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April 15, 2009

'Dollhouse'


Joss Whedon and Eliza Dushku

By Lesley Goldberg

PaleyFest continued its “obsession” with Joss Whedon on Wednesday, honoring the writer-director for the second night and year in a row, this time for his rookie Fox series “Dollhouse,” which despite its behind-the-scenes drama brought out some of Whedon’s devoted fans.

Following a screening of Episode 8, “Needs,” Whedon (who was part of the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” reunion panel at last year’s PaleyFest) said talks with the network and studio about the fate of the freshman bubble series are ongoing and that the show is not canceled.

“They’re waiting to see what happens,” he said, adding Fox has said the “numbers have been solid and the demographic is wonderful and the DVR ratings have been great.”

“So right now I’ve gone from a sort of place of ‘You don’t even care, nobody loves me’ [laughs] to a place of God, I can’t believe I’m saying this ... hope.

“We might actually get the chance to do what we’re dying to do, which is tell more of these stories with these crazy people because we have so many more yet to come,” Whedon said of the series in which Eliza Dushku (“Buffy”) plays an “active” whose memory is wiped and replaced to suit various “engagements.”

“Basically it’s what happens in the next few weeks; we have a new lead-in (replacing 'Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles'), we have a few more episodes coming up — whether it’s 12 or 13 — they are fierce,” he added. “They are ridiculous; I am so proud of them. We’re going to go out this season with a bang, and hopefully we’ll get to come back for Season 2.”

Whedon said Episode 13, which Fox has said will not air and instead be included on the DVD, was “made on the cheap” and is a “strange and to me extraordinarily lovely episode and they weren’t necessarily going to air it and Fox studios was kind of going, ‘This is DVD extras. … We’ll sell all the DVDs [mock laughter].’ And I’ve been saying that I want this to air as part of the season. … The jury is out on that.”

Whedon said Episode 12, titled “Omega,” does serve as a season finale but that the birth of the 13th episode was “very strange and they (the network) said, ‘Can’t you do a clip show?’ and I said, ‘That seems lame.’ [Laughs.] And they said, ‘Can’t you just show the pilot?’ And I’m like, ‘Not only would it make no sense but we’ve cannibalized it for parts and it appears in almost every episode.”

As for the 13th episode, titled “Epitaph One” and written by Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen (“Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”), he said the DVD deal was for 13 episodes (the drama’s pilot episode, “Echo,” was scrapped and is considered the first episode despite never having aired), Whedon told Fox he could shoot a “weird post-apocalyptic horror movie on the sets on video with a whole new cast for about half pattern and pepper it with scenes of these people (the same cast) and do it while we’re filming everything else and it won’t cost you hardly anything and it will be the strangest, most awesome thing you’ve ever had. And they were like, ‘You had us at half pattern.’ ”

Going back to the drama’s roots, Dushku (Echo) said she missed working with Whedon and that he “saw sides of me that a lot of people don’t see. Everyone sort of just painted me in black leather pants and put me in a push-up bra and made me kick ass and he was like, ‘I want to put you in a floral dress and have you have daddy issues.’ ”

Addressing the constant personality change her character faces each week — sometimes multiple times per episode — Dushku joked that she “has multiple personalities. … My whole family sort of has ADHD and we all embrace it. He wanted to explore that, and so we did. … He let me be a tomboy and run through the woods and shoot, kill and fight people and he had me do things that were challenging to me, which is equally if not more fun for me.”

Miracle Laurie (Mellie/November) added that she has enjoyed the plot twists that have involved her character, specifically the recent reveal that Mellie, the innocent and charming neighbor who befriends FBI agent Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett), is a “sleeper active.” 

“It was hard not knowing what was coming and I would talk to my friends and family and say that I know I’m just making lasagna right now but I promise I get much cooler,” Laurie said. “I got the script and was just freaking out with every page. I was like are you kidding? We get to do it? I kill somebody? … It was thrilling and terrifying all at the same time.”

Dichen Lachman (Sierra) confessed she enjoyed the engagement where her active becomes a “dork.” “I’m just a big dork; it was like playing myself,” she said, adding that “Needs” really clears up Sierra’s background and why she’s at the Dollhouse.

“She’s the only one there against her will,” Lachman said. “She brings up a lot of ethical issues that the Dollhouse people struggle with.”

Fran Kranz (“science guy” Topher) added that his character’s lack of ethical boundaries goes back to Topher “essentially being a child. Because his intelligence and genius is so great, he’s never related to anyone,” he said. “He’s like a kid playing with his toys in a basement. Morality, good, bad, they’re almost irrelevant for him.”

Touching on the ever-changing nature of “Dollhouse,” Whedon said the drama’s original concept had Dollhouse only working in “fantasy.”

“For me, the original concept was that these are absolutely private engagements, they really don’t know,” Whedon said. “They (the Dollhouse masterminds) have a database that knows and they do things the way do so that nobody ever has to tell anybody what it is that they want or need. It really is a confessional.

“Peter Chernin, who was running (Fox parent) News Corp. said, ‘What if we didn’t do that. What if they are collecting the information and there was more going on?’ And it turned out to be very useful because it does add another layer, and that’s something that we explore in Episode 13.”

Other panelists included executive producers Sarah Fain and Liz Craft.

