Friday, April 10, 2009

The Dollhouse Aftermath: Why (probably) No Season Two?

It appears almost inevitable that Dollhouse will not be renewed for a second season, so I’d like to take a moment to examine the possible reasons why. Before I start, its important that all dedicated Dollhouse lovers understand that the opinions here do not reflect negatively on your love and support of the show. In fact, in some cases, the opinions below do not even represent my opinions, but are instead canvassed from blog posts and comments I have read in reaction to Dollhouse. So here are some of the reasons:

  • The ‘slow buildup’ is risky: Joss Whedon likes to slowly build a show, rather than try to ensure that the first few episodes are audience grabbers. With network executives coming and going at an alarming rate, this can spell trouble. Often, as happened with Dollhouse, the executives that supported it have now fallen out of favor and may be on their way out. If the show doesn’t rate highly from the start, these executives cannot continue to support it, and sometimes they are not even around anymore to do so. On the other hand, if the show scores big audience numbers, it becomes immune from executive favoritism. It’s hard to validate the cancellation of a show while it is rating highly. With Dollhouse, it is generally agreed that it built slowly and found its groove in episode six. But by this time, the viewer numbers were already below what FOX wanted, and this was only enough to stabilize the remaining viewers.
  • The concept is flawed: Some viewers have expressed problems with getting emotionally involved with a show where the stars have different personalities every week. This has not been a problem for me: I have focused on other strong personalities among the Dollhouse staff and handlers, like DeWitt, Boyd, and Dominic.
  • Eliza Dushku is not right for the role: Eliza is well-respected in Whedon land from her roles on Buffy and Angel, but many have expressed reservations about whether she has the diversity to play the demanding, always shifting roles of Echo/Caroline. It is an extremely demanding or impossible assignment: to make her character a consistent personality, even while taking on multiple personalities. It demands an actor with an powerful and consistent core presence, no matter what role they are playing. I think Eliza is growing and improving every episode. But again, there is no leeway for the slow improvement in the role – not in the world of snap, cutthroat decisions on whether a show lives or dies.
  • Why Dollhouse? The reason it was made: There are some question marks about where the motivation for Dollhouse came from. Apparently, Joss and Eliza sat down and worked out a starring vehicle for her. If their goal was to create that, then they have succeeded. But perhaps Dollhouse’s reason for existence should have been someone with a burning passion for telling the story. There’s only a slight skewed difference between those two approaches, but its still an important distinction.
  • Joss Whedon is spread too thin: Why isn’t Joss writing and directing every episode? I believe this show demanded that, at least until it had solidified in the ratings. Apparently, he’s got a few other projects going at the same time.
  • This isn’t typical Whedon: I love and respect a lot about Joss Whedon’s work, especially the way he combines original humor and sharp wit as part of serious drama. Dollhouse has the serious drama, but it is missing enough of the trademark Whedon humor. When it is injected (usually by Topher) it seems out of place within the context of the heavy seriousness of the storylines. I loved the way action, drama, and wit swirled together in Firefly; I long for more of it here.

Summary: There are so many wonderful positives about Dollhouse – certainly enough to keep me watching. There’s the trademark Whedon ensemble cast, each with a fully fleshed out personality brimming with gray areas. There are the wonderful sets, the stylish direction, the intense situations peppered with occasional wit. There’s a base concept that is open to almost limitless directions for storytelling. If Dollhouse is not renewed, it will still not be a failure. The ideas will no doubt be used as a stepping stone for other shows that may achieve more success and longevity.

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