Red Right Hand: DOLLHOUSE: WORDLY GOODNESS

 

DOLLHOUSE: WORDLY GOODNESS

The best part of staffing season (such as it is) is getting to read the pilots.

The worst part is not getting to work on any of the series.

The sting is lessened, of course, by getting to drool the Drool of the Ecstatic on the script for the first episode of Dollhouse, by Mister Joss Whedon.

For those who don't know about Dollhouse (though I can't imagine why you'd be reading this site if you weren't aware of it), here's a description I swiped from somewheres.

Eliza Dushku plays a young woman named Echo, a member of a group of people known as "Actives" or "Dolls" who have had their personalities wiped clean so they can be imprinted with any number of new personas, including memory, muscle memory, skills, and language, for different assignments. They're then hired out for particular jobs, crimes, fantasies, and occasional good deeds. In between tasks, they are mind-wiped into a child-like state and live in a futuristic dormitory/laboratory, a hidden facility nicknamed "The Dollhouse". The story follows Echo, who begins, in her mind-wiped state, to become self-aware.
There be NO spoilers here. Yar.

First of all, it's four acts. Like TV should be. Well, it should be teaser and four acts, but four acts works just the same, really. The first act out is a wee bit soft, to me, relying on the weird for it's impact, but the remaining act outs are strong and a little twisty. The big thing is that with the four acts, the story has the room to unfold in a natural manner, not trying to hit more artificial breaks, which I find to be a problem in a lot of currently airing shows with the six-act structure. It makes shows seem twitchy and jumpy. A quality I don't like in my C.I.s or in my TV.

I've already seen some discussion as to whether or not the show will be forced into the more-breaks model that the networks have forced upon us in recent years. I think Fox will let it stay as four acts (or teaser and four). Looking at Fox's more successful shows, like House and Bones, they seem content not to try to milk it for ads, so I expect the same will go here. Seems like it's more of an ABC thing, now that I think about it. Only thing to worry about is ratings.

It's a writer's draft, so Whedon's really working in the broad strokes, taking much more detail in the characters than in location or logisitics. You know what it is. It's minimalist. And it seems very appropriate to the story and to the Dollhouse itself, which is described merely as "Japanese-serenity-meets-slight-high-tech." One might even call it elegant.

And knowing who's been cast already, I can easily see Tahmoh Penikett as Paul, the FBI dude who's maybe on to something. And Dr. Claire Saunders should provide another opportunity for Amy Acker to display her range, because as we've seen from Fred/Illyria and from her turn on Alias, girl's got chops.

And there's some thought provoking stuff that's not even part of the plot (at least not yet) and some that is, like the pro-bono works of the "actives." There's a pervasion of the creepy lurking throughout this pilot. Different kinds too. There's a sci-fi creepy in it and there's a stain-on-your-soul kind in there too.

Now here's the awesomest bit. Echo. The girl who is all kinds of different people. She's only just starting to retain memories from "engagement" to "engagement" so every time we meet here, she's basically somebody else, but in the script you really get a sense of continuity between the personas (and to me, some of those engagements are where the truly creepy bits sneak in). This, however, is going to rely on Dushku carrying this through to the viewers.

Last remark I'm going to make is that, like Sorkin always seems to have one character that is really "his voice" in the sea of voices that are his (knowhatimsayn), I think Whedon kinda does the same, just not to the same degree or as obvious. But, not actually knowing him, I can be some completely wrong as to be fully submerged in wrongitude with nary a snorkel in sight.

In Buffy, it was Xander (the regular, uncomfortable guy), in Angel, I think it was Angel himself, he was generally uncomfortable and more humany than the human supporting cast. Firefly? I would argue that it's Wash (evolved into the extremely comfortable guy). In, Dollhouse, I get that vibe from Topher (Fran Kranz). The guy who does the programming and might be a little conflicted about that. I suspect that, outside of Echo, he might be my favorite character. He's uncomfortable with his comfort. It remains to be seen, but he seems to have a dark awareness of himself and I want to see this guy make the wrong choices.

And Joss makes typos. Just like us regular people.

©2014 Michael Patrick Sullivan