Eye For Film >> Movies >> Dollhouse: Season One (2009) Film Review
How do you follow up vampire slayers, demons and cowboys in space? It’s tough… really tough. Idea! Let’s get a hot girl as producer and lead, use my name (Joss Whedon) and see what happens. Okay, that’s really not fair. Whedon has a superb reputation with a large fan base so there’s no need for a hot girl… but it does help.
With the lovely Eliza Dushku as lead, Dollhouse's not-so-politically-correct concept centres on a covert agency which manipulates vulnerable people - who have suffered tragedy - persuading them to give up five years of their life. To do what? Well, the “volunteers” submit their bodies and minds to the progress of neuro-science. Starting from a “tabula rasa”, they have their personalities wiped before being implanted new ones according to the whim of their filthy rich clients. When this happens, they take on a new persona, complete with the kick-ass skills and proficiencies needed for them to complete their assignments.
In the thick of this is a woman code-named Echo (Dushku), a "doll" who is different from all the others since she possesses self-awareness - a trait the dolls are not supposed to have. Meanwhile, she and the agency are being tracked by a slightly unhinged agent, Paul Ballard, whose holy grail is to find this “non-existent Dollhouse”. The dolls are protected and handled by Boyd Langton (Harry Lennix), formatted by Topher Brink (Fran Kranz) and treated by Dr Saunders (Amy Acker).
Dollhouse starts off very slowly. The first two to three episodes, in essence, introduce us to the - many - characters and the quality is, to put it nicely, a bit corny and below par (especially by Whedon's standards). Initially, no one will give a stuff about the characters, but this is where that saying “patience is a virtue” becomes relevant - stick with it, because after a sluggish start, the characterisation improves and Dollhouse begins to show its potential, and by the season finale there’s no doubt you’ll become a slave to it.
The performances are good. Dushku, at times, still thinks she’s in Tru Calling - running around, being inquisitive and saving people (did I mention that she looks hot?) - but, in truth, you cannot see anyone else in the role. Lennix brings a welcome balance of humanity to his character and the show and Kranz as the techno-minded genius, Topher, is quirky yet somehow extremely likeable, even though he seems to have no morals regarding the Dollhouse. Then we have the top dog Adelle DeWitt - brilliantly played by Olivia Williams - who with her Iron Lady characteristics seems to justify herself by thinking everything is for the greater good.
Against them is Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett) who gives a superb account of himself as a Mulder/Riggs type of agent - tough, uncompromising, obsessive and passionate and who will do everything in his power to bring down the dollhouse… if he can find it.
Is Dollhouse a patch on Whedon's other series? Well when you have Buffy, Angel and the brilliant Firefly on your CV, they are pretty difficult to live up to, however, after a solid start we should really expect Dollhouse Season Two to unleash the potential it so obviously possesses.Reviewed on: 13 Sep 2009