Dollhouse (TV series)

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Dollhouse
Dollhouse logo.png
Genre
Created byJoss Whedon
Starring
Theme music composer
Opening theme"What You Don't Know"
Composer(s)
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons2
No. of episodes26 + original pilot[3] (List of episodes)
Production
Executive producer(s)
Producer(s)
Location(s)Los Angeles
Running time
  • 47–50 minutes (Season 1)
  • 42 minutes (Season 2)
Production company(s)
Distributor20th Television
Broadcast
Original channelFox
Original runFebruary 13, 2009 (2009-02-13) – January 29, 2010 (2010-01-29)
 
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Dollhouse
Dollhouse logo.png
Genre
Created byJoss Whedon
Starring
Theme music composer
Opening theme"What You Don't Know"
Composer(s)
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons2
No. of episodes26 + original pilot[3] (List of episodes)
Production
Executive producer(s)
Producer(s)
Location(s)Los Angeles
Running time
  • 47–50 minutes (Season 1)
  • 42 minutes (Season 2)
Production company(s)
Distributor20th Television
Broadcast
Original channelFox
Original runFebruary 13, 2009 (2009-02-13) – January 29, 2010 (2010-01-29)

Dollhouse is an American science fiction television series created by writer and director Joss Whedon under Mutant Enemy Productions. It premiered on February 13, 2009, on the Fox network and was officially canceled on November 11, 2009.[4] The final episode aired on January 29, 2010. Production wrapped in December 2009, with a total of 27 episodes produced including the original pilot.[5]

The show revolves around a corporation running numerous underground establishments (known as "Dollhouses") around the globe which program individuals referred to as Actives (or Dolls) with temporary personalities and skills. Wealthy clients hire Actives from Dollhouses at great expense for various purposes. The series primarily follows the Active known as Echo, played by Eliza Dushku, on her journey towards self-awareness. Dushku also served as series producer.

Dollhouse initially received mixed reviews and underwhelming ratings, but improved progressively enough to be renewed for a second season. After the second season finale, the series was cancelled. The expanded universe has since expanded to comic books.

Plot[edit]

"Rossum Corporation" redirects here. For other uses, see Rossum.

The story follows Echo (Eliza Dushku), a "doll" or "Active" for the Los Angeles "Dollhouse", one of several fictional facilities, called "Houses", run by a company which hires out human beings to wealthy clients. These "engagements" range from romantic interludes to high-risk criminal enterprises. Each Active has their original memories wiped and exists in a childlike blank state until programmed via the insertion of new memories and personalities for each mission. Actives such as Echo are ostensibly volunteers who have surrendered their minds and bodies to the organization for five-year stints, during which their original personalities are saved on hard drives, in exchange for vast amounts of money and a solution to any other problematic circumstances in their lives.E-1 Echo is unique however in that she remembers small amounts even after personality "wipes", and gradually develops an increasingly cognizant self-awareness and personality. This concept allows the series to examine the notions of identity and personhood.E-12

Within The House, opinions on such matters are divided. Dollhouse director Adelle DeWitt (Olivia Williams) sees her role as merely giving people what they need; programmer Topher Brink (Fran Kranz) is initially entirely scientific and amoral, apart from brief flashes of moral quandary; while Echo's mentor in The House or "handler", Boyd Langton (Harry Lennix), an ex-cop with an unknown past, expresses concern with the ethical and theological implications of the Dollhouse's technology, using his inside role as an opportunity to limit any collateral damage. Raising intriguing questions about personality and selfhood are other dolls Victor (Enver Gjokaj) and Sierra (Dichen Lachman), who despite being continually re-wiped, begin to fall in love and retain those feelings whether wiped or imprinted with other personalities.E-8

Meanwhile, FBI agent Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett) learns of Echo's original personality, Caroline Farrell, through messages, photographs, and videos he receives anonymously. Agent Ballard becomes obsessed with rumors of the Dollhouse and risks his career trying to prove its existence. It is insinuated that Ballard has developed feelings for Echo prior to even meeting her which leads him to continue his investigation even after being taken off the case. Meanwhile, Ballard has been casually dating his neighbor, Mellie. While discussing the investigation over takeout Mellie corrects Ballard when he refers to bring ‘her’ into say ‘them.’ Ballard tries to explain his slip away but Mellie does not look completely convinced. Mellie’s character up to this point on the show has been portrayed as the somewhat insecure neighbor with a crush on Ballard. At the end of this episode it is revealed that Mellie is a ‘sleeper’ doll. She has been planted by the Dollhouse to spy on Ballard. Mellie is unaware of her role in the Dollhouse and believes herself to be a young woman falling in love with an FBI agent. She is in fact a Doll known as November. E-6

