Oh, You Beautiful, Or At Least Not Entirely Unsightly, Doll[house]

After doing all those “Is Dollhouse in trouble?” posts (for which I don’t apologize — it was fascinating to see a show’s struggles and re-tools exposed so clearly to the public, when they’re usually hidden from view), the fact that it is in trouble seems vaguely anti-climactic. So instead I’ll direct you to Todd VanDerWerff’s post at The House Next Door, entitled “Hey, Fox. Save Dollhouse.” It’s a good argument for why, after all the pre-production trouble and miscasting and the weak start, the show has real growth potential — that is, it’s not a great show yet, but it arguably could be:

I have no qualms in saying that Dollhouse is thematically richer than anything Whedon has attempted so far and, indeed, has the makings of an all-time sci-fi classic. It gets at ideas of who we are as people and what it takes to create an identity better than just about any show I can think of. It’s obsessed with ideas about the artist’s relationship to his characters. The idea that we are nothing more than electrical impulses, than data, is so rich that I’d be surprised if Whedon COULDN’T get seven seasons out of it. It’s a show about whether we are our memories or whether they are us, sort of an action-adventure Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (a connection I’m forever thankful to Scott Tobias for making).

My own view of the show hasn’t changed as much from the infamous pilot-that-wasn’t-a-pilot, the one that bored everybody and had the world wondering what happened to Whedon’s sense of humour. I still think it takes itself too seriously (which is not to say I want more Buffy-style quips, just some way of taking the curse off the silliness of its own premise, the way The Sopranos managed on a regular basis), and more importantly, that the concept is a little navel-gaze-y and skewed toward Whedon’s weak points in casting and plotting. But it is now unquestionably a better-executed version of that concept than it was when it started, and it has become what it needed to be in order to have growth potential: an ensemble show, rather than an Eliza Dushku vehicle. (This in itself gives it a leg up over that other bubble show, Chuck, which doesn’t have a lot of useful characters and can’t really grow much, hence the need to reboot itself in order to give it a chance at survival.) I still feel like the problems of concept and execution — the ones that led the show to be in trouble before it started — may be too much to overcome, but it’s already produced some good episodes and could produce more, and that in itself is more than you can say for most of the shows from this past season.

Although the comparison that always sticks in my mind with this show is less to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and more to a serious, morally-ambiguous, anti-government version of  She Spies. But that’s a good thing.