Saturday, September 26, 2009

I Watch More TV.

So, I just saw the season premiere of Dollhouse. And, I dunno... The show did improve massively by the end of the first season, and the dialog is displaying a bit more of Whedon's trademark wit these days, but it's still seriously marred by the fact that I find pretty much every character on this show (or at least every character with an actual personality) deeply unpleasant. And not in a fun love-to-hate or intriguingly-messed-up kind of way, either. It's very, very difficult to concentrate on evolving storylines or philosophical implications when I'm constantly distracted by thoughts of how much I'd like to see these people die in a fire.

Aaargh, I just still honestly can't decide whether I want to keep going with this show or not. It seems like it could become something I'd like enough that one day I might look back on my current reactions and laugh, but that whole die-in-a-fire factor is just really hard to get past.


  1. I think it's Whedon's best and worst show. I don't think it will ever stop being rough around the edges, even if it lives a long and prosperous life on Fox, but I quite like those edges. Maybe the quality of the acting, or the stunning "Epitaph One" season 1 finale, is coloring my judgment. I get not liking these characters: the closest things we have to heroes (besides Echo) are Ballard and Boyd, who bought have some deeper issues and problems. But the closest thing we have to villains are Adele and Topher, and they've shown increasing shades of gray.

    There are flaws, maybe even sometimes deep ones, in the show, but I think it's the most interesting thing Whedon's ever done...even if it may never be my favorite.

  2. It is interesting, but I can't help feeling that it could be so much more interesting if it did things just a little differently somehow. Which sort of makes me crazy; it's like someone scratching all around the itch on your back without ever quite hitting the right spot. For a moment at the end of last season it seemed like it almost had it, but now it feels like it's drifted off towards the wrong shoulder blade again or something.

    And, y'know, I'm not someone who requires clear-cut good guys and bad guys. Quite the opposite, in fact. I adore a good shades-of-gray character. And this show is clearly attempting to deliver that. It's just really not pulling it off very well, as far as I'm concerned.

    See, OK, Boyd is sort of sympathetic, much of the credit for which I believe should go to the actor. But any liking I might feel for him is offset by knowing what he does for a living, and we still don't really know him or what goes on in his head well enough for me to have any sort of empathetic understanding of where he's coming from or what shades of gray he's actually painted in.

    Ballard is, to be blunt about it, fucked in the head, and I find his interest in Echo as creepy as anybody else's. This could be presented in a way that I would find interesting rather than simply off-putting, but it really hasn't been. Again, I feel no real empathy for the guy.

    Adele is an evil slave-holding rapist, and the episode designed to humanize her provoked a certain sense of understanding in me, but no actual sympathy. She deserves far, far worse than whatever personal angst she may have.

    Topher is, quite simply, an amoral little shit. And the fact that that comes wrapped up in the sort of cute, funny, geek exterior that I would ordinarily find immensely appealing makes him more unpleasant to me rather than less. And so he has insecurities? He damned well ought to have more of them.

    So, yes, they all have shades of gray. The problem is, the show has yet to succeed in making me care about that fact. Yeah, boo hoo, poor them, my heart bleeds for them. Not.

    Man, I think maybe part of my problem with this show is that I have got to stop consciously or unconsciously comparing it to The Pretender, a series that, among other things, made me fall in love with a guy who did unethical psychological experiments on captive children, got me to look upon a sociopathic serial-killing cannibal as a victim, and had me happily rooting for a main character who can reasonably be described as a psychological terrorist. But there are enough similarities, and I've been obsessive enough about The Pretender recently enough, that avoiding the comparison is extremely difficult.

    It also doesn't help that while I keep trying to convince myself that Eliza Dushku is a good enough actor to pull this off, I'm haven't quite managed to believe it.

    And, um, yeah. That's actually slightly more ranting than I meant to do. Sorry about that. :)

  3. I think Dushku is significantly more talented than many of her detractors claim...but also has significantly less range than Whedon seems to think. I recently watched her in The Alphabet Murders, and while it's a pretty lousy movie overall, I was actually impressed by her more than I'd expected to be. I don't think Dollhouse ever worked as "The Eliza Dushku Show," and I'm glad they seem to be moving farther away from that, but I thought she did a really good job in this second season opener.

