Monday, March 16, 2009

TV: Dollhouse

If you're not watching "Dollhouse" (Friday at 8:00, Fox network), I insist that you start. Four episodes have aired so far and each has been better than the one before.

Here's the one-paragraph synopsis: "Dollhouse" is a nickname for a lab run by a shadowy company that takes people, removes their memories and personalities, implants artificial memories and personalities, then sends the "dolls" or "actives" out into the world on "engagements" or missions. These engagements range from being consorts to assassins. Between missions, the dolls have all memories erased and they wander around the dollhouse. Our hero is Caroline, now known as Echo. She is being punished for something - we do not know what - and before her memory was erased, had a personal relationship with Ms DeWitt, who runs the lab. Every episode has Echo going out into the world as a different person and doing stuff. We've seen her be a dream date, a human hunting target, a safecracker and a hostage negotiator. So far, this is a great sci-fi concept but it gets better. Somebody, we don't know who, is feeding an FBI agent information on the Dollhouse. So are the people who run the Dollhouse. Also, even though the actives are wiped at the end of every mission, Echo and fellow hottie Sierra are retaining memories. And they aren't about to let the people who run the place know that.

And even better. "Dollhouse" was created by Joss Whedon, the guy behind "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Angel," and "Firefly"/"Serenity." And "Toy Story," if you want to go way back. Joss Whedon shows are so far beyond typical TV programs it's pathetic. There's always a sub-text; there's always a bigger picture. It's too soon to tell if he will use "The Big Bad" method that he used in "Buffy" and "Angel," but Joss will be turning "Dollhouse" upside down and shaking it before long. We already see the seeds - Echo with forbidden memories, the shield of secrecy about to be pierced by the FBI guy, and, most telling, several of the recurring characters are played by actors under the 'Guest Starring' label - you just know that they aren't long for this fictional world. It fits a pattern that Joss joked about during the commentaries on "Buffy" and "Angel": "If someone is happy or things are normal, it's time for someone to die." As interesting and fun as the concept of "Dollhouse" is, it will change and grow before long.

Just imagine the fun the actors are having. Every episode they get to be someone else and then they get to be nobody - someone with no personality. It is great television to watch them inhabit temporary characters with all the certitude of a character that has a history. In the third episode, both Echo and Sierra were imprinted with the same personality. You don't see that on your ordinary TV drama.

Eliza Dushku plays Echo. In her 15 year career, Dushku has held the screen with Robert De Niro, Kirsten Dunst, Terence Stamp and of course, the "Buffy" and "Angel" casts. The supporting cast is all top notch. Of particular note is Harry Lennix, who plays Echo's handler. He was the military commander in the last two Matrix films. In a group of people who treat the dolls as disposable, her handler is the one lone person who actually cares about Echo. And Amy Acker, late of "Angel," pun intended, who plays a doctor with a small conscience. This doctor is no Fred.

So, I hereby order you to start watching "Dollhouse." I also recommend going back and watching the first four eps. You should be able to find them on Hulu or bit torrent. If you enjoy challenging, interesting and non-formulaic television, it's time to move into the "Dollhouse."

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