Echo (echo… echo): a DOLLHOUSE Review

by Michael Collado

If you have no idea what Dollhouse is then you, my friend, are one deprived little soul.  I’m sorry about that.  But it’s true.

I kid (somewhat…). Dollhouse is the new series from Joss Whedon (creator of the cult-favorites Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, and the mini-Webseries Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog). It is apparently the “most original” series of the year, which I found quite interesting, seeing as the year has just started. But, nevertheless, networks seem to have the obligation to describe their new shows in this way, so let’s let it go.

Um… what?

Dollhouse begins on its own sort of pretentious, ambiguous note and doesn’t let you down from that high, if that’s what you want to call it, for about 20 minutes.  The show begins with an investigation. Echo (Eliza Dushku) is a part of some sort of interview; the interviewer is Adelle (Olivia Williams).  The idea of actions and their consequences comes up, but it really never amounts to anything other than this: you don’t know who Echo is, what she’s done, why she’s being interviewed, what her sentence was (if there is one), or anything else for that matter… at least not yet.

Like I said, the first 20 minutes don’t answer any question that you might have.  The show starts off pretty off-beat and is quite confusing, which I was beginning to think would be a huge turn-off for many people watching the show at home.  I don’t know if many people would give a show 20 minutes to explain to them exactly what they were watching.

Whether the move was strategic or uncreative, at that 20-minute mark, Dollhouse is explained.  Not Dollhouse the show, but Dollhouse the place in which all of these characters (including Echo) live.  The explanation isn’t even crafty—it’s a straight-forward, kind of “Hey idiot, get it now?” way of describing the premise.  I suppose I can’t blame them for that one, though.

Ohhhh!

At the 21-minute mark, that’s when you’ll be gasping: “Ohhhh!”  Because, yes, it is explained, but then we realize just exactly what they’re doing.  It’s all pretty elastic.  You’ll be thinking one thing, and then your mind will be open to all the possibilities for Dollhouse (the place where they live.)

OK but what’s the deal?

Dollhouse is an illegal project created by these kind of elitist mafia-types. The project holds real humans as weapons, so to speak.  Whenever these elitist mafia-types are approached with a job that needs “help,” they erase their human weapon’s mind and override it with someone else’s or a collaboration of people’s minds that would suit perfectly for the mission.  So, after (what they call) “treatment,” they have all of someone else’s memories and abilities.  For example, the show starts off on what we think is a date with a man who paid Dollhouse to have Echo be his dream woman, so she knows how to ride a motorcycle and whatever else he wanted her to know.

The same is true with the actual plot of the first episode.  Echo is given memories on how to deal with kidnappers and, yes, she saves the day.  Hopefully.  Part of the saving was shot and we don’t know if that person’s alive just yet.

The bad

This guy. He’s bad.  Maybe his annoying, genius/goofy character will grow on you like the arrogant jerk Sheriff Lamb from Veronica Mars did, but maybe it won’t.  At least that guy died at some point during the show.  The explaining is also sometimes bad—as in: there is not much of it.

The good

Dollhouse does not go to the dark place just to go there. In fact, it hardly ever goes there.  Which brings me to my second good point: Even though the premise is quite dehumanizing, I found it humorous… several times.  I chuckled during many parts and I’m sure you will too.  It’s like deaths on sitcoms that are still funny; I don’t know how they do it, but it works.

Basically…

Watch it!  If nothing else, you catch it at FOX.com or hulu.com/DollhouseDollhouse is actually incredibly original and seems like a fantastic show with a huge potential to grow.  There’s no need for “real” explanation (I’m looking at you USA Today!) because it just is what it is.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Dollhouse premiered February 13th, 2009, at 9pm est/8pm cst on FOX and airs every Friday at the same time.