Dollhouse tonight second episode of Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse runs tonight on Fox at 10:00. 

The numbers for the premier episode were worryingly low.  James Hibberd at Hollywood Reporter calls it

the lowest-rated scripted series premiere on a major broadcast network this season aside from NBC’s now-defunct “Crusoe.”

Last Friday night was a bad time to launch a TV show.  It was the beginning of a long weekend.  It was Valentine’s day.  The movie theater was beckoning. 

Still, Dollhouse didn’t have formidable competition on the dial.  It was up against reality TV and a news program.  Plus, there’s almost no one under the age of 35 who doesn’t love Whedon’s last big success, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

And that may be the real problem, not that it was Friday night, but that it was TV.  Perhaps Whedon should have launched on Hulu.

I am a grateful Buffy fan, but I was put off by the marketing.  The Dollhouse ads  didn’t show any evidence of what I took to be defining features of Buffy: humor and word play.  No, the ads seemed earnest, too dramatic.  Where, I wondered, was Whedon’s lightness of touch?

Plus, from an anthropological point of view, the theme of Dollhouse feels a little done.  The show turns around a women who is constantly having a new self installed and the old one wiped clean.  In a transformational culture like ours, this is interested.  We can relate.  Plus, this is a fantastic vehicle for any filmmaker, a single device that allows from a plenitude of expressive possibilities.  (It is also of course an actresses’ dream, a chance to show depth and range.)  But we have seen this theme done and done, and unless Dollhouse means to bring something new to the table…

I watched last Friday.  It was a struggle to engage.  I watched.  I didn’t care, I didn’t care, and then I did.  Something clicked.  Suddenly, I wanted to know what was going to happen next. 

This is the magical moment of engagement, the moment we go from being a looky loo in TV land to a fan.  How much do we know about this precise moment?  If we haven’t studied it, why haven’t we studied it?  Another job for the Henry Jenkins’ Culture Convergence Consortium at MIT?

Have a look tonight and please tell me what you think.


Hibbert, James.  2009.  ‘Dollhouse’ premieres soft; ‘Terminator’ dives.  The Hollywood Reporter.

McCracken, Grant.  2008.  Transformations: identity construction in contemporary culture.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 

6 thoughts on “Dollhouse tonight

  1. Gladys Santiago

    I was surprised by Dollhouse’s low ratings. Fox needs to market it’s Friday night lineup as an event. It really is if you think about it, Sarah Connor at 8, Dollhouse at 9, and BSG at 10 (granted BSG is not Sci Fi). I am genuinely excited about Fridays– it’s every fanboy/girl’s dream come true and Fox should capitalize on that.

    The Grinhouse-like promo for the lineup were weak and ill conceived. Here is a link to it:

  2. Eric Nehrlich

    Just as a note, Dollhouse is actually up against Friday Night Lights on NBC, which is a tremendous show (it’s a little bit frustrating to me how I only watch a handful of TV shows and yet several of them conflict with each other). I haven’t seen the second episode of Dollhouse yet, but the first episode was a tremendous disappointment, given that I’m such a Whedon-phile. No trademark humor, the characters were caricatures rather than filled out, and I didn’t engage at all. Hoping it gets better, but if his show gets cancelled from Friday nights on Fox again, I don’t think I would blame the network this time.

  3. Scott Ellington

    I too missed the light and deft, but Whedon has often said that the first six episodes are designed to introduce the series’ time-release complexities. Looking back repeatedly at scruffy beginnings of Buffy and Angel, that formula is entirely credible. Firefly, on the other hand was butchered by network six ways from Sunday and prematurely terminated.

    Maybe a LITTLE more patience is indicated than passing judgment after the first two installments. What are we, nervous network executives? Dollhouse reminds me of Fantasy Island, but (from the initial episode) I anticipate Thelma and Louise as a purer example of primetime mainstream media engagement of unexpectedly unpopular themes. Equality Now much?

  4. Scott Ellington

    It’s still premature to tout or dis Dollhouse on the strength of only two episodes, but now that I’ve seen the second one, I know I’m in for the duration; whatever that may mean. The appearance of Mark Sheppard (Firefly’s Badger) is exactly the ame kind of recognitive treat as associating the character of Adelle DeWitt with Addison DeWitt (George Sanders’ character in All About Eve. These jolts of electrical engagement (that can catapult me out of a deep sleep) are characteristic of Mutant Enemy products that routinely bridge the theoretically yawning gulfs between art, education, commercial relationships and regions of public policy.
    There’s also the inescapeable fact that Joss Whedon is a particularly gifted fan of the industry in which he takes part, so any improbable association that crosses the mind of the skeptical viewer may very well be an intentionall planted hook. Obviously, I’m addicted; and I don’t mind dropping by iTunes to get my appointed fix, since the Neilsen folks don’t care that appointment television went up in smoke at least a decade ago.

  5. srp

    I kind of like the creepy tone–while I loved Buffy, I don’t expect Whedon to maintain the same mood in everything he does. The last frame of the second episode was good horror stuff: Possession by evil, a looming threat of violent retribution against Echo’s hubristic handlers, fear for the soul of the protagonist. Not bad.

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