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Why Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse Fails

February 17, 2009

What can you say about a show that debuted in FOX’s infamous Friday Night Deathslot, suffering from multiple pilots and stopped production. A show that everyone but its creator’s die hard fans knew was going to be terrible. And they dealt with it through a careful regimen of denial and screaming that they couldn’t even watch the show lest they get too attached to something that FOX was going to kill anyway.

But you might want to ask why would FOX spend millions of dollars to have Joss Whedon make a show, only for them to kill it? Shockingly enough FOX executives are not the bad guys here. Dollhouse is bad. It’s not bad because evil executives made it bad. It’s just plain bad.

Why? Let me count the ways.

1. Eliza Dushku isn’t up to the job

If you want a girl with some fake white chick street attitude who’s kind of sexy, Eliza Dushku is a good choice. If you want to cast a lead in a series that’s going to have to take on a new personality and identity a few times in one episode, boy did you pick the wrong horse. To give her credit she tries, but it isn’t enough. Jennifer Garner could get away with it in Alias, because she was only faking it. Eliza Dushku’s Echo is supposed to be imprinted with alternate identities. And she can’t convincingly play anyone, but the street smart white chick. Better known as Faith.

2. The Show’s Premise Makes No Sense

Yes Helo tries to convince us that rich people are wicked crazy, but no matter how wicked crazy they are, we still don’t believe that there’s a secret corporation that can mix and match people’s memories like UNO cards with the flip of a switch, and that it exists for no reason except to give rich people special services that they could order anyway.

We certainly don’t believe that it’s happening right freaking now.

If Joss Whedon had set Dollhouse in some future, 5 or 10 years from now, thrown in some futuristic developments on the newscasts, and made the universe more Robocop and less generic Hollywood, we might have bought it. Make the corporation some sort of evil globe spanning conglomerate with secret plans and maybe a secret source of technology. Have it provide special services for its executives, and I’m sold. But Dollhouse does none of that, and it just isn’t plausible.

3. There’s nothing Special About It

You know Buffy. It was the story of a teenage valley girl who went to High School and fought vampires. Not exactly like all the rest of the stuff on TV. How about Angel, a vampire with a soul who runs a detective agency and has to stop the apocalypse. Or Firefly, a show about smugglers and pirates in space who are all cowboy-like. Nothing like any of that on TV. Pretty much ever.

Then take a look at Dollhouse. And take a look at Alias and La Femme Nikita. Both better shows which Dollhouse rips off like a crackhead at Christmas. Sure they weren’t original either, which makes Dollhouse even less original to the power of nggggg.

At the very least you tune in to a Joss Whedon scripted series expecting dialogue that’s going to snap, crackle and pop. Dollhouse reads like it was written by Snuggly McTurd. There isn’t a single piece of memorable dialogue. It’s all bland and forgettable. The only part of it you remember is how much it talks down to you as if you have all the brain cells of Eliza Dushku’s Echo. And that’s damn hard to forgive.

4. Who the Hell Cares?

Honestly, who the hell cares. After sitting through an hour of Dollhouse, my question remains the same. Why do I give a damn about this show? We’ve got Echo, who’s struck in a tragic situation, but for now she’s a zombie, not a character. We’ve got a fairly bland bunch of people running the corporation, some like her handler are supposed to be sympathetic, except I don’t give a damn about them either. We’ve got Helo who’s stuck in a predictable role. Sooner or later he has to get wise to the corporation, at which point the show’s premise dies. So we can be sure that won’t happen any time soon.

Don’t get me wrong, if Godzilla stopped by and killed everyone on the show, I’d be okay with that. If he killed everyone but Echo, and then somehow performed brain surgery on her to restore her memories, I’d call that a happy ending. But right now the show has nothing to offer me to make me care about it. I’m okay with the posters of a half naked Eliza Dushku, but I’m not going to sit through an hour of programming plus commercials for fabric softener and KY Jelly for Him and Her, for that. I’ve already seen it anyway.

So what’s left?

I don’t know. I can often think of ways to fix TV series, but I don’t see any way to make Dollhouse anything but mediocre. And between its terrible name, sets that look like they were left over from Boston Public and worse acting, even that might be hard to reach for.

