Monday, March 2, 2009

Stumbling Backwards

Dollhouse: Stage Fright
Season 1, Episode 3

While I love the Pacino line I quoted last week, this latest episode is the part that reminds us that "The Godfather: Part III"... not so much with the good times. And while Joss Whedon and Eliza Dushku and everybody under the sun tries to remind us how things get better at episode six, I have to ask, "What does that do for me now?" Because now I'm stuck with yet another show in my weekly rotation that could/should be vastly better than it is.

The concept is a bit out there, but certainly could be pulled off in a manner more plausible than we've seen so far. While last week's installment was out there, it was at least sold in a convincing manner and advanced the storyline into a more tied-together universe. But now we've got leaps in believability almost as large as the premiere's "Hey, that's your kidnapper? That's SO weird. That's my kidnapper, too! OMG!" As always, spoilers below the cut.

Sorry, Ms. Dushku, but you're officially the Buffy of this show. And please don't mistake that as a compliment despite the fact that I am a huge fan of BtVS, considering it one of the top ten television shows ever. I've more than once argued that Sarah Michelle Gellar was the weak link of that series and by far the least talented of the four lead roles. If I had to name my biggest problem with an episode, something about her performance would be my answer more than 40% of the time. And at least here, Dushku shares the blame with the concept of her character. The fact that every character she plays is either rather innocent blank slate or any number of some strong, sassy, street-savy uploads certainly doesn't help. No writer has yet shown me a version of her that doesn't come off as fundamentally the same person. I'm not asking for Christopher Reeve-level Superman and Clark are practically different people acting here, just any substantive differentiation in attitude, accent, or actions. Ill-executing the prime concept of the series... not the best way to win over viewers to your cause.

The main assignment of the episode is just about as preposterous as the writers could have come up with. Instead of downloading Echo as a bodyguard and have her pretend to protect a Beyonce-type singer, they program her as a singer who subconsciously will protect her. This is a chronic case of taking it a step further for the writer to appear smarter than they might be (sorry "Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog" vets, Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen). It only gets worse that the singer is unconvincingly trying to commit suicide by stalker. If things are going to become more complex as the story unfolds, it should be for a better reason than to just make it harder for Echo.

While it's always great to see Kevin Kilner from "Earth: Final Conflict" pop up, it's hard to forgive the use of the terrible lack of involvement of Langdon as the other handler. After last week's action-heavy role and setting up the idea that he might not be ready to go in the field, I expected the second best character on the show to do something more interesting than sitting in a van for 40 minutes, then stepping out only to sit back and let Echo solve things. This human character, I've said before, should be our eyes and ears into the Dollhouse and it would be nice not having him continuously play second fiddle even when Echo isn't loaded with her butt-kicking personality.

At least the best character in the show, or the one currently showing the most potential, Agent Ballard, gets a nice action sequence this week. His showdown with the Russia mob hit men was by far and away (and imagine how far you think I'm talking about and multiply it by 47) the most interesting part of the episode. Unfortunately, he ends up gut shot, so I worry that might be an excuse to hold him out of next week's story.

My big debate after the show took a step back this week was whether I would continue watching on a weekly basis or just ignore it for two or three weeks until it's supposedly getting better. And by the way, it's a terrible sign for a show when the creators are jumping out after two weeks basically saying, "We know it kinda sucks, but it totally gets better." I mean neither "Buffy" or "Angel" hit the ground running at full steam, but they weren't this bad. Right now, however, I stick with it, since the horrific ratings (only 4.72, 4.22 and 4.13 million viewers) might mean we never get to that mythical sixth episode.

Final score: 1 star out of 5

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