'Dollhouse': Where did it go wrong?

dollhouse-bts_lIn case you haven’t noticed, Dollhouse is tanking. It’s second season premiere didn’t perform well in the ratings, and last Friday’s episode did even worse — Stargate Universe kicked it in the cortex. Dollhouse is in very real danger of being canceled. Why isn’t it doing better? Where did Joss Whedon and company go wrong?

Perhaps that isn’t fair — the blame can’t be put on Whedon’s shoulders alone. There is Fox’s decision to leave Dollhouse on Friday nights, bereft of any real advertising support — a programming block of one. If Fox really wanted to give Dollhouse a chance, they’d have paired it with Bones or Fringe, and not after a pair of sitcoms (one of which stars Michael Strahan) that no one is watching. Stargate Universe did well because Syfy Channel has been pushing it relentlessly, hammering it into their audience that something new is coming down the pike.

But the thing you can level at the Dollhouse writers and producers is the middling way the show came out of the gate. Whedon has always been great at ending TV seasons — Buffy and Angel have tons of memorable season finales, and Dollhouse‘s S1 ultimatum was terrific — but not so great at starting them. Listen, I’m all for Joss taking his time to build his universe and layer his stories with emotional substance topped with an action frosting. But anyone looking objectively at the Dollhouse situation for the season would have to see that the show has its back against the wall. It’s the fourth quarter and Team Dollhouse is down by a whole mess of points — it’s not the time to do slow burn undercovery episodes. Dollhouse needed to score, early and often, and it didn’t.

Is it too late? I fear that it might be. Whedon and company are telling the stories they want to tell — and unless those stories suddenly bring the whup-ass in the next couple of weeks, they might not get to tell them for much longer. The saddest part of it is that I desperately want Whedon and Dollhouse to succeed — I want smart genre content to work on broadcast television, so that networks will continue to take risks on programming that doesn’t have a host. I just hope that it gets the chance.

How do you feel — is this a call to action or a eulogy? Can Dollhouse be saved? If so, how?

Image Credit: Carin Baer/Fox


Comments (180 total) Add your comment
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  • bshgdb

    Actually I didn’t know how it was doing… you guys never post Friday ratings… :(

  • Anne

    The issue was that it came out of the gate with several weak episodes that focused more on the story of the week and less on the characters and the mythology of the show. By the time it got to the good episodes, it had lost a lot of the people who first tried it out. The crazy thing is that it continues to make that same mistake: while the 2nd season premiere was fantastic, the second episode was again mostly back to the story of the week format. Yes it set up a major twist, but it could have been done better. However, the show is and has been good enough to do well. The real problem is the horrible time-slot, the lack of a good lead in and lead out, and most importantly, zero promotion. I am a fan of the show and I wasn’t sure when it was going to premiere until the week of. That isn’t good. The fact that you can’t watch the first season on HULU is also an issue. People should be able to try out the show. That’s how you build audiences.

    • strickens_girl

      Agreed. They need to get back to what worked in the first season which was the mystery of the Dollhouse and the ensemble – not just Echo. The Topher/Claire and Claire/Boyd scenes have been awesome. Get back to what worked and leave the story of the week in the dust.

    • Joe

      Very well said

    • DW

      Anne has it exactly right. The show has been wildly inconsistent from a quality standpoint, so I’m not shocked that the ratings continue sinking.

    • Shasta

      Perfect, Anne. And I think Whedon’s strength has always been his story arcs. Even episodes of Buffy that had a “stand alone” feel usually served a purpose within the overarching story. Dollhouse was on a roll at the end of Season 1, but Season 2 has not been keeping my attention. It’s…boring. I wish they would focus more on the other actives and explore a story arc. Seriously, Whedon should know better than this. What’s wrong with him?

  • Callia

    I think Friday’s ep was too reminiscent of the stand-alone eps of early S1. This show needs some big developments in its long-term story arcs if it’s going to make it. Personally, I’m rooting for it.

  • Mari

    I personnally can’t stand Eliza Dushku. Might be just because of Faith. Anyway, won’t watch the show because of that, and, let’s be honest, this isn’t the first Whedon-Dushku show to fail. I might not be alone in this.

    • Jack

      what show are you talking about????

      • Mari

        Was thinking of Tru Calling, then googled it and realised it wasn’t a Whedon show. Sorry. My dislike of her still stands, though!

