Friday marked Joss Whedon's return to television. Whether that return will be a triumphant one remains to be seen. Regardless, his new series Dollhouse holds possibilities.
Dollhouse centres on a mysterious organisation which employs individuals, called "Actives" or more colloquially "Dolls," who have had their personalities erased so that they can be implanted with a variety of new personalties. The Dolls are up for hire by anyone who can afford the organisation's exorbitant fees, as anything from negotiators in kidnappings to bodyguards. Capable of being implanted with any number of different personalities, the Actives can nearly become anything a client needs. The series takes its name from the headquarters of the mysterious organisation where the Actives live when not out on a mission--an elaborate and beautiful facility known as the "Dollhouse."
On paper the premise of Dollhouse does not sound that interesting. In the hands of Joss Whedon, however, it seems that it could become an interesting show. While the first episode started a bit slow, it was clear that Whedon already intends to use the series to explore such questions as the nature of identity, the morality of that which is done for the greater good, the strength of memories, and so on. While another producer might simply use the premise to do a simple adventure series, Whedon appears willing to explore more philosophical concepts.
Dollhouse does benefit from a good cast. Eliza Dushku (perhaps best known as Faith from Buffy the Vampire Slayer plays the main character, the Active known as Echo. Her Handler, Boyd Langdon, is played by Harry Lennix, who has appeared in everything from The Matrix movies to House. The part of Topher Brink, the scientist in charge of implanting the Dolls with their personalities, is played by relative newcomer Fran Kranz. For those men who might be inclined to watch Dollhouse for its more, well, visual qualities, I have to point out that Miss Dushku is not the only beautiful woman in the cast. The woman who heads the Dollhouse, Adelle DeWitt, is played by Olivia Williams, who played Mrs. Darling in the 2003 film adaptation of Peter Pan (with her London accent, I must admit that for me even Eliza Dushku disappears when Olivia Williams speaks...). Dr. Claire Saunders is played by Amy Acker, perhaps best known as Fred from the TV series Angel.
As I said earlier, the initial episode started a bit slow, although Whedon already began exploring the philosophical ramifications of an organisation that has wiped clean the personalities of people simply to implant them with new ones over and over again. Provided upcoming episodes move at a better pace, then, Dollhouse could prove to be one of the more engaging action/adventure TV series that has come down the pike in quite some time. There is little reason to doubt it will, as Whedon's track record includes such classic and cult series as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly.
Sadly, I have to wonder if Dollhouse will survive long enough to see its premise fully explored. Fox has had a long history of scheduling genre shows on Friday night, where the audience most likely to watch them (the 18 to 35 demographic) are least likely to be home. Indeed, they did the same thing with Whedon's previous series, the excellent Firefly. While Dollhouse did come in second in its time slot this past Friday, it also had the second lowest ratings for a scripted series this season. Given the history of genre shows on Friday nights, it then seems likely that anyone who wants to watch Dollhouse had best do so now. That is unless Fox finally developed some programming savvy and moves it to another night.