When I first heard the premise for Joss Whedon's Dollhouse, I was really, really scared. After having watched the premiere, I'm still really, really scared. The uber-secret Dollhouse is a place where nubile young girls are taken to have their personalities stripped and their bodies super-toned. Why? So the girls can become Stepford Agents, of course. Let's say you're super rich and you want a hot girl who's really into bondage and likes to race motorcycles and dance in really, really short dresses and who'll fall in love with you just for your birthday — who you gonna call? Let's say your little girl's been kidnapped by really, really bad dudes — who you gonna call? Yeah, yeah.
Whedon has taken the River aspect from Firefly, added prostitution and, well, we're off. A bit too much Joe 90 for me, but then poor Joe didn't have sex forced on him. I have to give that to his dear ol' dad, child abuser that he was. Didn't the government ever give him a pamphlet on child work laws?
Anyway, the first episode was a real mess, too much being included at once in a too J.J. Abrams influenced fashion, strands thrown in here and there. I suspect the first episode was really three episodes all cut up and smashed together to satisfy Fox (Fox apparently demanded mucho changes). The main subject of the series is Echo (Eliza Dushku, Whedon's muse). She's the newest doll, escaping from a dubious past that the writers will or will not reveal to us in the future. And then there's Paul, Helo from Battlestar Galactica (Tahmoh Penikett), who's a government agent; he's off on his own strand trying to find Echo. In the middle of all this, Echo is doing a Mission Impossible stint trying to rescue a girl from her bad kidnappers who are also child molesters who also molested "Echo" only not "Echo" but one of the personalities downloaded to Echo — the personality has asthma as a result and blows the mission because she gets asthma because she recognizes a kidnapper ... which is a step up from Echo's last mission as a real inflatable sex doll. Thrown in is all the "what are we doing to these girls" angst, reinfoced by Helo trying to bring down Russian mobsters who import girls for the sex trade. See what I mean?
Of course the madam of the Dollhouse is an older woman, played by Olivia Williams, a Brit. God forbid that an American woman would ever become a madam. In the olden days it would have been a Caucasian playing a Chinese with chopsticks in her hair and really, really long red varnished nails. (Okay, I'm a sucker for Thoroughly Modern Millie.)
In the end, what I really found disheartening was the writing. It was bad. Anyone could have written the script. Not what you expect from Whedon at all. I'm hoping this is just stretch marks as Whedon expands and deepens his writing skills. After all, witty adolescent banter only gets you so far. Going deeper produces greater works, i.e. Persuasion from Pride and Prejudice. But if it's not ... :(
Some nice touches? Well, Whedon's brought back Amy Acker (Angel). She plays the in-house doctor — what's with all the bad scars on her face, we're supposed to ask. And Katya Kinski (Dichen Lachman) from Neighbours has morphed into a doll! She looks pretty hot with a semi automatic. Go, Katya. Only, don't get too excited and use the semi on Susan.