Please note: As a courtesy, please do not reproduce these comments to newsgroups, forums or other online places. Links only please.
Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2008-2009 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot - or in this new post-strike/straight-to-series world, reading the pilot script. We'll start with the ones that were actually filmed and move on to the others in the coming weeks.
With that in mind, it's even more important to remember that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. Plus: as an added bonus, we've got a backlog of passed over pilots - some from this season, some from last season - we'll be tackling as well. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
(written by Joss Whedon; 53 pages)
The network's description: "DOLLHOUSE (Mondays, 8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT): Joss Whedon, creator of groundbreaking cult favorites "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Firefly," returns to television and reunites with fellow "Buffy" alumna Eliza Dushku for a thrilling new drama, DOLLHOUSE. ECHO (Dushku) is an "Active," a member of a highly illegal and underground group who have had their personalities wiped clean so they can be imprinted with any number of new personas. Confined to a secret facility known as the "Dollhouse," Echo and the other Actives including SIERRA (Dichen Lachman, "Neighbours") and VICTOR (Enver Gjokaj, "The Unit") carry out engagements assigned by ADELLE (Olivia Williams, "X-Men: The Last Stand," "Rushmore"), one of the Dollhouse leaders. The engagements cater to the wealthy, powerful and connected, and require the Actives to immerse themselves in all manner of scenarios romantic, criminal, uplifting, dangerous, comical and the occasional "pro bono" good deed. After each scenario, Echo, always under the watchful eye of her handler BOYD (Harry Lennix, "Commander in Chief," 24), returns to the mysterious Dollhouse where her thoughts, feelings and experiences are erased by TOPHER (Fran Kranz, "Welcome to the Captain"), the Dollhouse's genius programmer. Echo enters the next scenario with no memory of before. Or does she? As the series progresses, FBI Agent PAUL SMITH (Tahmoh Penikett, "Battlestar Galactica") pieces together clues that lead him closer to the Dollhouse, while Echo stops forgetting, her memories begin to return and she slowly pieces together her mysterious past. DOLLHOUSE revolves around Echo's blossoming self-awareness and her desire to discover her true identity. But with each new engagement, comes a new memory and increased danger inside and outside the Dollhouse."
What did they leave out: Two recurring characters will join the fun in episode two - Dr. Claire "The Phantom" Saunders (Amy Acker), the Dolls' mysterious physician (who's glimpsed but not actually seen in the pilot, at least according to the script, but does have a bit of dialogue); and November (Miracle Laurie), a follow Doll who specializes in personal assignments rather than criminal ones.
The plot in a nutshell: Meet Echo (Eliza Dushku), a world-weary alcoholic who's helping fellow addict Danika make it through a rough patch. Meet Echo (Eliza Dushku), Richard's stunning date to the wedding who's making the bride extremely jealous. Meet Echo (Eliza Dushku), a Spanish-speaking thug who's intimidating a bunch of fellow criminals. So who is Echo then? Adelle DeWitt (Olivia Williams) explains it to one of her prospective clients - Echo is a "Doll," a human being that can be imprinted with any personality. And it's much more than playing dress up or brainwashing - "This will be the purest, most genuine human encounter of your life," Adelle notes. "And hers. It is a treasure. One I guarantee you will never, never forget." Once they've completed their duties, the Dolls will be overwhelmed with the need to return to the "Dollhouse." There their memories are scrubbed - leaving the client as the only one who knows what transpired. And with that we follow Echo through said process - run by programmer Topher (Fran Kranz) - which leaves her as a child-like shell. Between missions then the Dolls - which also include Victor (Enver Gjokaj) and Sierra (Dichen Lachman) - spend their days in the spa-esque Dollhouse, alternating between exercising, painting, eating and having creepy conversations like - "Echo: I swam thirty laps today. Sierra: Good for you. Echo: I'm tired now. Sierra: It's important to exercise. I try to do my best." It's a cycle that - so far - has gone without incident, that is until Topher started noticing that Echo, Victor and Sierra always seem to herd together, almost as if they remember each other. It's news that doesn't please Boyd (Harry Lennix), the Dolls' mission handler, as they both realize Adelle will have them killed if word gets back to her. Adelle however has her own problem - it seems an FBI agent named Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett, changed to Paul Smith in subsequent drafts) has been digging into the legend of the Dollhouse. And he's getting some help from the inside in the form of an envelope containing a picture of a sorority girl named Caroline... who we know as Echo. Her plan - use Echo to throw Ballard off the scent. And it works... until things go horribly wrong.
What works: One would think that with so many plots, relationships, themes and dynamics at play "Dollhouse" would be a convoluted mess. Instead it turns out to be the exact opposite: this could be Whedon's most accessible work to date. Sure the above summary may sound like a giant info dump but in practice it's cleverly set up. From Adelle's "pitch" to Ballard's investigation to (presumably) Dushku's performance, there's more than a few entry points into the show's mechanizations. It's also much more than preaching to the converted (although don't worry Whedonites - that's the term right? - it will be like Christmas morning for you guys) as the show tackles its themes in a way no other Whedon work to date has. Questions about what memory is, how it defines us, what they are doing with it, etc. weigh heavily on the characters' minds, not to mention their conversations. Is Topher just a "programmer" earning his paycheck? Or is he a willful participant in some kind of torture? These of course being in addition to the expected mythology questions like - What is the Dollhouse's objective? Who are these people that volunteered to give their bodies and minds up for five years ("after which they will be blissfully ignorant and very wealthy," explains Topher early on)? These alone would be reasons for checking the show out. But wrapped in Whedon's signature dialogue (Boyd: "If this isn't the second coming or giant bats I'm gonna kick your tiny boy ass. Topher: "Giant bats would be awesome.") and storytelling - there's no reason not to check it out.
What doesn't: I would usually say all that's left is for Whedon, Dushku and company to bring this script to life, but the early clips shown during FOX's upfront seem to confirm what we already know...
The bottom line: ...this one's a keeper.