Ballard finally chases down a lead allowing him to ‘meet’ Caroline/Echo. During the encounter Echo is terrified of Ballard because she believes she is the personality she has been programmed with. Echo is whisked away by her handler leaving Ballard with only the man who paid for the encounter to question, Joel Minor. Minor points out the apparent connection that Ballard feels for Echo and cites it as the reason that Ballard is so driven to investigate the Dollhouse. E-6

As Echo continues to evolve and learns to work beyond the limits of each temporary personality imprint or default "tabula rasa" programming, she runs the risk of being sent to "the Attic", a permanent resting place for "broken" dolls and Dollhouse employees who cause problems. She is an object of fascination for the escaped doll Alpha (Alan Tudyk)—a genius and serial killer who has been driven mad by being implanted with the memories of dozens of people. Alpha, the season 1 "Big Bad" returns at the end of the first season to kidnap Caroline.E-11E-12

"Epitaph One", the final episode of season one, which was not aired as part of the show's original run on US television, depicts a post-apocalyptic future where the mind-wiping technology of the Dollhouse has developed to the extent that vast numbers of people can be remotely wiped and have new personalities implanted, which has brought about the end of civilization. Many of the series' main characters' futures are shown.E-13 As the second season begins, the show's focus shifts to depict the dangers of abusing the mind-wiping technology. Each character in the L.A. Dollhouse is forced to confront their own moral complicity in an increasingly downward spiral from moral grey areas to the realization that what the Dollhouse is doing is ultimately immoral and extremely dangerous. The Dollhouse's corporate sponsor is a medical research entity known as the Rossum Corporation, whose ultimate goal is revealed to be gaining control over national governments and even innocent people with no association with the Dollhouse. Through these abilities, the leaders of Rossum can rule the world and also be immortal, jumping from body to body at will. Attempting to stop the further spread of the mind-wiping technology, the L.A. Dollhouse vows to take down Rossum and its mysterious founder, whom only Echo's original personality, Caroline, has met.E-25 They also learn that there is no person named "Rossum"—the company founder took the name from the play "R.U.R.", which is short for Rossum's Universal Robots". This 1921 science fiction play by Karel Čapek is the origin of the word "robot".

The final episode of the series is set in the year 2020, and takes place shortly after the events that took place in "Epitaph One". Despite its best efforts, the L.A. Dollhouse has been unsuccessful in stopping the mind-wiping technology from spreading out of control. Rossum executives use multiple bodies to live in decadence while the peoples of the world are enslaved. A now mentally unstable Topher, architect of much of the technology, devises a way of restoring everyone's original personalities and eliminating Rossum's power, but at great sacrifice to himself and others. The series concludes with the world's personalities restored, while the Earth still lies in ruins, and those with Active architecture sheltering inside the Dollhouse for one year in order to keep the memories they have acquired since their original personalities were restored some years ago, rather than being wiped and defaulting back to their memories from before the Dollhouse got hold of them.E-26

Production[edit]

The series stars Eliza Dushku, who worked with Whedon on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain were the showrunners, while Jane Espenson, Tim Minear and Steven S. DeKnight served as consulting producers.[6][7] In addition to Joss Whedon, the writing staff included Tim Minear, Jed Whedon (Joss' brother), Maurissa Tancharoen (Jed's wife), Andrew Chambliss, Tracy Bellomo, Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain.[8] Whedon directed a number of his own episodes, as he has done for many of the shows he created. Tim Minear and Buffy producer David Solomon also directed. Fox used a viral marketing campaign to promote Dollhouse in May 2008.[9]

Dollhouse was produced by 20th Century Fox Television, Whedon's Mutant Enemy Productions,[10] and Dushku's Boston Diva Productions, and was granted an initial thirteen-episode production commitment by Fox, with a reported license fee in the range of $1.5 to 2 million per episode.[11][12] Fox decided to forego the usual practice of ordering a pilot episode of the series, opting to instead put funds towards the construction of the elaborate set and cultural context of the television series. The set was described as a "life-size Dollhouse".[13] On July 22, 2008, Joss Whedon announced that the first episode shot, "Echo", would be pushed to be the second, saying that this "idea to do a new first episode wasn't the network's. It was mine".[14] Despite several reshoots, "Echo" was later pulled from the run entirely;[15] the staff of the show has since noted, during a panel on the series at the Paley Festival, a television festival held at the Paley Center for Media in New York City, that portions of the episode were used in subsequent episodes throughout the series' first season.[16]

Dollhouse, as well as J. J. Abrams' Fringe, aired during its first season with half the commercials and promo spots of most current network dramas, adding about 6 minutes to the shows' run times, as part of a new Fox initiative called "Remote-Free TV".[17] Fox charged a premium price for this advertising space, but did not completely recoup the money that they spent.[18] Fox later canceled Remote-Free TV.[19]

Originally, Whedon announced he was planning to shoot a separate webisode for every Dollhouse episode produced.[20] The webisodes did not materialize, however. There was originally a five-year plan for the show, with Whedon plotting how its characters would evolve through that point.[21]

Casting[edit]

Panel with (left to right) Dichen Lachman, Joss Whedon, Eliza Dushku, and Fran Kranz.

Anya Colloff and Amy McIntyre Britt, who previously worked with Joss Whedon on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and Serenity, were the show's casting directors.

On March 26, 2008, it was officially announced that Tahmoh Penikett, Dichen Lachman, Fran Kranz, and Enver Gjokaj had been cast in four principal roles for the show.[22][23] On April 3, 2008, it was announced that Olivia Williams would be playing the role of Adelle DeWitt.[24] Two weeks later, it was announced that Harry Lennix had also joined the cast.[25] On the same day, Joss Whedon announced on whedonesque.com that Miracle Laurie and Amy Acker were to complete the cast.[26]

Brennan Elliott and Michael Muhney auditioned for the part of Paul Ballard but lost out to Penikett. Ian Anthony Dale and Paul Campbell auditioned for Victor, but Gjokaj got the part.[27]

Unaired "Epitaph One"[edit]

On April 9, 2009, Whedon rebutted speculation that Fox was set to cancel the show. Producer Tim Minear explained that the "missing" 13th episode (titled "Epitaph One") would be on the DVD release of the season. The reason Minear gave for that episode being dropped from the broadcast run was that the Fox network was counting the original first episode ("Echo"), which went unaired, as part of the original 13-episode order; in contrast, the Fox production company was required by contract to have a minimum of 13 completed episodes for international and DVD releases.[28] According to both Minear and Whedon, the producers felt that the original first episode, having been subsequently scrapped entirely and having had its footage reused for other episodes throughout the season, should not be counted as a completed episode as part of their own 13-episode orders for international and DVD distribution but rather as a DVD extra, and thus Whedon produced a new 13th episode on a lower budget to fulfill the contractual requirements for the international broadcasts. The episode was screened at Comic-Con on July 24, 2009.[29]

"Epitaph One" had its world premiere in Singapore on June 17, 2009, through Season Pass, an on-demand service offered by SingTel mio TV.[30] In the United Kingdom, the episode aired on the UK Sci Fi Channel on August 11, 2009.[31]

Second season and cancellation[edit]

Despite low ratings in its first season, Dollhouse was renewed for a second season[32] of thirteen episodes.[33] Among other factors, fan response to the show was seen as a reason for the renewal; Fox's president of entertainment stated that "if we'd canceled Joss's show I'd probably have 110 million e-mails this morning from the fans".[32] As part of the deal, there was a cut in the show's budget, though Whedon stated that this would not affect the quality of the episodes.[34] The second season also had changes visually, the show moved from being shot on 35 mm film to high-definition video.[35] With the addition of new cinematographer Lisa Wiegand, Whedon wanted the show to look darker. Other visual changes included more hand-held camera work and the addition of snap zooms (an effect that moves in or pulls back very quickly, which was used extensively in Firefly).[36] The series continued in its 9–10 pm Friday timeslot, with the season premiere on September 25, 2009.[37] Season 2 of Dollhouse began filming on July 22, 2009, so Fox pushed back Dollhouse's return to the 25th to afford Whedon and the Dollhouse production team sufficient time to produce enough hours to kick off the season with at least three or four consecutive episodes.[38]

Alexis Denisof joined the cast in a recurring role as Senator Daniel Perrin,[39] as did Summer Glau, who was originally scheduled to appear in just two episodes, a number that was later extended.[40] Michael Hogan and Jamie Bamber, both former castmates of series regular Tahmoh Penikett on Battlestar Galactica, each had roles as guest stars.[41] Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters (creators of Reaper) joined the writing staff for season 2 as replacements for former showrunners Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain (who left Dollhouse to join the writing staff of Lie to Me).[42]

Fox announced in October 2009 that it would not be airing any episodes of Dollhouse during November sweeps, and that the series would return in December, airing episodes back-to-back instead.[43] On November 11, 2009, The Hollywood Reporter announced that the show had been cancelled.[4] Fox passed on ordering more episodes of the show;[44] although it did air the entirety of the 13-episode order. After airing the back-to-back episodes in December, the final three episodes aired during January 2010.[45]

Cast and characters[edit]

Dollhouse characters. L to R: Paul Ballard, Victor, Echo, Sierra, Topher Brink, Adelle DeWitt, Boyd Langton

The Dollhouse cast consists mainly of Actives (or Dolls) and Dollhouse employees. The Actives at the LA Dollhouse are named after the NATO phonetic alphabet (other Dollhouses are shown to use other naming systems).

