past;" then there's the "ex-cop who's lost his way but still adheres to a somewhat impractical but still integrity-driven moral code," both hampered and enabled by the "uber-powerful personality who maintains certain illusions about itself and despite material inconvenience holds psychic stock in affirmations of justification fo said personality's entrenchment in current circumstances." And forget about further complications by one-shot and even more, TRULY peripheral characters.

Amy said...

I actually like the idea behind the show, if the show can show us how horrible it all is. :)

Interesting to read all of these comments. While I wasn't blown away by the pilot, the idea if well fleshed out could be incredible, I think.

Fores....I loved Buffy, the character. I was 125% team Buffy. So some of us did care. :)

Liz B said...

Fores, calling people "stupid" is not a way to begin an discussion. Neither is insulting them and their viewpoints; or insisting that your view is the only legitimate one. I am quite torn about leaving up your comments becaused of the level of animosity within your arguments. If you continue with this discussion, please do not insult other people reading this blog, or I will take your posts down.

I also see much in your argument that is dependent on fuller knowledge of the series; have you seen the other episodes? Frankly, based on one episode, your comments seem to be more what you see in the series than what is shown.

Sara Z. said...


Truly, the "stupid" comment was not necessary.

I agree about JW and peripheral characters. I didn't care much about Buffy (hated Angel), other than her relationship with Giles. But, I did think SMG was great in the part and when the title character (care about her or not) has that much screen time, that's kind of important. I'm just not sure about ED yet (didn't love her as Faith, either). Granted, it's got to be an extremely difficult role, given that her character has had her true personality erased. Also, none of the periphery people in this episode interested me, either.

And of course you nailed me on my lack of night-club-going. I am really more a "stay at home and watch Dollhouse" kind of person, which requires a totally different wardrobe.

I'm definitely hanging in there for a few more episodes. Most pilots/premieres really aren't a good representation of the show anyway. You really can't blame JW fans for expecting more, though, even from the pilot, taking into consideration what we've gotten from him in the past. So far, it's a long long way from being a godsend, at least for me. There are plenty of other things to do with that hour.

Liz B said...

I like this NPR blog & the comments about the sexism:

Tho the person who compares it to Jason Bourne confuses me. I don't remember Jason going all American Gigolo.

Anonymous said...

Like Sara Z, I'm not sure Eliza has the "versatility" Joss has been crowing about. I think she made a great Faith, but... yeah.

It was especially noticeable when she had her "nervous breakdown" on the dock and converted directly to standard-issue Joss "girl gone crazy" speak of word diarrhea. She might as well have been Dru, Glory-in-need-of-brains, Glory's victims, or River.

Her "dress" was actually a shirt. She's wearing it in the first scene, on the motorcycle, with a pair of pants underneath.

Bibliovore said...

I liked the pilot but missed the Joss-speak, which has always been my favorite part of all his shows. I've read interviews 'n' such where he says he dialed it back deliberately, to which I say, well, dial it up again! It was witty and smart and played with language and I didn't see any of that being overly inconsistent with the tone of the show, as long as you don't go overboard.

I don't think Dushku has the massive range Joss was talking about, but I think she's got more than some people are giving her credit for (here and elsewhere). Funnily enough, the best job she did was with the blank, childlike doll stare. Creeptastic.

Oo, and this BSG dork also stared at the TV all through the first FBI scene and went "Who is--Eek! Helo!"

SilberBook-Blog said...

Oh I was so sad Friday night. Lo I had my misgivings based on the railers which seemed to do their best to hide around the fact that this is a story with nothing to care about.

Would anyone hate me if I admitted I fell asleep watching it? Bad sign!


Liz B said...

Alan, that's an interesting point. So little is told about Echo (because, I imagine, discovering it will be the big backstory) that it means we don't have someone to care about. Is Joss relying on him being Joss for us to stick around? Or thinking that caring about Eliza translates into caring about the character she plays?

Bibliovore, I think Eliza is a good actress. She was great as Faith, on both Buffy and Angel. I am afraid that what will guide the series is not "the story" but rather "what do we want Eliza to act this week." So Eliza will be a Southern Belle because Joss thinks she can do a good southern accent, not to explore that trope or to add to the season-arc.

J.M. said...

Dear Liz,
You appear in my Googlereader. Sometimes I go weeks without reading and then arrive to this lovely plethora of dreamy kid lit and humor. And I am happy.

Then I sign on and remember that you are one of the Scoobies and appreciate Ms. Kitty Fantastico as much as I did. And then I am double happy. Because being a grown up who studies oppression and genocide and other Big Bads means I don't often meet, er, remember to find folks who understand the deepness of pop culture/arts that are not The Tragic and Forlorn. Yes, I know if I need a dose of Mr. Pointy and Buffy's tongue and cheeck wisdom I can return to you and the paradise that is your blog.

Ok. I am about to catch up and watch the Dollhouse pilot. I appreciate that I have been warned because Mr. Whedon is up there in my media herodom list. Bye blog friend. Thanks for making my night when I was trying to be all serious and academic thesis-like.
Thanks for being the Giles to my Willow-smirking glitter magic. THat means my virtual life. I think Will coulda used the tech a bit more.
Take care!