Maybe Dollhouse speaks to some people. Joss Whedon is obviously trying to make statements about feminism, and sex consumerism, and how much he learned in Women’s Studies while deconstructing our media. He’s taken the whole Geek as Rapist thing to a new level with the creepy nerd who reprograms Echo. But it would be sad enough taking all that from a 22 year old, from a middle aged man it’s just pathetic.

In the time Joss Whedon spent developing Dollhouse, he could have made Dr. Horrible the TV series instead. Sure it would have been cancelled too, but at least like Firefly it would have been a legend, instead of an embarassment like Dollhouse that even Whedon’s fans have to work overtime to defend.

22 Comments leave one →
  1. James17930 permalink
    February 20, 2009 7:50 am

    I think it’s way, way too early — only one episode — to be making the criticisms you’re making.

    How do you know is isn’t “some sort of evil globe spanning conglomerate with secret plans and maybe a secret source of technology.” Wouldn’t a plot line like that be better revealed further in to the series? Could still happen.

    We don’t know yet how this could be different from other shows of its ilk, and the way Joss works, it may take a little while to find out, which is why it would be stupid if Fox killed it too early.

    As for Eliza, I do share your concerns about her acting, but not your downright dismissal. Something like this takes time to grow into — again, she’s not going to get it perfect the first time out.

    I say wait until the end of the first season before coming to a definite opinion.

  2. drnormalblog permalink*
    February 20, 2009 3:43 pm

    Ghost wasn’t the first episode, it was just aired first. And from what we’ve seen, the corporation is bland, and uninteresting. It’s one thing to develop a story slowly, but you’ve got to put something interesting out there.

    Right off the bat the premise doesn’t hold up and the corporation isn’t interesting. Maybe given 5 years Joss Whedon can make it interesting, but he doesn’t have 5 years. He may not even have 5 episodes. FOX and viewers don’t have any obligation to wait around until he makes it interesting. In any creative project you’re selling, you have to hook people from the first line.

    Eliza didn’t start acting last week. The real problem is that she’s never really done anything but variations on the same character we always see her play. When she gets out of that comfort zone, she’s clearly playing dress up. Joss is partly to blame here, because demanding that kind of transformation week after week is a lot like demanding home runs every week. It’s not realistic without a hell of a player up at the bat.

    I don’t think Dollhouse will run a season. I’m not so sure it’ll run beyond the 13 episodes that FOX ordered. And by not sure, I mean I really doubt it’s gonna happen, unless Dollhouse begins delivering solid ratings week after week.

    Don’t get me wrong, I hope Dollhouse sticks around long enough to begin fixing its problems, but they should have been fixed at the concept stage, long before production got underway.

  3. James17930 permalink
    February 20, 2009 4:10 pm

    Sorry, dude — I still think you’re jumping the gun. Give it the first 13 episodes (yes, I predict it will make it that long) and then see where you stand.

  4. drnormalblog permalink*
    February 20, 2009 4:18 pm

    No one waits 13 episodes to see what they think of anything.

    Try pitching a TV show by first shooting 13 episodes. Or reading a book for 13 hours before deciding what you think of it. If something doesn’t work at the concept level, it’s going to be shot down out of the gate.

    FOX ordered 13 episodes, so I imagine FOX will air them. Networks have cut down on programming orders and unless Dollhouse does so badly that just about anything would pull in better ratings in the spot, the 13 episodes will air. But that’s it.

    I really don’t see FOX moseying up to the bar with an order for a full season. Sorry.

  5. James17930 permalink
    February 22, 2009 5:03 am



    Well, yeah, I guess we’ll just simply wait and see if it get renewed or not.

  6. drnormalblog permalink*
    February 22, 2009 4:58 pm

    15 percent ratings fall off for The Target. I wouldn’t count too much on FOX spending 2 million per ep for that.

  7. skullforce permalink
    February 25, 2009 6:20 am

    lol. i agree with all points! i just watched the first two episodes on Hulu and was totally bored and googled ‘dollhouse sucks’ and found this posting. the writing is so generic and lacking of the Joss Whedon humor, wit and wacky twists. i don’t think i can articulate it any better or add anything else but it just comes down to one thing, i’d rather spend my one hour watching something more interesting

  8. February 27, 2009 1:25 am

    “Hulu and was totally bored and googled ‘dollhouse sucks’ and found this posting.”

