By now, the Whedonite universe has had time to process their recent crushing blow with the cancellation of Dollhouse. I must admit, although a long time Whedon fan and a serious fan of Eliza Dushku (albeit more for her incredible hotness than her ability to act), I’m not surprised. And it’s not for the reasons that most Whedonites would cite – FOX being idiots (ala Firefly), the downfall of narrative storytelling on television in multiple season arcs (fewer and fewer series make it into a second season), or a general inability of new sci-fi to really snag enough of an audience to sustain a series (Heroes anyone?).
At the risk of being shot, lambasted and skewered – Dollhouse was canceled because it kind of sucked.
Okay, okay. So I liked the premise – but the series lacked all of the things I’ve come to know and love about Whedon pieces. Here are three issues that made Dollhouse non-essential viewing material:
1) BAD CHARACTERS: Whedon’s strongest writing comes in developing interesting characters. Topher was the only interesting character on this series because he’s the only one who was stable long enough to develop into something more than a caricature. Boyd, Adelle and Paul were fairly flat with only brief moments of interest. And really, when you hinge the narrative to the idea that the majority of your characters become new people every week, it’s difficult to sustain narrative fidelity.
2) CREEP FACTOR: While I’m a big fan of more progressive ways of thinking about sexuality and morality, there were TONS of scenes that I was uncomfortable watching. Given real modern day issues with sex trafficking, rape, and government conspiracy, I couldn’t feel good about life after any episode. The episode more recently about how Sierra came to the Dollhouse was so incredibly disturbing I didn’t sleep for two days. And that was AFTER the narrative arc about her basically being raped and molested inside the Dollhouse!
3) REALITY CHECK: Beyond the “wow, check out what we can do with technology and should we really be doing that to peoples’ brains?” there wasn’t really a larger narrative about how this would relate to normal people. Buffy and Firefly were easier to read into as an audience because you could relate to the themes of high school and post-apocalyptic war (probably more with the first, but the later has been enough of a subject in sci-fi that it’s an easy transition – plus, they were space pirates, and everyone’s been in a situation where they haven’t had everything they needed). The clientele of the Dollhouse are all wealthy, privileged douche-bags that think they can do whatever they want. The only client that was remotely sympathetic was the guy whose wife died in a car accident the day he bought her a house. Given that Whedon draws your average geek loving marginalized audience, my guess is that many viewers followed in my cries of “Seriously? Why do the wealthy get away with this shit?” or "Yes, that douche-bag deserved to die." Neither of these is a fun way to spend a Friday night.
I hope that Whedon returns to his roots when developing his next project and offers up a series of strong characters with significant relationships. Sci-fi discourse? Sure! Just make it something we can feel good about watching.