So I watched the premiere episode of Joss Whedon's new show Dollhouse. I'm pretty much resigned to the fact that the Friday night 9:00 pm timeslot, forever known as the Timeslot That Ate Firefly And Spit Its Bones Back Out To The Consternation of Geeks Everywhere, will soon claim Dollhouse as another victim. I hope the show gets at least enough of its episodes aired to make the investment of time worthwhile.
I liked the pilot episode, in that I saw more than enough to keep me coming back for more (at least for a few episodes), but it was still a problematic show. I've read that the FOX suits didn't care for Whedon's original pilot and made him come up with something new, somewhat on the fly, hence this episode, which was a bit of a mess. I think they attempt to establish a little too much going on with this episode, and the main storyline, involving a kidnapped little girl, ends up having a lot less impact than it could have.
For those who didn't see it, Eliza Dushku stars as "Echo", a young woman who is an "Active" for a shadowy organization called the "Dollhouse". Actives are people whose personalities are erased and reprogrammed for various missions -- called "engagements" -- that come via very wealthy people who have need of such things. In this pilot episode, Echo is programmed as a hostage negotiator when a very wealthy man's young daughter is kidnapped. Dushku plays this part fairly well, although frankly this storyline isn't anything anyone who has watched a lot of teevee hasn't seen before.
That's not all that is going on, of course; every show these days must have a continuing "mythology", and some of this is established here as well. Questions are raised about the nature of the Dollhouse organization, but obviously not answered: who owns it? Who funds it? What is its purpose? Where do they get their recruits? What exactly did Echo do to get recruited? What's with the doctor with the scarred face? Who is her "handler", anyway? Also, there is an FBI agent who is investigating the Dollhouse but who hasn't yet even been able to verify its existence. What is his emotional stake in the Dollhouse? Why is he pursuing it? And who is the guy we see at the end of the episode, but only from behind, watching old DVD footage of Echo in her former, pre-Active life, while two bodies bleed out on the carpet behind him?
This pilot episode felt overstuffed, as a lot of such pilots do these days. Plus, the show lacked that typical Whedon punch in the dialogue; there's not a lot of humor to be found in this episode. I hope that changes in the future. Plus, I'm not sure if following Echo's adventures is going to be as involving as it should be, given that she will literally be displaying a new personality each week. We'll see.