Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Burning down the house

Stop it, David Blaine. Byrne. Whatever. Do you think they ever get each other confused? My gut tells me that hijinks would ensue. The wackiness of said hijinks would need to be plotted on a graph, mind, and I can't be bothered with that.

Which is the least coherent way I could come up with of saying that I am going to inflict you with my opinions on the first series of Dollhouse, as I watched the finale last night on the tellemebox.

For many a moon, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was my very favouritest TV show. It's not up at such lofty heights in my mind any more (it seems oddly dated and even quaint in places these days, especially the first couple of seasons), but I still heart it. I don't really know what my very favouritest TV show is any more, but if I was pushed Firefly would be a strong contender. Basically, what I am saying is that I like Joss Whedon and I like things that Joss Whedon makes.

So thirteen weeks ago I sat down to watch, aware of Dollhouse's reputation (bit of a rubbish start, but give it a chance) and willing to overlook quite a lot. And at the other end, it's a choice I'm glad I made.

Super-quick rundown: there's a secret organisation that wipes people's personalities (volunteers...most of the time) and downloads entire new people into their heads for paying clients. The clients order anything from a hostage negotiator to a jewel thief to a bodyguard to a high-class prostitute - but since these are rich people, the so-called "actives" are usually required for sex or violence. Or violent sex. Or sexy violence. It's Joe 90 with boobs and booms, basically, and at the end of the episode the active's brain is wiped clean and they're returned to the House.

The first three or four weeks were agreeable enough - the stories weren't super-gripping but kept me entertained, and there was enough groundwork being laid for the future to help push the thing along.

However, by week 6 ("Man on the Street") I was growing tired with the person-of-the-week stories.


When Dollhouse-obsessed FBI agent Paul Ballard finally got it awn with his shy neighbour Mellie, I got worried. Because in Joss Whedon's universe, if you have a drawn-out romantic will-they-won't-they, the will-they is usually followed by something awful happening. And indeed, the Dollhouse sent an assassin to kill Mellie, which distressed me because I liked the couple (and fancied Mellie something rotten). "Fine, I'm not watching any more," I decided. But I forgot that a Joss Whedon show would never have a defenceless semi-naked woman abruptly killed by an evil man (who'd been revealed as a rapist earlier in the episode) and Mellie was revealed to be an active too, who promptly killed him. Hooray! Maybe I would keep watching after all.


From there the series gradually got better and better, finishing with a top-notch episode (SPOILERS BACK!) set in the future, which has gone all post-apocalyptic on us. And featured Felicia Day and Molly off Heroes. (SPOILERS GONE!)

While it's never quite up to Whedon's previous televisual treats, it's some good stuff. The key is how it, with a mixture of good writing and good acting, gradually layers up sympathy for some pretty damn unsympathetic protagonists. Top marks to Tahmoh Penikett, who works hard to make Ballard more than a one-note Dogged Law Guy; Fran Kranz as the House's tech god Topher Brink (basically Xander from Buffy but smarter and with kind of a god complex), who you should technically hate but just can't; and Olivia Williams as House-head Adelle DeWitt. The scene in the finale (THE SPOILERS RETURN!) between Williams and Kranz as the latter has gone mad after his tech brings about the downfall of civilisation, and the former has essentially turned into his mother in trying to keep him together, was very affecting. (THE SPOILERS DEPART!)

The slightly mind-screwing (and rather scary) concept is explored well - the one that sticks out in my mind is "Haunted", the tenth episode, wherein a friend of DeWitt's utilises the House's technology to solve her own murder.

So, basically, it's good and if you choose to check it out, bear in mind that it takes a bit of time to get going. However, it rewards your perservance quite nicely. Roll on the unexpected and welcome second series!