Off the Air Review: ‘Dollhouse’

Thanks to Netflix (and other streaming services like Hulu Plus), I’ve been able to not only catch up on shows still airing, but also discover shows that have ended before I was able to watch them live. One such show was Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse. Now, I’ve been a big fan of Whedon’s for a long time, and the first show I ever watched of his was Buffy the Vampire Slayer, of course, because it was his most popular series. Then I tackled Angel and Firefly, Serenity, Dr. Horrible, etc. Basically, I tracked down almost all of the things Joss Whedon’s brilliant mind had ever created, from his TV shows to his movies to his comic books, yet I still managed to somehow skip watching Dollhouse for years. And, having finally finished the short-lived series, I have to admit, I’m really glad I familiarized myself with Whedon’s style before devouring the show.

Probably his most underrated series, Whedon’s Dollhouse definitely struggled in the beginning, and I could easily see why so many fans were quick to dismiss the show as one of the Whedonverse’s weaker offerings. The first few episodes are rough, mainly because Whedon’s familiar tone and style (like his ability to mesh drama and humor seamlessly) doesn’t begin to shine through until about the sixth or seventh episode. If I’d never seen another Whedon show before Dollhouse, I’m sure I would have given up without ever really giving the show a chance. But, I trusted Whedon, and my trust was paid off in the first season’s finale, which introduced a much darker tone to the show that would set the stage for the second (and sadly, last) season.

Ultimately, the show struggled from the same thing that weakened Firefly: a lack of screen time. All of the characters were wonderful; they were complex, fully-realized human beings full of moral ambiguity and sympathetic traits. By the time I reached the series finale, I had gotten to know the characters well, but not nearly as well as I would’ve liked. They simply didn’t have enough time to properly develop or fully grow on the audience. And the story, though clearly mapped out, was meant for a longer span of time and was clearly rushed toward the end. I would’ve liked more time to explore the unique universe Dollhouse took place in, where human beings were programmed to be living, breathing “dolls” that the wealthy could buy for a day or a weekend, because it was the perfect stage for stories with heart or horror or sadness, etc.

However, the end of the series definitely left me satisfied as a whole. The storylines were wrapped up nicely despite their rushed pace, and the character arcs ended in natural, emotionally-resonant ways. I don’t think this show’s for everyone (or it would’ve been on air much longer), but I recommend it for anyone who loves sci-fi or great storytelling or Joss Whedon (especially those who love Whedon). Also, I think Dollhouse deserves a position of respect in the Whedonverse, as the unique and excellent show holds its own very well against Whedon’s more well-known and better-loved creations.

Rating: 8.5/10