Saturday, February 14, 2009

Will We Get to the Better Parts?

Dollhouse: Ghost
Season 1, Episode 1

I once almost bought a shirt once that said "Joss Whedon is my master now." I didn't... I'm loyal, if fairly cheap, but you should know where I'm coming from. I'm a huge Buffy, Angel and Firefly fan that once dreamed of creating an alternate reality where Serenity was a huge hit. So there weren't many shows this year I was looking forward to as much as this puppy. But now it feels like the Christmas where my mom got me a cat. And just like that cat this show is the type of thing that would crap under the couch, climb up the curtains and claw me in my sleep.

But check out below the cut, beware of spoilers and off we go.

After watching this episode (written and directed by Whedon) and remembering that Fox had made them redo the pilot, I flashed back to Firefly and threw in "The Train Job" the remade pilot for Whedon's last show. Did it suffer through the same problems, namely an utter lack of focus? Nope, inside of six minutes the concept of cowboys in space the half the main cast are set-up and just as importantly named. Everything and everyone else is further set-up and explained and off we go in another four or five minutes. Because maybe I don't want to go through more than half an episode calling people: Echo, ex-cop Handler Guy, Eraser Procedure Guy, Head Chick from Rushmore, Head Chick's Assistant, Fred from Angel, BATTLESTAR! and Sierra the new chick.

The show's biggest mistake is keeping the audience at arm's length and throwing multiple unnecessary scenes in our path. The cold open is just painful to get through and full of things that should have been left on the cutting room floor. The first scene with Eliza Dushku deciding to join the Dollhouse organization should NOT have been in the show. The intentionally vague and ham-handed handling of her past does nothing but indicate that her life before the first wipe will be a secret with vague references to "her" and a "mistake". You know what else they could have shown to get that same point across? Nothing! And the next scene's bike race is shot in the most unengaged style I could imagine, making everything seem slower and less exciting than it should be. The cool premise of this show that these characters could be anything... and the first cool example they use to try and get us excited is... some rich kid's weekend date. Really, that's the best you could do? Something that any 50,000,000 girls could do if given the opportunity?

And let's not kid ourselves, the time to cut to a credit sequence would have been here and not after taking her back to the titular agency. I will give them that the memory erasing visual effect looks pretty sweet, but honestly the visual effect shouldn't be the only real highlight of the first fifteen minutes.

One of the biggest complaints I've read about is Dushku's range as an actress. That she can pull off the hot date, the party girl (with dance moves straight out of Buffy season three), but couldn't handle the changes of personalities to more professional appearances, in the case of this episode a hostage negotiator. And the best way to confront this would NOT be to have her first client question her on it and have her unconvincing response involve saying "I've been doing this all my life" more than once. We get it... she hasn't. Let's not dwell on this stuff. Perhaps the best way to prove she is smart is not to have her realize that the reason one of the captors didn't talk and wore a mask around the kidnapped girl was because she already knew the person, AFTER 24 HOURS! As the little kid was talking, I said aloud, "Why don't they take the phone away from her???" Also, remember Whedon the feminist... doesn't set the right tone for Fox to buffer every commercial with Dushku laying around bare-assed.

And the coincidence of one of THIS girl's kidnappers being one of the men who kidnapped Echo's borrowed personality? That type of once in a lifetime freak occurrence is unforgivable in a series pilot, unforgivable.

In the only real competing plot, Tahmoh Penikett from Battlestar Galactica (I missed his name, since it was just glossed over quickly and found out his name is Agent Paul Ballard thanks to good old Wikipedia) isn't handled properly. First off, the place he works shouldn't look so clean-cut and impressive. This guy is running an investigation that his superiors do not want... that means he should be stuck in the basement across the hall from Mulder, not in a skyscraper in a too-clinically clean office setting. And couldn't the actor just sell how driven he is by, ya know, acting??? They do not need to inter cut it with a fight scene where he enacts the reaction to his bosses' statements. This type of sloppy, over-managed approach is everywhere, as if Whedon has no natural feel for his characters like previous shows and doesn't really believe in the case he is presenting.

It's just a unorganized show and the only Whedon with anymore credits on this show is Jed. I just know there was a huge missed opportunity here. A few sources, promise the show gets better in future episodes, especially with the vaguely teased "Alpha" which I believe is the naked guy surrounded by dead bodies sending Echo's picture to Agent Ballard. By the way, the videotape he is watching of a younger Echo takes the time to show up what Echo was like before the series, further making the opening unneeded. If Joss Whedon wasn't involved in this show, I'd be done here.

But I'll probably keep at it for a while with hope that a relatively cool sci-fi idea will get more refined in the execution. Of course, that involves Fox doing their part and not sending this show to the land of DVD. Kind of like how I made mom give that cat to the old lady across the street.

Final score: .5 star out of 5

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