Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The Prisoner in Los Angeles, Joss Whedon's Dollhouse reassessed

<ok - i'm in a pub, The Hemingford Arms, drinking because my central heating has broken down and even though it is the first day of spring it it is still -0 outside. I'm going through notes on my phone and found this from some time ago. Allusions to The Prisoner do seem a bit of stretch from this distance but maybe if I watched it again.. >

I'm an enormous fan of Buffy and bought about four copies of the Firefly boxed set for friends and family. It was fantastic to see Joss Whedon get all the credit deserves for writing and directing the Avengers. So is a surprise ... Whedon's forgotten tv series, Dollhouse, written off as a creepy perv fest at the time of broadcast , is arguably the best thing he's ever done. I've just finished watching S1.  Plot is a very dark take on Charlie's Angels and Joe 90 but much better than that sounds.. Imagine Charlie's Angels where Charlie is actually Dr Tyrell from Blade Runner.

Dolls, human hosts reprogrammed with other personalities by a shadowy organisation, are used to prolong the lives of the dead, to house the personalities of recalcitrant employees, to act as nannies that fully believe they are the mothers of children, and to reenact the lives of serial killers. Eliza Dushku, Faith, from Buffy, is the main character, Echo, a drug addled terrorist given a chance to wipe her record clean by donating her body to the Doll House for a set term.

It is probably some great allegory of actors and acting (and contracting?)  to be taken here but much like that tv classic the Prisoner it is a prism through which a lot can be seen.  Human identity and individualism is a central theme in The Prisoner and this is the best tv exploration of that theme I've seen since.

Like JW's other classic neglected show, Firefly, this is a tough hill to climb initially. It has typically awful opening titles, for a JW show, like a lurid trailer for a paedophile adventure show and  the first two or three episodes are a quite predictable modern take on Charlie's Angels.

It has 8 main characters only two of which are actually likeable. Two in particular , DeWitt and Topher, become more sympathetic but remain essentially hate-able (and eventually doomed). It's Dark. Like most Whedon world the forces of law and order are totally compromised and rarely interfere in the goings on. There is no Scooby Gang or Firefly crew. The Actives are confessed criminals turned into abused innocents. The childlike love affair  between Sierra and Victor is treated with almost detached cruelty. 

The motives of the FBI agent investigating the Doll House are questionable. He knowingly had sex with one of the Actives as a Doll, and appears throughout to be fixated on Echo. And perhaps Doll House lost a lot in its setting. Los Angeles as "the city of Devils" was mined out as a concept in Whedon's Buffy spin-off Angel. Dollhouse deserved a different canvas. It has a cold blooded cruelty worthy of David Cronenberg , it was probably filmed in Canada, why not set it in Montreal?

Like Firefly has one big set and makes the most of it and Whedons trusted rep company are joined by some of the acting talent from Battlestar Galactica. Eliza Dushku is just about good enough to carry off a role that should have made her a real star. It's an actors dream, playing multiple personalities and roles every episode. She is Exec producer on Dollhouse at a time when Whedon was still distrusted in the industry after the network murder of Firefly, so we have to give her credit for keeping the show on at all.

I'll be honest though, I still miss Faith.

<I watched series 2 eventually, very good but typically with JW a tragically rushed ending.. >

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