How great are these Rosemary's Baby dolls?
They're made by sculptor/actress Alesia Newman-Breen. (Here's her blog) At this moment I feel like I would give up several gallons of plasma or perhaps donate my whole body to science to have one of Michelle Pfeiffer as Susie Diamond or Julianne Moore as Carol White in [safe] (That'd transfer so spookily well to doll form, wouldn't it? Especially if it came with the right accessories). I mean, look at how incredible these movie dolls are! And they're so actressexual friendly, too. Famous femmes in indelible roles. Yes, please. More.
Dolls have been on my brain what with the premiere of Joss Whedon's Dollhouse last Friday still imprinting in my susceptible bad girl lovin' brain. Did you watch it?
[spoilers follow]The first few minutes of Dollhouse take place between a dishevelled Eliza Dushku ("Echo" our heroine) and a suspiciously helpful business type Olivia Williams. They're discussing Echo's actions, their consequences and possible solutions. It plays out somewhat like that 'become a super assassin and leave life in prison or death sentence behind' establishing scenes in Point of No Return / La Femme Nikita only far less specific. This Someone is signing Something to escape Someone or Something. Actions, consequences and solutions? 100% vague. They're so vague, in fact, that one might be forgiven for assuming that Whedon and Co stuffed the dialogue full of as many pronouns and generalities as possible. All the better to make it up as they go along if the show takes off. 'Save some space for cool ideas, fellas. We love deepening mythologies in the Whedonverse!'
Cut to a motorcycle chase wherein Echo takes a spill and then nonsensically dumps her helmet -- the same helmet that undoubtedly just prevented a concussion. Little known fact: Famous actors are exempt from helmet laws because if it's just some random person on a bike we're flipping the channel. Seems Echo is on some sort of Ultimate Date Night for Badasses. She calls her boyfriend a "bitch" after he wins the bike race and then demands that they dance. Whedon knows his target audience (i.e. Faith the vampire slayer lovers!) and for a brief blissful moment once Eliza starts shaking it, it's like watching "Bad Girls" again, one of the best episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Ever. [Hint: All episodes involving Faith are 'one of the best episodes of Buffy. Ever.' Remember this. It will serve you well. Season 3 people, season 3]
Anyway, her bitch boy gives her a necklace which trips some switch in her. Is she a robot? No, she just mental. She's got subliminal programming and she's back to the "Dollhouse" which she seems to think is a spa. Her "treatments" involve memory wipes... but unlike the concept in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind these aren't true memory wipes but fake memory wipes. We realize that this date was paid for and the bad girl persona was not Echo's own, but an "imprint" to please her client. Once she's wrapped an assignment, the current personality and memories are wiped and she's personality free and ready for the next imprinted personality to be determined by the next rich client. In other words, this is sort of like Fantasy Island with a Machiavellian twist. The island workers serving up the fantasies don't know who they are or that they're role playing.
Since it's a Whedon show it's all about tough sexy women (Echo), nerdy and possibly evil computer geeks (this guy to your left here) and older stuffier handlers (this other guy to the far left) who try to keep aforementioned tough sexy women safe and in check. Sound familiar? But I overstate. These are just surface 'type' similarities. Dollhouse doesn't feel a lot like Buffy or Whedon's other shows. TV shows, the best ones at least, often take several episodes to find their true personality. There's a lot of groundwork being laid down. One senses the show might experiment with a few personas before it settles for one imprint.
After all this setup we enter into this particular episode's A story, a unthrilling crime drama about a rich man's kidnapped daughter. Echo is sent in with a new imprint (she's a hostage negotiator) and she dresses like a sexy librarian who would immediately be stripping if this were a music video. But -- and I hope the showrunners get a handle on this right away -- the A plot is not really what's important. All the interesting bits involve either a) the behinds the scenes machinations, b) the organic problems inherent in the doll's programming (Echo's latest imprinted personality comes with child abuse memories) and c) the dolls going a little wonky if they get confused. Don't confront them with any questions about their real selves since they don't actually know that they aren't who they're mentally programmed to be! Got that?
It's a little head spinning. Dollhouse could probably use a beginning pre-credit sequence like Buffy had in the first season that narrows down the concept in a sound byte for the casual viewer.
Acting wise this show might be a challenge for those cast as dolls. Only Eliza gets much air time in the premiere episode (smart move) though we see several other gorgeous men and women milling about in this luxurious spa atmosphere. There's a few witty overhead shots that do make them look like tiny figurines in a, well, doll house. One imagines that the other dolls Echo lives with in personality-free splendor will become involved quickly. Whedon has never met a show concept he couldn't rapidly populate -- Ensembles are his thing even when the concept hinges on a solitary hero / "chosen one". Sometimes Dushku pulls off the personality switching that this new concept show requires. The opening scene she handles superbly (playing to her time tested strengths) and I love the way she lets that party persona bleed over into her dazed but not confused stroll back to her handler. One sees that she doesn't quite know why she's doing it but she's okay with that -- her devil may care nature doesn't sweat the small stuff. As an actress she also seems to be having a spot of fun with the stereotyped edges of her uptight negotiator role. Dushku has a tougher time in the post memory wipe personality free stage. I assume the dolls are supposed to read like eery blank slates but Echo seems uncomfortably close to, well, stoopid.
But if we learned anything watching Eliza Dushku on Buffy it's that she improves rapidly as an actor. And if we learned anything watching Joss Whedon's past three series it's that they improve rapidly once the creative teams are done "setting the stage" or perhaps finding their nerve/voice. For a first episode I'd give it a B but I think the concept is at least an A-. We don't get a lot on Ms. Williams (is she truly evil or merely an amoral businesswoman?) or the investigator trying to find the Dollhouse (Battlestar Galactica's Tahmoh Penikett). We meet him when he's all sweaty, shirtless and boxing presumably because, again, Joss knows his audiences.
If the Dollhouse team can figure out a way to keep the stand-alone assignment plots reflecting back at the overarching mysteries of this organization while also finding clever ways to play the emotional arcs of personality-free dolls (one hopes that they start to crack!) it could really be something. Stay tuned.
P.S. This is never going to be the TV Experience but for when I really feel like talking about something. That said do you like the idea of weekly coverage of Dollhouse?