    I'm not sure I have a problem with not liking these characters. Boyd and Ballard are not heroes, and I'll agree with you that the latter is fucked in the head, but I like that the show makes me look at morally repugnant behavior and question it, look at it from all angles until I almost sympathize with the people committing it and figure out why I find it repugnant.

    It's a complicated show. I have serious issues with it, too. Like I said, I think it's some of Joss Whedon's best and worst work. It may never rise above its problems, but I'm rarely bored by it.

    I've never seen The Pretender, but I may have to check it out.

  4. You know, I think it is Dushku's range rather than her talent that I have an issue with. I really did like her on Buffy and thought she was just about perfect for the character she was playing there... But it seems to me that Dollhouse requires a certain specific kind of skill that's not at all the same as what was asked of her on Buffy. She's not awful at it, but she's not strong enough to really sell the show and the premise on the basis of her performance, either.

    I don't have a problem with not liking characters as people I admire or would want to hang around with. Again, I love a lot of complete bastard fictional characters. Heck, many of my all-time favorite characters qualify as "fucked in the head." The problem here is that I not only don't like these people as people, I don't like them as characters. There's just no appeal to them, not even the appeal of having fascinatingly dark and troubled minds that I want to dive in and explore. Yes, there are hints of layers in them, but from what we've seen so far, all the layers give me pretty much the same impression: of someone thoroughly unsympathetic and not nearly as interesting as they ought to be.

    See, here's the thing:

    I like that the show makes me look at morally repugnant behavior and question it, look at it from all angles until I almost sympathize with the people committing it and figure out why I find it repugnant.

    I'd love that, too -- in fact, any show that can pull that off to my satisfaction is pretty much guaranteed to have my undying devotion. But this show just isn't quite doing it for me, certainly not in the way that some other shows have managed. I'm not entirely sure what's missing, whether it's mostly the show's fault or whether it's just some sort of mis-match between me and it -- clearly it's succeeding at least to some extent for you -- but something is missing. I mean, I feel sympathy, fascination, and respect for Scorpius from Farscape, even as I find his actions morally repugnant. But so far I feel nothing but contempt for Adele DeWitt. And contempt is neither an entertaining nor a particularly thought-provoking emotion. It's frustrating, because the potential to make these characters interesting to me is definitely there, but I'm starting to wonder whether by this point it may already be too late.

    And, frankly, I have frequently felt myself getting bored with the show. Sigh.

    As for The Pretender, it's a show with a lot of flaws. In many ways it's deeply silly, and going into it expecting everything to eventually fit together and make sense is a recipe for disappointment. It's a weird, slightly schizoid mutant hybrid of a 1980s episodic adventure/drama somewhere along the lines of Quantum Leap, and a 2000s type of complex, multi-layered, mystery-laden, mind-fucking story arc show rather more akin to Lost. And I'll freely admit that it's produced and written by people much less talented than Joss Whedon. But it deals with some of the same themes and ideas as Dollhouse: the exploration of identity issues, a character who takes on a new persona and role each week, an evil corporation that exploits human beings and messes with their minds for fun and profit, and a hell of a lot of shades of gray. And it does it all in ways that manage to hit a huge number of my personal buttons dead on, thanks in part to what may be one of the most surprisingly talented regular casts ever assembled for a TV series. (I specify "regular," sadly, because not all the guest actors were very good.)

    I honestly have no idea whether it's a show that would work for you the way it worked for me. But having a fresh-in-my-mind example of a series that did much of what Dollhouse is trying to do in ways that were much more effective for me is, I think, making my Dollhouse-watching experience much more frustrating than it might otherwise have been, and makes it difficult for me to have a lot of patience with it.

  5. Speaking of TV. The channel formerly known as Sci Fi is debuting Stargate Universe. The commercials advertising as Stargate "reinvented" or something like that. Why reinvent what works? Yes, you don't want to just keep making the same show over and over again but really....

  6. Why reinvent what works? Because using the name will get people to watch it. And that really is the bottom line. Sigh.