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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Fox closes "Dollhouse"; Whedon fans respond with a resounding "meh"

Faster than an infrared neurological personality upload, Fox has cancelled "Dollhouse" only four episodes into its sophomore season. And somewhere in rural Kansas, a solitary Joss Whedon fan is shocked.

"Dollhouse," the fourth series from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" mastermind Whedon, was seemingly always on the verge of getting axed. How it survived its first season -- after a dozen episodes of unappealing characters, limp plotlines, and a really, really annoying theme song -- for a second go-round probably owes more to Fox's lackluster fall schedule than any artistic merits the show mustered (and there were some.)

Don't get me wrong, I liked the show. It really picked up steam late last year with some nice twists, and solid character development. (For those who don't know, it hardly matters now, but the show was about a secret, somewhat shady organization that hired out "dolls," or people uploaded with speciality personalities who could fulfill any number of roles for anyone who could afford them. Thrown into the mix was Echo (Eliza Dushku), a doll who retains flashes of her former, troubled life, and covertly tries to bring the organization down. Actually sounds kinda silly when you hear it succinctly like that.) But the clincher for me was the unaired first season finale, "Epitaph One," which imagined a near-distant future in which the Dollhouse technology goes widespread, with half of humanity reprogrammed into soldiers by the world's governments, and the other half forming an underground resistance. In the pantheon of great Joss Whedon hourlongs, the dark, gripping "Epitaph One" ranks pretty high up there, and that's no small feat.

But it's also, in retrospect, now kind of a bummer, since it got me all hyped for season two. This season has actually been pretty dang good, too -- the tone of the show had settled down and focused, the plots better served the over-arching story, Eliza didn't seem nearly as lost as the show's lead -- but it was all for nothing. First Fox decided to pull the show for the entire month of November, replacing it with reruns of "Bones" and "House" (which, in what was probably the nail in the coffin, consistently got better ratings than "Dollhouse" ever did), and now this. Fortunately, the network is obliging the show's tiny fanbase by actually airing the rest of the season's eight ordered episodes (a non-douche move from Fox? Now there's a shocker.)

While it will be nice to get some closure on a show I was never all that invested in to begin with, I think I speak for many Joss Whedon fans when I say, maybe it's for the best. Maybe now he can be free to find a project that's a little more thought out, something that doesn't feel so haphazard and ungainly. Maybe he can finally put his stubborn allegiance to Fox behind him, and anchor his considerable cache of talent to a network that won't stick him with the dreaded Friday Night Death Slot. (AMC, maybe? They're doing good things, Joss. Or FX? It's just like Fox, only less vowelly.)

Any other Whedon fans out there with similarly mixed feelings about the demise of "Dollhouse"? Drop us a line.

-- Adam Reinhard,

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