    • Matt

      Eliza Dushku is the reason I don’t like the show. She can’t act her way out of a wet paper bag with scissors in her hand… Echo is supposedly supposed to be able to be anything, but is convincing as nothing. Unfortuantely, Dushku’s a producer, so Echo’s not going anywhere any time soon.

      I’m one of the viewers that tuned in the S1 premeire and followed it for the first few episodes and gave up on in. I couldn’t stand the “adventure of the week” style (I’m a huge “Lost” and BSG fan if that’s any indication of my taste). I’ve been trying to ge caught up on S1 via DVD, but it’s having difficulty keeping my interest. I’ve got the first two eps of S2 on my DVR, but if the show’s just going to get cancelled, no sense in following another show that Fox will end prematurely. Besides, “V” is coming really soon!!!

      • XFEver

        It’d help if the writing of the show’s pitiful writing wasn’t filled with plot contrivances, there being literally nothing to the characters.

        Eliza and most of the cast not named Ballard are great. it’s the writing that stinks.

        Seriously:-

        1. Why would you not hire a nanny.

        2. Why would people in your life not notice a new woman turning up and suddenly declaring herself the mother of your son?

        3. And that’s without going into the gaping holes in the concept of the show in general.

        Whedon doesn’t help anyone’s suspension of disbelief with his sloppy writing. The cast are having to do double-duty with his poor planning.

        Add a sluggish pace and contrast the season premiere to others, and it’s clear the fault is with the writers and not the performers.

        But Whedon wrote Buffy and Firefly, he can do no wrong, right?

        Sigh.

    • pollyprissypants

      I’m a huge fan of Joss and even of the show but I have to agree with you…Eliza’s the weak link and the fact I don’t care about her character at all is really stopping me from totally investing in the show (as I’ve always done with Whedon’s other work).

      Each week, I’m far more interested in the supporting characters and actually find myself getting annoyed when it switches back to the main plot with Echo – it’s the only part of the show I don’t care about at all.

      Sadly – I don’t see that changing (as Matt pointed out, she’s a producer), which is a real shame since the supporting cast is chock full of amazing talent (any one of whom could carry their own show, imho).

    • Cricket

      I agree. Something about Eliza urks the heck out of me. Probably the fact that I think she can’t act to save her life. And I feel this show has no continuity and the writing is subpar.

  • CandyMaize

    Cancellation talk makes me sad :(

  • linz

    Well, I think ‘Dollhouse’ and ‘Firefly’ share one big problem – Fox wanted so many changes to the original vision for both series, then the network gave both series poor advertising and airing.

  • JC

    A shame they kept this over Terminator…the Terminator season finale was pretty good and left open a ton of story lines.

    • Matt

      I agree, I’d stuck with “Terminator” even though I was too terribly fond of it. It got cancelled just as it was FINALLY getting interesting.

      • Larry

        Totally agree with Matt!

      • Zan

        I also agree with Matt and JC. Perhaps we can start a movement to revive Terminator… The finale left me anxious to see what happens next.

      • chattypatra

        Agreed. Terminator was the better show. Dollhouse has become the Echo show, instead of being well-rounded. I gasped when they brought Mellie back, and the Alpha story seems to have been forgotten.

      • Mark

        Let’s not forget that ‘Sarah Connor’ was also miles ahead in quality over that awful ‘Terminator Salvation’ movie to boot!

      • RA

        I loved T:SCC as well. The problem was that it had even worse ratings and it got even worse network support. Fox didn’t choose Dollhouse over Terminator. Terminator died for a lot of the same reasons Dollhouse will. A string of slow episodes in an already shaky genre demographic.

      • Nea

        I agree! They should have kept Terminator and canceled Dollhouse.

    • XFEver

      A shame 18 of its S2 eps stunk and never went anywhere. If anything a slower show than Dollhouse, and one with a far worse cast.

    • Angela

      I so agree. I though Dollhouse was weak and I loved Terminator and I was really hoping FOX would have pick that one instead of the train wreck we are left with. I am going to take this show off my DVR because I really not interested in it anymore. Also putting it behind two sitcoms no buddies is watching really hurts the show.