    Holly shit man, that’s exactly what I did.

    I was thinking I would right up a post targeting the dollhouse sucks keyword but drnormalblog had beat me to it.

    The writing is horrible. The main character’s acting is horrible. The plot is so stupid I can’t even suspend disbelief to enjoy it. The production value is low. The guy who plays Helo didn’t take enough time between this role and on BSD, hell BSD is still on the air, it’s hard enough trying to temporarily forget that an actor played a character on another show even after a long time. For example Michael C. Hall’s change from 6 Feet Under to Dexter, 2 totally different characters, years apart, and here he is going from one good character, to this guy… pppfffft.

    Dollhouse is like a bad afternoon soap…… but worse.

  9. February 28, 2009 5:25 am

    I totally googled ‘Dollhouse sucks’ expecting others who feel the same way about the show. Glad I found this post.

    Last episode was bad, but this episode is even worse. What the heck am I watching again? Some pop singer dancing and singing like the Pussycat Dolls…. This could be ANY other show on TV. This show is nothing special, though Eliza Dushku gets my thumbs up for lookin’ good!

  10. Raven permalink
    February 28, 2009 6:15 am

    …Okay this is weird. I watched the first three episodes of Dollhouse, thought this show so far doesn’t have much to offer, and out of boredom, decided to google “Dollhouse sucks”, and found this blog. Guess bright minds really do think alike.

  11. drnormalblog permalink*
    March 1, 2009 12:04 am

    Yeah they do. Dollhouse just has Fail written all over it, and Joss Whedon seemed to know that before it even aired, and was busy apologizing for the series over and over again.

    Dollhouse is a good demonstration of what happens when you put the stuff you want to say about society ahead of telling a good story.

  12. zero permalink
    March 1, 2009 12:00 pm

    that’s what i did too. I heard it was a promising show. First two episodes just wasn’t good enough. it’s not like when you watch the pilot of fringe, it’s interesting. Dollhouse is just… plain… So i googled “dollhouse sucks”. Here i am.Lol

  13. March 7, 2009 6:24 pm

    Have you ever seen Joss Whedon’s Twitter? He’s asking people what they thought of last night’s episode of Dollhouse… I was thinking of replying with some harsh crit.

    Maybe you should…. LOL

  14. March 8, 2009 2:31 pm

    You’re definitely preaching to the choir, at the very least the one that is me.

    I’ve skipped the pilot episode entirely, as I just couldn’t bear that kiddie disco scenario, and the titles music gave it the rest. Wtf?

    I watched the 2nd and 3rd episode but they were horrible disappointments.

    I tried to start watching the 4th, but something, something about the blandness of the characters, the meaningless dialogue, the cheap production, the sheer *nothingness* in that show and I couldn’t bear it again, and just stopped and rm -rf’d the episode.

    This is a, well, not epic, just silent failure.

  15. drnormalblog permalink*
    March 8, 2009 5:44 pm

    The music titles are pure Dark Angel, and the episodes play like they’re written by Aaron Spelling. And you’re right, the whole thing is just blah bland. I have trouble even remembering the episode a week later.

  16. April 15, 2009 6:20 am

    I totally agree. My boyfriend had me watch an episode on hulu earler tonight, and I was dumbfounded. I told him, if someone put a gun to my head and asked me to tell him or her the plot of this episode, I couldn’t do it. I literally did not know who was who, or what was going on. Fat guy rents a chick to play his dead wife. Woman fights guy in restaurant kitchen that appears to be deserted. Where the hell are the kitchen staff?

    Something else that floors me: my boyfriend is a member of Mensa, yet he is a huge fan of science fiction that is the worst, most far-fetched crap I’ve ever been forced to watch. I am not against all science fiction, but Christ Almighty, I want science fiction to be logical and believable. I lent him a great science fiction book, Lucifer’s Hammer, and I don’t even think he read the damn thing. It captivated me when I was a 12 year old and I still think it is the most realistic science fiction I’ve ever read in my life. No aliens, no mutant creatures, no stupid made up languages, just a simple premise that could actually happen: what would happen if a giant comet struck the earth and wiped out a significant amount of the earth’s population, along with the technology we’ve grown accustomed to? How would we survive? How would it affect us psychologically? How do we keep it from happening in the future?

