Dollhouse was Joss Whedon's fourth network drama show after Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly. According to Whedon he felt no one had taken advantage of the acting talents of Eliza Dushku and the basic idea for Dollhouse was conceived over a lunch the two had.
Season one debuted to four and a half million viewers but the ratings slid from there and never recovered. There was some wrangling between FOX and Whedon's production company over the pilot which had to be reshot. A new episode then had to be produced to finish season one (for International distribution and DVDs) but FOX didn't air it.
Season two was commissioned in part because of the furore that occurred over FOX's cancellation of Firefly back in 2002. As a result season two's plot advanced rapidly to conclude the story which could have played out over many years.
Dollhouse was the most complicated and ambitious of Whedon's four network drama shows. The premise that technology had advanced to the point where people could have their personalities wiped and reprogrammed led to all sorts of moral dilemmas that the show could never marry with the demands of a weekly television show. For a start the main character on the show had no personality. Echo (Eliza Dushku) showed signs of breaking her programming and we were slowly informed about her actual identity but it still made it difficult to care about her. Especially as it was strongly implied that she had been coerced into becoming an 'Active.' It was difficult not to feel that she had been forced into the role of prostitute by the Dollhouse. This of course also made it hard to sympathise with her handlers, some of whom were clearly being positioned as "good guys."
As a big fan of Joss Whedon it was tough to see his project fail to gain traction. From early on it seemed to me that Dollhouse was a dark and gritty show. It really should have been on Cable where Whedon wouldn't have had to steer clear of the prostitution implications. It might have also allowed him the chance not to structure season one like it was Buffy with Echo going on weekly adventures. By 2009 this approach felt a bit passÃ© and clearly didn't suit such a morally complex show.
Season two was a disappointment as the writers raced through the story to get to a fitting conclusion. Clearly the potential was there for a thought provoking and entertaining show but it was not to be.
It's worth saying that Joss Whedon has an interesting track record when it comes to casting. In most cases he has done an outstanding job so that characters like Buffy, Angel, Spike and Malcolm Reynolds become beloved figures. On some occasions though, notably Riley and Dawn (from Buffy) he has badly miscalculated and created a backlash from fans. In the case of Eliza Dushku it's probably fair to say that Whedon either saw something that wasn't there or badly misjudged the role of Echo for her. The part called for a chameleonic actress who could morph from one different role to another and make them all interesting. Dushku was unable to do this and had a far more limited repertoire than the role required.
My best friend George joined me to record a podcast for the first four episodes before he left the UK. I recorded the next two alone before Indiana native Cordia got in touch with me and offered to co-host. This of course led to the partnership that would then tackle the Buffy Rewatch. Due to low demand and Cordia's busy schedule I stopped recording podcasts after episode four of season two. That may be a blessing as recording over Skype at the time did not lead to the best sounding audio. However I kept reviewing and continued to chart Dollhouse's rocky but occasionally brilliant progress toward its finale "Epitaph Two: Return."
At this stage it's possible that Dollhouse will turn out to be Joss Whedon's last major television project. He has proven himself adept in other fields and doubtless the lure of movie work might ensnare him. However I hope he will one day return to the small screen. He has a rare ability to understand how his characters and stories come across on screen. And an even more rare capacity to change course when things go awry.
I haven't seen much direct influence from Dollhouse on other TV shows.
Open the Dollhouse podcast in iTunes or in your favourite RSS reader: