×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Dollhouse

Joss Whedon's cult following is no secret, but he seems assured of attracting the faithful and little else with "Dollhouse" -- a series that exhibits a kitchen-sink mentality, throwing in a half-dozen assorted plot threads that intertwine to create confusion.

With:
Echo - Eliza Dushku Boyd Langton - Harry Lennix Adelle DeWitt - Olivia Williams Topher Brink - Fran Kranz Paul Ballard - Tahmoh Penikett Sierra - Dichen Lachman Lubov - Enver Gjokaj Dr. Claire Saunders - Amy Acker Laurence Dominic - Reed Diamond

Joss Whedon’s cult following is no secret, but he seems assured of attracting the faithful and little else with “Dollhouse” — a series that exhibits a kitchen-sink mentality, throwing in a half-dozen assorted plot threads that intertwine to create confusion. The writer-producer-director is clearly gambling on viewers to grant him time to develop this sci-fi concept, but the premiere’s unflattering resemblance to NBC’s already-axed “My Own Worst Enemy” — and its scheduling on Friday with the meritorious but low-rated “Terminator” — doesn’t bode well for enduring long enough to complete the show’s mission, whatever that might be.

Trying to explain the first hour required a bit of cribbing off Fox’s website, but here goes: Eliza Dushku plays Echo, a young woman who either volunteers or is drafted into an illicit organization that provides exclusive services to the mega-rich, using people that can be programmed for any occasion. Between tasks, these near-perfect specimens stagger around dreamily in something called the “dollhouse,” where — with their memories wiped — they speak in monosyllabic sentences, kind of like Tarzan. Dushku first appears in a micromini dress, showcasing her most formidable assets. This triggers an obvious thought: If you had the equivalent of a human blow-up doll resembling Dushku, one suspects her assignments would primarily be more of the indoor variety than action-adventure.

Ah, but where’s the fun in that, unless you’re producing the show for Cinemax? So the premiere involves Echo serving as a bespectacled hostage negotiator, before complications arise as her programming starts going awry — a development also found in “Worst Enemy,” the “Bourne” movies and “Total Recall”to name just a few –which all hinge on this notion that imprinting memories on the brain can have unintended consequences. Is poor Echo, too, remembering things that she shouldn’t?

Meanwhile — and there are a lot of meanwhiles in the debut installment — a tough, rule-bending fed (“Battlestar Galactica’s” Tahmoh Penikett) is investigating the dollhouse, an operation so shadowy that Echo’s taciturn handler (Harry Lennix) mutters to a co-worker, “We’d spend our lives in jail if anyone ever found this place.”

Viewing a second hour, which dribbles out a bit more of the backstory, helps matters only marginally. Dushku (who co-starred in Whedon’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” followed by Fox’s short-lived “Tru Calling”) does wonderful things to a tank top, but her grasp of this vague, personality-changing character is a bit of a muddle. What’s left, then, is a series with a hollow center that doesn’t initially make you care about its mentally malleable protagonist.

Nor do the technical elements particularly impress — beginning with the dollhouse itself, whose design isn’t as creepy as it should be, instead resembling a cross between a Silicon Valley office and a children’s playroom, a la Gymboree.

So is there a series here? Frankly, two hours in, it’s still impossible to say — which is why the low-risk timeslot is an expectations-lowering godsend. Even so, attempting to unravel this convoluted package suggests that by the time “Dollhouse” finds itself, there won’t be anybody but hard-core Whedon worshippers left to play with.

Dollhouse

Series; Fox, Fri. Feb. 13, 9 p.m.

Production: Filmed in Los Angeles by Mutant Enemy in association with 20th Century Fox Television. Executive producers, Joss Whedon; co-executive producers, Liz Craft, Sarah Fain, David Solomon; producers, Kelly A. Manners, Eliza Dushku; writer-director, Whedon.

Crew: Camera, Ross Berryman; production designer, Stuart Blatt; editor, Peter Basinski; music, Mychael Danna, Rob Simonsen; casting, Amy McIntyre Britt, Anya Colloff. 60 MIN.

Cast: Echo - Eliza Dushku Boyd Langton - Harry Lennix Adelle DeWitt - Olivia Williams Topher Brink - Fran Kranz Paul Ballard - Tahmoh Penikett Sierra - Dichen Lachman Lubov - Enver Gjokaj Dr. Claire Saunders - Amy Acker Laurence Dominic - Reed Diamond

More TV

  • Kasi LemmonsNew York Women in Film

    Kasi Lemmons, Jane Rosenthal, Ann Dowd Talk Golden Globes Female Director Snub

    The absence of women among director nominees for the Golden Globes is another example of how much work remains to be done to achieve gender parity in the entertainment industry, honorees said Tuesday night at the 40th annual Muse Awards presented by New York Women in Film and Television. “Harriet” director Kasi Lemmons, “The Irishman” [...]

  • The Flash -- "Crisis on Infinite

    'Crisis on Infinite Earths' Recap: A Rewritten Destiny Brings Another Superhero Death

    SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “Crisis on Infinite Earths: Part Three,” “The Flash” episode of the 2019 “Arrowverse” crossover. Tuesday night was the official midpoint of the ambitious “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossovers, with an episode of “The Flash” that also marked the final episode of the year for the [...]

  • THE MASKED SINGER tree identity ana

    'The Masked Singer' Reveals the Identity of the Tree

    SPOILER ALERT: Do not read ahead, if you have not watched the episode of “The Masked Singer,” which aired on Dec. 10 on Fox. “The Masked Singer” has sent home another character — and more importantly, has unmasked that contestant. On Tuesday’s episode, titled “A Pain in the Mask,” the tree was revealed to be [...]

  • THE MASKED SINGER semi finals

    Everything to Know About 'The Masked Singer' Semi-Finals

    Television’s breakout reality show, “The Masked Singer,” wraps up its second season, unmasking a winner, next week — but first, the quirky competition show will celebrate the holidays. Teeing up the grand finale of the inarguable hit series, Fox is giving extra airtime to the show this week with a two-night event. Tuesday night, the [...]

  • daredevil Marvel Netflix

    Marvel to Shutter Television Division

    Marvel’s television division is officially winding down. Variety has learned that Marvel Television will no longer be developing any new series beyond the shows that are currently in production. According to an individual with knowledge of the situation, Marvel will eliminate a number of positions in the near future as a result of the cessation [...]

  • Kaya Scodelario

    TV News Roundup: Netflix's 'Spinning Out' With 'Skins' Star Kaya Scodelario Gets Premiere Date

    In today’s TV news roundup, Netflix reveals the premiere date for “Spinning Out,” and USA reveals a first look at Ethan Hawke’s return to “The Purge” universe.  DATES Netflix‘s “Spinning Out,“ starring “Skins’s” Kaya Scodelario and from showrunners Lara Olsen (“Reign”) and Samantha Stratton, premieres Jan. 1. The series follows Scodelario’s Kat, a high-level figure skater [...]

  • Philip MckeonPhilip Mckeon

    'Alice' Child Star Philip McKeon Dies at 55

    Philip McKeon, known for playing the son of Linda Lavin’s titular character in the classic CBS sitcom “Alice,” has died. He was 55. The actor died Tuesday morning in Texas following a longtime illness, family spokesman Jeff Ballard confirmed to Variety. “We are all beyond heartbroken and devasted over Phil’s passing,” said Ballard. “His wonderful [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content