Main cast[edit]

Recurring cast[edit]

DVD and Blu-ray Disc releases[edit]

Dollhouse: Season One
Set details:
  • 14 episodes (including 2 unaired episodes)
  • 4-disc set (3-disc Blu-ray Disc set)

Features:

Bonus features:
  • Three audio commentaries
  • Two unaired episodes
    • "Echo" – the original pilot
    • "Epitaph One" – the 13th episode
  • Featurettes
    • "Making Dollhouse"
    • "Coming Back Home"
    • "Finding Echo"
    • "Designing the Perfect Dollhouse"
    • "A Private Engagement"
  • Deleted Scenes
Release dates:Region 1Region 2Region 4
July 28, 2009September 7, 2009 (DVD)
October 11, 2010 (Blu-ray Disc)
November 5, 2009 (South America)
October 24, 2012 (Australia/New Zealand)
Dollhouse: Season Two
Set details:
  • 13 episodes
  • 4-disc set (3-disc Blu-ray Disc set)

Features:

  • Anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1 aspect ratio)
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 English audio (DVD)
  • 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (Blu-ray Disc)
  • Subtitles vary depending on region
Bonus features:
Release dates:Region 1Region 2Region 4
October 12, 2010[47]October 11, 2010[48]April 10, 2013 (Australia/New Zealand)[49]

Comic books[edit]

Cover of Dollhouse Epitaphs

During the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con International, it was announced that a comic book had been written by Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen. The book, titled Dollhouse Epitaphs, features a new storyline to bridge the gap between the main series and "Epitaph One" and "Epitaph Two: Return". It was drawn by Cliff Richards and published by Dark Horse Comics.[51]

The book was a 24-page one-off limited edition, only available in the season two DVD or Blu-ray Disc.[52] Early copies were released at the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con International for those who pre-ordered either the DVD or Blu-ray Disc at the event. Both Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen were available to sign the copies.[53]

It was later revealed at New York Comic-Con 2010 that there will be more comics that take place in the Dollhouse universe. A one-shot was released on March 30, 2011, and a miniseries began with the first issue released on July 13, 2011. The one-shot, which reprints the Season 2 exclusive with additional material,[54] is written by Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen and the miniseries is written by Andrew Chambliss. The comics are set in a future Los Angeles after the Dollhouse technology has reduced the city to ruins.[55] The miniseries was later published in a trade paperback collection released on April 11, 2012.[56]

Marketing[edit]

Viral marketing campaign[edit]

Promotional posters featuring Eliza Dushku as Echo surrounded by blank mannequins were used to advertise Dollhouse by Fox prior to the series' premiere.

On February 12, 2009, Fox launched Dollplay, a participation drama centered around Dollhouse. It involved using interactive webisodes and a user forum to drive a viral marketing campaign. The campaign asked users on the Fox Dollhouse website to "Save Hazel!" Hazel was a character trapped inside the Dollhouse in real-time. The campaign was called "Dollplay" according to the official Fox press release and was created by the company P "a radical production outfit from Sweden".[57]

Another viral marketing campaign was launched in November 2009 when the series was on hiatus. The campaign gave background on the Rossum Corporation, the technology company behind the Dollhouse, and offered clues as to how the apocalyptic future begins.[58]

Music[edit]

Main article: Music in Dollhouse

Reception[edit]

Ratings[edit]

The premiere episode of Dollhouse helped Fox double its audience levels among women versus Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and helped the network finish in second place among adults 18–34 and in first place in the key male demographic for the night.[59]

SeasonEpisodesTimeslotSeason premiereSeason finaleTV seasonRankViewers
(in millions)
113 (2 unaired, including the unaired pilot)Friday 9:00 pmFebruary 13, 2009May 8, 20092009#132[60]4.63[60]
213Friday 8:00 pm (December 4, 2009 – December 18, 2009; January 29, 2010)
Friday 9:00 pm
September 25, 2009January 29, 20102009–2010#131[61]2.17[61]

Critical response[edit]