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Comments

While it's wonderful news that FOX is considering its options in continuation of Dollhouse, the quote you have for Joss is inaccurate. What he actually said that Fox told him was, "..be very clear about this: the show is not canceled. The numbers have been *soft*, but the demographic is wonderful, the DVR is great."

"Soft" has a very different meaning than "solid."

I've posted a complete transcript of his opening comments at WhedonAge.

What does "half pattern" mean?

Why such a smart, sensitive man as Joss would get behind such a twisted, diabolical idea as the Dollhouse will forever stump me. I know he throws in criticism and questioning from the characters themselves, but the fact remains the actives go out and have sex with people they won't remember the next day. It's an absolutely repugnant concept that should not be treated lightly in any way. We can only hope it gets cancelled post haste and the man can get on to better uses of his creativity and time.

JJ:

The show is there to analyze the Dollhouse but also explore a society that would let such an organization come about (something i see more of a factor in later seasons).

There is rarely just a 2-D answer to such morally prickly subjects and one can't just write off Dollhouse was a whorehouse because as we've seen already - the show hints that it stands for much more.

Although, I shall admit that I wouldn't mind a smidgeon if Joss dropped dollhouse for a second season of Firefly anytime soon. Or ever.

I am disturbed by the show's concept, it seems like the dolls are being raped over and over, and people are enjoying this?
I just had to stop watching, it was very unpleasant.
Please do something else Joss, Firefly and Dr. Horrible were brilliant.

The whole point of this show isn't about rape... It's trying to figure out why they would need Dolls in the first place. You have to go beyond the obvious. This show has so many layers to it that you're only seeing what the Dollhouse would want you to see. Don't you get it? The whole purpose of "personal engagements" is to give you something you turn your nose up at, while they do something more vile in the backround. Also it brings in the other aspect of greed and personal gain. Someone offers you loads of cash to skip ahead 5 years and you don't remember what happens? That's just like going to sleep and waking up with a larger bank account. This show is brilliant, and I'm sorry if it's just a smigen too complicated to get. Joss is amazing, this show is amazing. God I hope there is another season, cause I've been hooked since the start.

Another change to the entire story line could involve the Federal Government (or an agency like the CIA ) taking over the DOLLHOUSE and start using the residents as super programable spies and build an entirely new program around the technology using them to do various spy missions and get away from the distasteful sex slave business yet tell some very good new stories. Reminds me of "The Matrix" in the way folks can be programmed with new skills. The science of the series is too good to just see it cancelled. Some how I doubt this show is going to attract many women viewers, but then again the sex slave idea goes both ways.

Sorry, but this show is just not very good and the people who write for it must have been cheap labor or something. I will say Joss is good about giving other new writers credit for his work, but other than that I don't think he's very good anymore.

The Dollhouse touches on many of the same issues Joss has delved into in the Buffyverse and with Firefly. It's not so much about the Dolls being "sex slaves" and "raped" as it is about them being exploited for other peoples needs. And the subsequent effects, reactions, and consequences of everyone involved.

In the Buffyverse the Slayers are activated as teenage girls and forced to give up their lives to fight the forces of evil. In Firefly, River is taken captive and her brain experimented on against her will. As well as the fact that the Alliance subjugates the will of anyone and everyone to fulfill it's own agenda.

If all you see when you watch this show is condoned prostitution/rape, then you probably aren't even looking to see anything more than that.

And in further response to previous posts, I don't believe this show is making light of these concepts. The whole point is to explore them on a much deeper level and make you question the many different sides of these situations.

I personally love this show and greatly look forward to delving further into the stories. And if it matters, I'm a woman viewer. And I believe in Joss Whedon's work, because he always has empowered female (and male) characters. No matter the surface appearance.

I dont care what anyone here says. I think the Dollhouse should get 5 seasons and a few more actors from Buffy, Angel & Firefly into the mix. Can't wait to hear more about Dr. Saunders/Whiskey and Sierra and Im curious as to what theyre going to do with Victor. Is he going to become staff like Whiskey did after she lost her 'winning edge' to Alpha's blade. This show has enough layers of intrigue and badassery to sustain my faith in Joss Whedon's writing. The rest of you should put your ego and bullsh*t moral code on a shelf for a moment and take the show for what it is: another screwed up world with interesting characters and indeterminable outcomes with a lot of good laughs. By the way, Fran Kranz's Topher Brink is the BEST! Thank you thank you thank you Joss, keep up the good work.


--- an avid fan

Wow if you guys think this show is simply about consensual rape then you obviously aren't looking deep enough. I love this show, it's random plot twist and deep questions about societies surface morality as opposed to it's shadowed immorality. Sometimes it makes you squirm, sometimes it makes you feel sorry for the bad guys, and sometimes it makes you step back and take a good hard look at the world your living in and wonder, "What if this was real, would it be the same?" And that I think is more disturbing then anything on the show itself.

I remember watching an interview with Joss and Eliza done by some random douche of a fox News anchor. And every time I watch the show I think of him saying "Wow a girl you could program to want you? Where do I sign up." *har har har* That scared me. But then a wonder if a guy like that actually watched the show, do you think he would be disgusted with himself? Do you think he would learn anything from it? I dunno, the fact is it's interesting, it's engaging and funny sometimes and exciting and it makes you question everything. That to me says GREAT writing. And I hope it last at least as long as Buffy did because I can't wait to see how far this can go.

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