  • Lauren

    Where it wrong is that it’s not that good of a show. Dollhouse has two primary problems as far as I can tell; 1.) Eliza is not a strong enough actor to play a character who gets as much screen time as Echo does. Echo also annoys/bores a lot of people, 2.) The show is far less creepy/disturbing than the concept suggests it should be. The writing of most of the one-shot stories is pretty bad (despite the occasionally fun dialogue). The people I know who still watch this thing do so because of one of the underused supporting characters and if they have anything nice to say about Echo it’s that ‘she was less annoying this episode’. There seems to be a limited number of sci-fi shows that air at any one time, I hope Dollhouse gets canceled as soon as possible to give another show a chance.

    • PMD

      I really do agree with a lot of your points – Echo is boring and Eliza is not a strong enough actor to carry the role. And one thing that has annoyed me from the very beginning is the fact that these people chose to give up their lives for a contracted amount of time. I mean they must be aware of what they would be getting themselves into. If I was to give up my life for five years, I would take the time to ask questions and figure out what is the catch!

      But on the other hand, I really love Joss Whedon and I really do not want to give up on him!!! I feel like this show does have potential – there are some really good aspects. Unfortunately they are the never ‘ahha’ moments of Buffy, Angel, or Firefly (I am not comparing the shows with each other or Dollhouse – but in each of those series there were episodes that were like OMFG that was brilliant!! And you are right we should give up that time slot to another, better show, but that would mean no more Joss Whedon… Which I am not sure I want either.

      • Billy

        Dushku’s acting ability aside, I think the series wsa doomed when they decided to make a “doll” the star of the series. How did they expect any viewiers to get attached to a lead character who gets their personality wiped every week? There is no real character development. Why should we care what happens to Echo when we don’t even know who she is? The thing that made Quantum Leap interesting (same premise kinda), was the interaction between Sam and Al. Imagine if Sam had forgotten who Al was after each leap, a la Echo and her handler. I still think Dollhouse had a good premise, but the fatal mistake was making the lead character a doll. Echo is no more interesting than Victor or Sierra and not nearly as interesting as any of the other supporting roles. If they were going to base it on a doll, it should have been Whiskey. At least she had the same personality for more than one episiode.

  • wtfnyc

    I agree with the “slow start” problem Joss has, but I really think the blame lies — once again (*coughFIREFLYcough*) with friggin’ FOX. Why do they agree to pick up shows like this if they then (i) refuse to support them with advertising dollars or pair them with other shows in a way that MAKES SENSE; and (ii) put them on FRIDAY NIGHT, when the only people watching TV are the kind of folks who want to see J. Lo. Hew and Patricia Arquette talk to ghosts???? In short: FRIGGIN’ FOX. :(

    • Brennilyn

      While I would love to blame Fox, there was huge promotion before and as the first season started airing. Dushku was everywhere. Unfortunately, I think the slow burn of the writing lost interest of most but the hardcore Whedon-ites. The end of S1 gave me hope, and I willl stick with it. Plus, I love Dushku – I don’t understand the haters.

  • wg

    Love Joss, love Eliza – problem is: the show isn’t good. It didn’t start strong and though I stuck with it to the bitter end of S1, it didn’t end strong. It was mediocre from start to finish. And there are three new shows this season that are far superior that I’d rather spend my time watching/catching up on on a Friday night (Glee, Vampire Diaries and FlashForward). So I wasn’t even the slightest bit tempted to return to the Dollhouse. And that’s sad.

  • Jeff

    They should have played the unaired episode from season 1 as the season 2 premiere. It’s the only reason I’m still watching, so I imagine there are people that didn’t download it or buy the DVD and have completely lost interest.

  • Matt

    Listen if “Dollhouse” didn’t say Joss Whedon on it, it would have been cancelled already. Don’t kid yourself, people’s faith in Whedon’s ability to deliver a great show is the only reason this show is even on the air right now. I know that’s what it is for me. Is there a single person on this thread that wasn’t a fan of “Buffy” or “Firefly” before the show aired?

    • Via

      So accurate, and yes I’m a Buffy fan. If this wasn’t apart of the Whedonverse no one would be mentioning this show. I agree w/Marc that we want to support “smart genre content to work on broadcast television,” but if we’re really being honest here we can all agree that Dollhouse ain’t it. I haven’t watched my last recording of this show and based on the consensus I’m in no rush to do so. Dollhouse has displayed fleeting moments of greatness, but those moments are few and far between. I don’t want this to be another Heroes, where people watch hoping that to catch one of those rare redeeming eps.

