Wednesday, April 08, 2009


I don't know if I count as a Joss Whedon fanboy. Firefly is my single favorite TV show ever, narrowly edging out Babylon 5; on the other hand, though I've tried a number of times, I was never able to get into Buffy or its spinoffs, and amongst Buffy fans I am a pariah for finding the original movie more amusing than the show. (It's not really fair to compare them, though. The movie was a single joke from the original concept, distilled and then spread out to fill a movie. To those who like the show and its concept, the movie is rightly a mockery. But if you don't like the show and its concept, then the movie can be a completely different thing.)

I was cautiously interested in Dollhouse when it was announced. Some bits seemed egregious and there were certainly bad signs suggesting either that the show was going to be micromanaged into oblivion, or might have had problems. On the other hand, the concept was intriguing, even if it wasn't clear how it could pan out, and we couldn't be sure if it would work. And I had high hopes that Joss could bring his curious balance between good plotting and good writing (so many other writers are good at one at the expense of the other -- JMS, for instance, is awful at writing humor, but excels at epic-scale stuff).

The first few episodes were ho-hum, good enough to keep watching but not good enough to make me convinced. Then, as promised, it started to crank up around the sixth episode; it's moved up to a definite yes, though it's still nowhere near in range of Firefly. There are a few things that hold it back -- notably, Eliza Dushku's acting doesn't seem up to the demands of the role, and some of the show seems excessively stylized but not enough for that to become a virtue (as it is in quirky shows like Pushing Daisies or Better Off Ted), just enough to feel like it's trying too hard. I also am mildly irked at the "cheap" tactic of making the whole premise of the show be "X is possible" and then base the entire story on the idea that it turns out X isn't really as possible as everyone thinks.

It was easy to dismiss all this as kind of academic since, from day one, we knew the show was almost certainly doomed. Fox executives talked about it as something they were just going to flush out there because they'd already bought it, but even as they promised to run all 13 episodes, they were clear that they didn't expect to do more. And ratings were not that great; how much of that comes from them putting into the Friday death slot, no one can say for sure.

But it's been holding its ratings with a remarkable consistency, and today, there are rumors that maybe it's got a chance for renewal. So now we have to look at it as possibly a series, not just a miniseries with a fixed ending. Now we have to wonder if it can survive, and hope it can. We have to wonder if there could be a chance for the story to develop or even resolve. We have to wonder if Joss can improve on the weaknesses, or if some of them might turn out not to be weaknesses in the first place -- like the corniness of the sleep pods turned out to have a real function, but we didn't know that for a while. We have to ask ourselves if we can spare the hour-a-week to keep up with it!

And we get more time to think about what a nice month November is...

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