Taking Another Long, Leering Look at ‘Dollhouse’

DushkuAttention, Joss Whedon-ites. Determined to give the show a second chance, I watched the upcoming fourth episode of “Dollhouse,” which Fox sent out in advance. I was momentarily confused, however, when the DVD began with several minutes of silent footage, either by accident or for “B-roll” purposes. Anyway, Eliza Dushku jumped in the pool and swam a lap, took a shower and got out wrapped in a towel, all while sporting a vacant stare. The full episode then followed, complete with dialog and sound.

I actually liked the first part better.

OK, that’s kind of mean. But I can’t escape the feeling that this entire series is structurally flawed. And while I admire Dushku’s willingness to flaunt her assets in playing Echo, the show’s mentally manipulated heroine, it’s hard to remember a scripted project — short perhaps of “Barb Wire” — that more persistently objectified its female protagonist, who played a half-dressed dancer in episode three and first appears as a stripper in the fourth hour. (Frankly, I was tempted to work the word “naked” into this post in a lame effort to increase traffic, but that would be a naked ploy, and therefore wrong and create pictures in my head that are very, very dirty.)

The ratings for “Dollhouse” are somewhat difficult to analyze, especially given that “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” is providing such an anemic lead-in. Both shows are clearly being recorded and played back (apparently, some sci-fi geeks actually do have better things to do than stay home on Friday nights watching this and “Battlestar Galactica” — not that there’s anything wrong with that), but even accounting for that boost the overall numbers remain pretty low.

Whedon fans have preached patience, but if “Dollhouse” doesn’t survive chalk this up as another bit of collateral damage from the writers strike — a show greenlit based on its beguiling elements but that looks to have been shoved into production lacking a well-defined blueprint. It’s a reminder that giving talent the latitude they seek occasionally means allowing them to leave you sitting there with a rather Echo-like vacant-looking stare.

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