The 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. http://www.thrfeed.com/2009/02/dollhouse-terminator-premiere-ratings.html
McCracken, Grant. 2008. Transformations: identity construction in contemporary culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.