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Re: "Dollhouse"; In Which I (Sort of) Commit Myself (Updated)

March 19, 2009

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When it’s come up with friends, I’ve been mostly noncommittal about Joss  Whedon’s new show, Dollhouseand I’ve barely mentioned it here since my first post about it back before Valentine’s Day. That was mainly because I was sincerely unsure about it; I don’t think I liked the early episodes all that much more than most people. Though it’s always held my attention and has improved a bit from week to week, it’s not like it still doesn’t have the capacity to drift off into the kind of nothingness that even the most brilliant TV creators are not immune from. (If anyone out there watched as much of David Milch’s Deadwood follow-up, John from Cincinnati, as I did, they know what I’m talking about.)

Clearly, however, the show has become more focused and, while it will never be a laugh fest (and it really shouldn’t be, considering the topic), it’s become less somber, more freewheeling, and found moments of apt humor. It’s also started to hint at some very interesting ideas. And the early buzz on the episode screening tomorrow night (Friday, 3/20) and guest starring FtY favorite (and Rattouille lead voice), actor/stand-up comic Patton Oswalt, seems to be justifying that fact that Whedon himself has been talking up this episode and the one after to anyone who’ll listen as in some sense the actual beginning of the show.

Such deliberate hyping raises the possibility of big disappointment, but based on the dramatically improved last two episodes — and it may not be a coincidence that the ratings rebounded some last week — I’m ready to suggest that folks reading here maybe consider tuning in and checking out tomorrow night’s episode and seeing what’s what.

And, now, two minor complaints with the show for anyone reading this who is already watching the show.

1. Is there any way we can tell the writers to stop having techie/creative putative genius Topher (Fran Kranz) addressing ex-cop Boyd (Harry Lennix) as “man friend”? It’s just wrong.

2. This is very inside Whedonism, but the set outside Ballard’s (Tahmoh Penniket’s) apartment looks to me  as if it’s been recycled from a set used in the pivotal Angel “Are You Now, or Have You Ever Been?” Anyone else spot that?

UPDATE: Well, now I’ve seen “Man on the Street” and while I won’t go to the lengths of pure “squee” being emitted by most online Whedon fans and some critics — I have some plot quibbles and some long range concerns about the new direction this spins the show in — it’s certainly a very solid hour of television that shows Whedon melding most of the best of his old style blend of humor and tragedy into a darker, but also slicker and sexier, world.

Without delving into big spoilers, the acting was also the best we’ve seen in the series so far with Patton Oswalt thoroughly exceeding my already high expectations in a part that definitely stretches his usual geek-boy roles. Olivia Williams, whose been a high point of each episode so far, is even more so here.

And, star Eliza Dushku — who actually has relatively little screen time this episode — actually does show actory stetching beyond her usual good-bad-tough-girl stereotype and gets one of the funniest lines (repeated twice for effect), to boot. Even Reed Diamond’s noxious security honcho has some of near humanity, as does that “handler” with the odd resemblance to Huey Lewis and other seemingly minor characters as Miracle Laurie’s good-hearted woman-next-door shine as well. This thing just may work.

The episode — which went down slightly in the ratings after a slight rebound a week or two back, probably because it aired opposite no less a geek cultural event than the series finale of Battlestar Gallatica — is currently viewable for free via both Hulu and Fox On Demand. All in all, I’d say it’s a good time to check to show out.

H/t, as always for this sort of thing, to Whedonesque.

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