    I also found Dollhouse rather sexist, even though I only saw one episode. One of the dolls was being raped (woman as victim) and fat rich guy hires a hot chick to remind him of his dead wife (woman as property. For just once, either on TV or in the movies, I’d like to see a fat plain chick get a hot rich guy, but because I don’t have money and I don’t live in Hollywood, I’ll never be able to produce that, and I won’t ever see that, because no one else has the balls to produce it.

    I thought Firefly sucked too, and Dollhouse won’t make it beyond the first season. This crap just isn’t believable, and I find it astonishing that my boyfriend thinks this is good. Yet he thinks everything else sitcom-wise sucks, even if it is tops in the ratings and is well-written and funny. He can’t understand why people liked Everybody Loves Raymond (if something is on the air for nine seasons, it obviously has something going for it) and refers to it as “shit”, but goes on and on and on about Firefly (which aired for a whopping ELEVEN EPISODES. I know sitcoms and sci-fi are different genres, but frankly, I can’t think of any quality sci-fi, and please don’t get me started with Star Trek. Yeah, he thinks that’s brilliant too.

    • drnormalblog permalink*
      April 17, 2009 3:01 am

      Joss Whedon has his own fanbase, the way some SF TV creators do, and people can fall into line with that. So you’ll have people who will promote and support Dollhouse because they feel they’re supposed to, even though the show is indefensible from a practical standpoint.

      You seemed to have gotten into it around the time the show went into hyper mode, reeling off its plotlines and stringing the whole thing together into an overcomplicated soap.

      But there’s no accounting for tastes. And being a member of MENSA is a fancy way of saying you’re pretentious about your test taking abilities.

  17. Kristen Sensenig permalink
    August 13, 2009 3:20 am

    I’m late to the game here. Didn’t watch the first season of Dollhouse when it was on tv cause I didn’t have tv at the time. But as a large large large Joss Whedon fan, I Netflixed it and just watched all 13 episodes in the last five days. All I can say is…seriously, Joss? Really? Is this really what you meant to have happen? Or is this another Buffy the Movie? Did something get taken completely out of your hands? Say, the plot actors characters dialogue storylines meaning intent scope? The sets were nice. Mostly. I like Helo. Mostly. Mellie was almost cool for an episode and a half. Wash saying “Carrots!” and “the stairs have no risers!” was hysterical.

    But mostly, after finishing Epitaph One about fifteen minutes ago, I feel like someone just got one over on me. I may be turning in my Joss is My Master Now t-shirt.

    (Also, not incidentally, what’s up with how it’s a post-apocalyptic 2019 and no one’s had a hot shower in a year but all the women perfectly poof their hair with bumpits? WTF?)

  18. -PRM permalink
    September 24, 2009 4:10 pm

    Gloria said: “Something else that floors me: my boyfriend is a member of Mensa, yet he is a huge fan of science fiction that is the worst, most far-fetched crap I’ve ever been forced to watch.”

    Maybe this will allay your confusion–Sharon Stone is a member of MENSA. Case closed.

    • Wolf permalink
      May 7, 2012 1:53 pm

      Correction, Sharon Stone is not and has never been a MENSA member. She made it up.

  19. Anna Black permalink
    October 3, 2009 1:58 am

    Just watched my very first episode of Dollhouse. What kind of sick f_k hires a mind-swiped, pre-programmed, pseudo-human to be a mother to his child because he can’t bond with his own son? Human trafficking is one thing, that’s as old as the hills, but for the purpose of bonding with your children? That’s beyond comprehension! (ooo, I love Echo’s line: “mommy’s home” LOL)

    Yah, I agree with you OP, this show is the disaster you describe it to be. Funny that some folks thought you were over critical. I could lambast this show a whole lot harder but it doesn’t even deserve that kind of energy. LOL

    It is a fun show to laugh at. Ballard comes up to her in the park “are you okay?” Um, well let’s see. You guys raped my mind, my body, made me believe I had a baby, then ripped him away from me – no, no I don’t think I’m okaaaay …”


  1. The Deviant, Disappointing, Often Dim-Witted Debacle of Dollhouse 1.0 | Fancast News

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