By now, you may have read that Joss Whedon’s most recent show, Dollhouse , has been cancelled, though with a bit more ceremony and respect than most cancelled shows ever get. Unlike said other shows, Dollhouse will be allowed to complete its second season as planned, with every single episode airing, in order, as promised. I’ve got to give Fox props for trying-they’ve given the show almost every opportunity to succeed, with the one exception being that it’s been stuck in television’s worst time slot since the day it launched. I can’t help but wonder if perhaps a Sunday night slot might have yielded better results.
The immediate trend I’ve noticed on the topic has been one of blame, and specifically, blame for Fox. I have yet to see many people blame the show’s writers, who I think carry a significant burden of blame, nor the show’s audience, who certainly deserves blame a-plenty that Dollhouse cancelled. A lot of things happened to conspire against Dollhouse, not the least of which was DH itself. The concept is, without a doubt, effing brilliant. The problem is that during the first season, the show’s primary characters-the Actives-were completely and utterly unrelatable. From the first episode to the sixth, it was very difficult to care about any of the characters. Yes, there was some good action, and yes, we got to look at some nice boobies in tight or revealing outfits, but those things alone do not make a show interesting. Well, at least not interesting enough to watch religiously.
It wasn’t really until episode six, “Man on the street,” that any characters really became interesting. From that point onward, several of them suddenly became a lot more interesting, not the least of which were Ballard and his beautiful neighbor/Doll, Mellie. We got a lot more flavor of the season’s plot and the story’s characters from then on, but the problem was that in order to get to that point you really had to go through the first five hours of the series, which were boring and mediocre. Unfortunately, very few people will actually wait that long for a series to become good; if it can’t grab them from the first or maybe second episode, they’ll tune out and move on, and that’s exactly what they did.
Season 2 has been phenomenal so far. Every single aired episode has been great, and I’ve enjoyed watching it immensely. The characters have finally become rich and full of promise, and the stories told have made me actually give a rat’s ass about the Actives. Unfortunately, this has come too late; before the season began, the viewers were already gone. I’m sad that Dollhouse cancelled. It’s a shame, of course, but you can’t really blame Fox for that-they were generous to give DH a second chance at all. If I have one wish, it’s that they should have tried the show in another time slot, where I really do think it could have done better. Niche shows in niche timeslots are a recipe for-get this-niche audiences.
Dollhouse has not been Joss Whedon’s best work, but it really could have been. I can’t blame him, of course-the concept of DH is very difficult, and few writers would be willing to tackle something so sophisticated at all, much less in episodic television. The show, for all its problems, flaws and weaknesses early on, really has been shaping up to be something rather extraordinary, and if the episode descriptions online are even remotely accurate for what’s to come, we should be in for one hell of a ride come December. I wish the show had been as good from episode one as it is in the current season; maybe we’d be looking forward to season 3 if that had been the case.
I love Joss Whedon’s work with a fairly epic passion; I’m always evangelizing his great work in Angel, Buffy and Firefly, and I regret that, like Firefly, we’ll never really see what DH could have become. But with any luck it’ll be a lesson learned, and Mr. Whedon will take it and do something even better for his next project. I’d love it if he got naked and sweaty with a network like Showtime or HBO, where he could really go wild and deliver something completely unhooked, but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. Whatever happens, he’s got a lifelong fan in me and many others.
Goodbye, Dollhouse. We barely knew ye!