Wednesday, March 6, 2013

DVD Review: Dollhouse Season One

DVD Review: Dollhouse Season One

Dollhouse is a series about an ultra-secret organization that rents out people with customized identities to whoever can afford it (i.e. the ultra-rich). The organization is called the Dollhouse and the people rented out Dolls. The people who run the Dollhouse have developed a technology which allows them to wipe out someone's memories, personality, skills, abilities, basically their individuality. They then imprint a tailor-made character onto the wiped out person so they are a different person. Someone might need a hostage negotiator or a body guard or the perfect date for a perfect evening. The Dolls go out on these various missions with handlers keeping as close an eye on the Dolls as they can. The series centers on one Doll, Echo (Eliza Dushku), who has occasional glitches where previous personalities (including her original personality) bubble up from under the surface. Increasing the drama is an FBI agent (Tahmoh Penikett from Battlestar Galactica) trying to find the Dollhouse and especially Echo. The Dollhouse is aware of him and tries several times to throw him off the trail. The series set up is very intriguing and original for a science fiction show. 

Back when Dollhouse was first broadcast, my wife and I watched the initial four or five episodes and gave up because the story wasn't gelling and the writing was surprisingly substandard for a Joss Whedon production. We loved Buffy, Angel, and Firefly, so it seemed like Dollhouse should be a slam dunk. Somehow it wasn't.

A couple of months later, we heard chatter from friends and podcasts that the show really picked up after episode six and was quite good. I made a mental note to try it again someday on DVD. We finally rented it recently. The DVD set includes the original un-aired pilot and also a thirteenth episode that was never broadcast in the United States, as well as the typical "making of" bonus features and a few commentaries on episodes.

We started watching again and episode six was kind of okay. The show was marginally better but I would not go so far to call it good. A lot of moments in subsequent episodes seemed like they should be big twists or surprises but they were very obvious. We kept going and became excited by the actually surprising surprise twist in episode eleven. Finally the show had gotten good. Episode twelve was a let down. Everything had been turned topsy-turvy (in a good way) in eleven only to get reset to normal in twelve. Except for some changes that, frankly, were quite unbelievable (what happens with the FBI guy makes no sense whatsoever) even by the low standards of the show. The unaired thirteenth episode is set ten years in the future in a post-apocalyptic landscape where a group of survivors try to find their way to safety and stumble upon the ruins of the Dollhouse. They find out a lot about what caused the apocalypse (the Dollhouse technology run amuck). The episode is full of flash-backs that seem like spoilers for the on-going story and has a lot of random stuff thrown in which makes little sense.

I listened to some of the commentaries (I have this vague hope that someday someone will admit they made something not good, but have yet to hear such an admission). The Joss Whedon/Eliza Dushku commentary on the pilot episode was mostly banter and joking with little substance. The writers of episode thirteen provided that commentary and they talked more about how they production went. The comments were interesting since they got into the issues of filming simultaneously with episode twelve. The writers seemed to think they were setting up some interesting mysteries. Also, they were a little panicked that the series would be canceled, since they recorded a week before they found out the show was approved for a second season.

Overall, the show was pretty disappointing and we couldn't recommend it to others.

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