I’ve decided to re-watch Joss Whedon’s short-lived but ambitious sci-fi television project – no, not that one; the other one (cruel joke, sorry).
As I recall it, Dollhouse began life as a tiny seed sprouting in Whedon’s mind when he met past collaborator, actress Eliza Dushku, for lunch one day to discuss an opportunity she had been given by 20th Century Fox Television to produce her own show. As they discussed her career and aspirations, Whedon began to get ideas of how Dushku could play a multitude of roles on one single show, and by the time lunch was over, they had a pitch.
First airing in February 2009, Dollhouse had high expectations to live up to, experienced trouble getting out the gate (an unaired pilot was replaced with a reshoot) and early weeks in the show’s lifespan were dominated with talk of studio interference, regardless of assurances from all involved that everything was under control.
As for myself, this was the first time I was aware of the various stages of development in the life cycle of a television show. I was halfway through my first year at University, and excited to be starting something new from the creator of other favourite shows of mine, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly. I eagerly ate up news reports in the lead up to the show’s air date, read interviews with Whedon and Dushku, and was pleased to see that I recognised another name in the cast: another Whedon show alum, Amy Acker, who was reported to be appearing in a recurring guest role.
This was 7 years ago, and my first year of University, so there’s a lot I don’t remember – of the year in general, let alone the show. But images always stood out to me over the years: Amy Acker’s Dr Saunders with scars lacing across her face; Olivia Williams’ uptight boss character jumping up and down on a trampoline and talking about crisps; the jackass client in the second episode who hunted Eliza Dushku’s protagonist down with a bow and arrow. I never re-watched the show, so it is anyone’s guess as to why these images in particular made such an impression.
So I decided recently to finally re-watch the show. I think this was mostly inspired by Person of Interest ending, which left me wanting to watch Amy Acker in something else. I probably did not appreciate her enough when I watched Dollhouse back in 2009-2010, and was excited to see her in the role again, possibly with a fresh perspective. Also, it was just the right time to revisit the show. I can remember the premise, some of the directions in which the plot expanded, many of the character related reveals and plot twists, and I remember being unsatisfied by the ending, but there is a lot of story that is just a sketchy blur in my mind’s eye so I’m looking forward to potentially being surprised by a few things again. I haven’t looked anything up, including character names, so I’m going to have to pay close attention.
The show offered a lot of promise with, well, its premise, and the themes it set out to explore. I think if it was made today in 2016, it may be quite different in this post-Orphan Black world. In fact, it’s interesting to consider Dollhouse as a precursor to Orphan Black, along with another show that Fox put out at roughly the same time (and which lasted longer): Fringe. It’s fair to say that they both paved the way for the little BBC America show that dared. They’re not especially similar to each other but between the three shows they cover a lot of ground regarding body autonomy, and to varying degrees embrace a feminist framework.
So I’ve begun to re-watch, and will be writing up some of my thoughts as I go along. I will partly be recapping, but I’ll try not to get too distracted by this as there are undoubtedly plenty of other places to go to for in-depth recaps. I also hope to break down the various components of the show and see if there is anything new I can glean from them 7 years after first watching.
So, onward! The write-up for the first episode will follow in a separate post in the next day or so.