I may be coming in a few bars late, but I can sing along as well as the next man (with a little help from Zed).
You may, or may not, have liked Joss Whedon’s earlier work — “Buffy”, “Angel”, “Firefly”, “Doctor Horrible”. You may or may not have heard about his new series, “Dollhouse”. You may have heard it was a disappointment. You may even have watched a few episodes and been disappointed yourself.
Well, what you’ve got to hear — and lots of people have been noisily saying it, but I’m adding my voice to the noise — is this:
Fox set a rule — more than one I suppose, but I mean this one: Whedon was instructed to keep the series firmly grounded in the most basic of its basic premises for the first five episodes. No taking off more than minutely on the first big story arc until Episode 6. The reasoning was to give people a chance to come on board late without feeling like they’d missed all the exposition.
The problem was that people were tending to jump overboard early.
Seems like main criticisms were: No strong central character (the “central character” is a doll with no personality of her own); too much “doll gets personality of the week goes out, solves problem, comes home and gets wiped, lather rinse repeat”; not enough trademark Whedon wit.
The first criticism really had its answer becoming evident within a few episodes: Echo’s supposed to get wiped each time, but she’s starting to retain memories. And we know what happened last time that happened. (Alpha.) This starts accelerating with Episode 6, “Man On the Street”.
The second is explained by Fox’s Rule, and starting with Episode 6, you can forget it. All hell is starting to break loose, and not get wrapped up in 50 minutes.
Item three: This is a very different kind of show than “Buffy” or “Firefly”, and there just isn’t much room for Whedonesque snappy, witty dialog. Or hasn’t been. It’s been creeping in at the edges, though, especially for Topher who’s definitely showing signs of having been brewed in the same pot as Xander, Willow, and Wash — yes, I know those are three very different characters, and Topher’s a fourth, but he reminds me in some ways of all three of the others. He’s definitely the one Kemp would have played, were Whedon Shakespeare.
And miraculously enough, a literal outbreak of pure Jossian silliness runs through Episode 7, “Echoes”.
Besides that, Whedon’s good at things besides snappy dialog. (See “Hush” from Buffy Season 4.) Characters, for instance — the dolls are surrounded by people with permanent personalities, and every damn one who’s been featured in more than one episode has started becoming a really good, unique, interesting character. Langton, Topher, Ballard, and DeWitt especially, but others too. How the hell does he do it?
So, watch it already.
Unfortunately, if you missed Episodes 1 and 2, they’re off the web. At this writing Episodes 3-7 are on Fox and Hulu. Fortunately, thanks to Fox’s Rule, if you start at Episode 3 you don’t miss a lot of development — though I have to say Episode 3 (“Stage Fright”) is easily the weakest of the first five.
Well, never mind: Watch what you can, but don’t write it off before you get to Episodes 6 and 7. I don’t know that I’m going to love it yet, but I have a lot of faith in Whedon and so far things are shaping up just fine to justify that faith. Bring it on!