    • davey

      I haven’t seen ONE episode of Buffy or Firelfy….and I’m in LOVE with Dollhouse (more of Mellie and less of Echo though please). Maybe I should start watching sonme Buffy! I just can’t stand Sarah Michelle gellar :(

      • Via

        If you’ve been able to deal w/Eliza Dushku’s leading lady skills then you will find SMG to be a breath of fresh air, believe me. But you’d be doing yourself a favor by checking out some of the better Whedon projects.

      • RA

        Firefly and Buffy are legendary. I went into Buffy thinking I couldn’t stand SMG too, but the show is sooo much more than that. I agree that Dollhouse has not reached even a quarter of the awesomeness these shows achieved.

      • L.

        I find Eliza Dushku far more interesting than Sarah Gellar. I have no issue with her being the lead role. Sarah was fine too but she’s a bit of a snob. Why was she never in the special features of BTVS?

        Olivia Williams needs to strengthen her character. I like the idea of her role as sale woman and head honcho, but she needs to be more aggressive.

        I want more side stories and less of Echo, unless it’s interesting idea like the 2.03 episode or more character development.

    • Sierra

      I am in love with Dollhouse, although there are a few flaws and glitches in the writing. I think this is the kind of show where people need to have faith instead of the usual, “WHAT THE HECK, THIS IS RIDICULOUS!” and turn off the T.V.
      I love how it stimulates thought instead of seeing what fistfight is going to happen next. And although I do feel that Echo is a weaker choice for a main character, she does develop. You can’t say how bad Dollhouse is without watching every single one of the past episodes first. That’s a fact. It’s not a show where you can just watch one episode and think you’ve got it all right.
      There are questions that I have, for example, “Why doesn’t anyone recognize the dolls? Don’t they see them?” “Why don’t the children realize their mother looks 10 years younger and has a completely different face?”
      But I do feel that these may or may not be answered. Not every show is perfect like we expect it to be. This is what a dollhouse would be like if dollhouses actually existed. The show is raw and people can’t stand that.
      Aside from that, why do so many people hate Eliza? Then don’t scavenge the internet for articles about her show, how ’bout?
      Also, I was never a Whedon-ite before Dollhouse. Sure, I’ve heard the word “Buffy” be thrown around in casual conversation, but never have I actually watched a single episode of his past work.
      And yet, I still love it.
      FOX also put it in the death time slot. How can you blame them? No one is going to watch sitcom reruns for a show they don’t even know. Probably explains the lack of viewers.

      All in all, Dollhouse is not perfect, as any television show should be. It is ridiculed for its flaws and directed at one audience. There are circumstances to consider for why Dollhouse isn’t getting enough views.

  • Kalie

    I don’t know what FOX expected. They put the show in the Friday night death slot and hardly promoted it at all. They didn’t have any faith in the show and I feel that the only reason they renewed it was to appease Joss Whedon’s fans after treating “Firefly” so poorly. The other problem is that the first two episodes of “Dollhouse” were so underwhelming. I expected better, especially with such great guest stars and talented writers. If the show is canceled, it’ll be a real bummer for two reasons. First, we’ll never get to see all of the terrific guest stars we were promised in Season 2 and second, “Terminator” could’ve been renewed instead. It was ten times better than “Dollhouse” and after that terrific finale, I’m certain Season 3 would’ve been outstanding.

  • Jon

    Dollhouse is cr*p, the casting is terrible with E. Duskhu, I cannot stand her stupid face, she cannot act. Check the pics, always the same stupid look on her face. The story is lame and the characters are boring. No wonder its tanking.

    • XFEver

      And you of course are in high demand as a male model right?

  • Horatio

    Main reason? Eliza Dushku

    Joss should find a way to close out her character’s role in the show (kill her off just as she finally returns to her former self), and then build up the show around the other characters (or introduce a new doll who can act).

    But with Dushku as the lead, the show was D.O.A.

    • XFEver

      Heh. And watch the viewership completely fall apart, cause she and not Whedon are the show’s major draw.

      No-one’s asking any of the other cast to be on magazine covers.

      • Horatio

        What magazines want Dushku on their covers?

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