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Welcome To The 'Dollhouse': Joss Whedon Is Back With New Show



Welcome To The 'Dollhouse': Joss Whedon Is Back With New Show


The Hartford Courant

February 13, 2009


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The idea for the newest TV series from Joss Whedon came out of a dinner with Eliza Dushku.

The actress had portrayed the antihero Faith Lehane in two of Whedon's popular series, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel."

"I was sitting, talking to her about her opportunities and her range and all of the things she can be, and the ways in which she could get constricted, and the ways in which she could be free," Whedon said, "and literally the show came from that."

The resulting "Dollhouse" premieres tonight on Fox, the first new series since "Firefly" from the Wesleyan graduate with a cult following.

"I really just described to him that in my career, I've had this pressure and this identity crisis every day where it is like: 'Who do people want me to be?'" Dushku said.

"I was just like, 'You can play so many people,'" Whedon said, "but there was certain things, she was saying, that people expect me to be, and then I went 'Oh, wait a minute ... that's the show.'"

So, said Dushku, "welcome to our 'Dollhouse'."

The two were making their comments while greeting reporters to their lavish main set, a large, circular wood-paneled, two-story space every bit as detailed as his spaceship set of "Firefly." With its dark wood and hanging yellow lights, it almost looked like a spa as devised by Starbucks. The most provocative elements were a circular shower and the sunken cot sleeping quarters of the "dolls," cut into the floor like little graves.

"They are basically like children in here," Whedon said of the dolls that populate the series. "Very enthusiastic, very optimistic, very slow. They eat fine food in the excellent dining area, and it is delicious spa fare. They have a crafts sort of meditation center, over here, where they do some finger painting and whatnot."

Each have had their personalities wiped clean so they can be injected with the knowledge and personalities they need to fulfill the needs of rich clients. Some of that is sexual, yes, but not all, Whedon said. "It could be kinky, it could be strange, it could be illegal, it could be very beautiful, or it could be all of those things."

Dushku's character, Echo, is alone among them to recognize her situation. She retrains fragments of memory that aren't wiped clean and tries to get out.

Echo, Whedon said, "eventually realizes that there is more to her than just existing, and she might want to figure out who she is or was."

As the season goes on, the random flaws in her character's programming are becoming more evident. "She's absolutely glitching and starting to become self-aware," Dushku said. "The memory wipes are not entirely working."

"What interests me about the human condition, the idea of this woman who is stripped of her personality and has to rebuild herself from scratch, and not only her character, but every character, is on some level dealing with their identity," Whedon said.

And the series itself had to be rebuilt, when the original pilot was bumped to make way for a new initial episode.

"The network felt very strongly that they wanted the audience to see not just the world of the show, but the structure of the show," Whedon told reporters at the TV writers' press tour last month. "In addition, there were certain things about the stakes and the motivations of the 'Dollhouse' itself and the kind of clients they would be servicing that they wanted to sort of focus on, and that was really the big shift."

Whedon said he wasn't particularly excited that the show is scheduled on Fridays, traditionally one of the lowest-rated nights on TV, where shows are often shunted before they die.

"I'd had a bad experience once on a Friday," he said, referring to "Firefly," which managed to air just 11 episodes. But, he added, "I'm very excited to be paired with 'Terminator'."

In fact, "Dollhouse" and "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" are being promoted together in stylish ads with Dushku side-by-side with that show's Summer Glau (who was in Whedon's "Firefly" previously). The promos recall Quentin Tarantino's brash, retro look of "Grindhouse," with super saturated colors, scratchy emulsion, corny music and announcer, and promises of things like "More Action! More Suspense! More Everything!" All this and "In Glorious Super Sound!"

Actually, the placement on Fridays "takes a lot of the pressure off of us," Whedon says. "And ultimately, I feel much more comfortable there than I did on Mondays."

•"Dollhouse" premieres tonight at 9 on Fox, locally on WTIC, Channel 61.

Copyright © 2009, The Hartford Courant