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Just in time to get the axe…

April 4, 2009

There was a period during which I resisted getting invested in new TV shows. Often, shows are axed before they’re given a chance to develop an audience, leaving the viewers — specifically me — disappointed and pissed off. Since the creation of DVR, I’ve found this easier to handle because there’s so much more to choose from. And yet, I would say a good 60% of the shows I enjoy are constantly on the bubble or canceled after only one or two seasons. Two shows that I greatly enjoyed were canceled this winter: Eli Stone and Dirty Sexy Money. That left some space on my TV viewing schedule, so I picked up Friday Night Lights, whose third season began airing on NBC in January after being shown on Direct TV in the Fall. This miracle show has continued despite low ratings and has just shone with good drama this season.

But I digress.

The point of this post is to talk about the other new show I picked up around that time to fill my schedule: Dollhouse. I’m not going to pretend that I wasn’t going to try it out. I basically have a Joss Whedon obsession. When Firefly was launched I thought that the subject matter wasn’t for me, and didn’t watch it. After it was canceled, I found out just how good it was. I was not going to let that happen again.

Dollhouse, like many Whedon shows, has taken a little while to find its footing. The first few episodes, although interesting in concept, felt fairly detached from the viewers in comparison to other Whedon fare. Many criticized that there was not a connection to the central character, Echo, because she was meant to be a vessel, one of the so-called dolls that could be programmed to be anyone. I believe this is true, although my desire for a new program by Joss made it easy for me to ignore this fact. Getting to look at Tahmoh Penikett, aka Helo from Battlestar Galactica, didn’t hurt either. But I did wonder where the underlying humanity that so often drew me to Whedon projects was.

In the last few weeks, the show has really hit its stride. Episode 8 premiered last night and was just as enjoyable as the last few. The sense of who Echo, or Caroline rather, really is  was well demonstrated in recent episodes – a young activist who got caught up with the company that runs Dollhouse.  This week she demonstrated similar personality traits and I think that consistency helps strengthen our connection with her character. We were also given a glimpse into who the other dolls were as well.  I had trouble believing that people would give up their lives, even five years of it, for money. I know that some people would; it’s a powerful motivator, but not a universal one. It was also hard to believe that anyone would trust the Dollhouse enough to give their lives back in the agreed to period of time. It had honestly never occurred to me that people had signed up to be dolls in order to get memories erased. I think this is a compelling and understandable reason, given both Echo and November’s (or Mellie’s)  back stories. Money can be obtained in many ways, a clean slate cannot.  The need to run away from painful emotions is powerful enough to make a deal with the devil, no matter what the costs. I think this understanding of the characters has also helped humanize them and make them more compelling.

So, now that I feel connected to the characters and invested in the story, this is about the time when FOX comes in and puts a kibosh on things. I try to avoid reading the television news, because most of the time it tells me that many of my favorite shows are on the edge of cancellation. I guess I will just have to hope that this is one of the instances when thoughtful, original television is valued, instead of thrown over the first chance the network gets.

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