Season one of Dollhouse had mixed reviews, with Metacritic giving it a rating of 57 out of a possible 100.[62] Ellen Gray of Philadelphia Daily News gave a positive review, remarking that "Dollhouse is less about the ninja kicks and witty banter than it is about instant transformations, and about making the audience care about a character who's likely to behave differently every time we see her. That Dushku mostly pulls this off is a happy surprise, as is Dollhouse, which has survived Firefly-like trials of its own to get this far."[63] Salon.com reviewer Heather Havrilesky was also positive, commenting that the show's combination of mystery, sly dialogue, and steady flow of action results in a "provocative, bubbly new drama that looks as promising as anything to hit the small screen over the course of the past year."[64]

Alternately, Tom Shales of the Washington Post wrote that the premise was "admittedly intriguing", but described the series as a "pretentious and risible jumble" and that Echo did not "inspire much concern or interest in the audience". He commented that the actors seemed to struggle due to the decor being so "outlandish", stating that it "simply isn't worth the trouble".[65] Brian Lowry of Variety also wrote "Dushku's 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."[66] Robert Bianco of USA Today had a more nonchalant view of the series, describing Dollhouse as not boring or ordinary, and that the end result is a show "that Joss Whedon's most devoted fans will debate and embrace, and a mass audience just won't get".[67]

Many critics felt that the series' first season improved as it progressed. IGN Reviewer Eric Goldman believed the show became much stronger and more compelling with the episodes "Needs" and "A Spy in the House of Love". He opined of the later episodes that, "As a whole this show is definitely working better as we get away from Echo's missions of the week, and from focusing so much on just Echo and letting there be more of a true ensemble feel, with the time split amongst the Dolls."[68] Sarah Hughes of The Independent was unimpressed with the first five episodes but also found that the later episodes became "as involving and addictive as Whedon's best work".[69] Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune liked Dollhouse's "unsettling" tone and found the show to be "unexpectedly moving and complex" during the second half of the first season. She called the second season renewal "a good day for unconventional television".[70]

References[edit]

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Episode sources[edit]

^E-1 "Ghost". Dollhouse. Season 1. Episode 1. February 13, 2009. Fox.
^E-2 "The Target". Dollhouse. Season 1. Episode 2. February 20, 2009. Fox.
^E-3 "Stage Fright". Dollhouse. Season 1. Episode 3. February 27, 2009. Fox.
^E-4 "Gray Hour". Dollhouse. Season 1. Episode 4. March 6, 2009. Fox.
^E-5 "True Believer". Dollhouse. Season 1. Episode 5. March 13, 2009. Fox.
^E-6 "Man on the Street". Dollhouse. Season 1. Episode 6. March 20, 2009. Fox.
^E-7 "Echoes". Dollhouse. Season 1. Episode 7. March 27, 2009. Fox.
^E-8 "Needs". Dollhouse. Season 1. Episode 8. April 3, 2009. Fox.
^E-9 "A Spy in the House of Love". Dollhouse. Season 1. Episode 9. April 10, 2009. Fox.
^E-10 "Haunted". Dollhouse. Season 1. Episode 10. April 24, 2009. Fox.
^E-11 "Briar Rose". Dollhouse. Season 1. Episode 11. May 1, 2009. Fox.
^E-12 "Omega". Dollhouse. Season 1. Episode 12. May 8, 2009. Fox.
^E-13 "Epitaph One". Dollhouse. Season 1. Episode 13. DVD release. Fox.
^E-14 "Vows". Dollhouse. Season 2. Episode 14. September 25, 2009. Fox.
^E-15 "Instinct". Dollhouse. Season 2. Episode 15. October 2, 2009. Fox.
^E-16 "Belle Chose". Dollhouse. Season 2. Episode 16. October 9, 2009. Fox.
^E-17 "Belonging". Dollhouse. Season 2. Episode 17. October 23, 2009. Fox.
^E-18 "The Public Eye". Dollhouse. Season 2. Episode 18. December 4, 2009. Fox.
^E-19 "The Left Hand". Dollhouse. Season 2. Episode 19. December 4, 2009. Fox.
^E-20 "Meet Jane Doe". Dollhouse. Season 2. Episode 20. December 11, 2009. Fox.
^E-21 "A Love Supreme". Dollhouse. Season 2. Episode 21. December 11, 2009. Fox.
^E-22 "Stop-Loss". Dollhouse. Season 2. Episode 22. December 18, 2009. Fox.
^E-23 "The Attic". Dollhouse. Season 2. Episode 23. December 18, 2009. Fox.
^E-24 "Getting Closer". Dollhouse. Season 2. Episode 24. January 8, 2010. Fox.
^E-25 "The Hollow Men". Dollhouse. Season 2. Episode 25. January 15, 2010. Fox.
^E-26 "Epitaph 2: Return". Dollhouse. Season 2. Episode 26. January 29, 2010. Fox.

External links[edit]