TV: 'Dollhouse' collapses in its first episode

Published February 12, 2009 6:00 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

There was an old "Star Trek" episode in which a race of vacuous but beautiful women (the show didn't exactly win awards from women's rights groups) have their minds filled with any skill via a machine. In this case, some of the women learned how to perform surgery so they could beam onto the Enteprise and steal Spock's oversized brain.

The new Fox thriller from cult TV producer Joss Whedon, "Dollhouse," is based on a concept similar to that, with only a dash more sophistication than that corny "Trek" installment.

While critics only got to preview the pilot episode, which airs tonight at 8 on KSTU Channel 13, the introduction to this idea of brainwashing was hardly a page-turner as science-fiction television mythologies go. But it might be worth tuning in for future episodes just to see if the idea expands viewers' minds, too.

"Dollhouse" refers to an ultra-secret project (of course) in which drop-dead-gorgeous agents are implanted with unique personalities and skills from a machine and sent out into the field to battle bad guys.

In the pilot, Echo (Eliza Dushku) is an agent with an unknown past who is fed the personality of a top hostage negotiator. A wealthy man's daughter has been kidnapped, and Echo is called into service to deal with the culprits.

The kidnapping story is standard criminal fare, and we are given little to no information about Echo's background, which might give viewers a reason to latch on to her character. After each mission, her mind is wiped clean until she is a walking zombie, and that's how the show feels sometimes.

That may be an unfair analysis for a show that is supposed to build its foundation over many episodes, not just one.

Yet I can't help feel that "Dollhouse" won't be much more than an excuse to have a hot television heroine in leather pants and heels high-kicking her way through waves of villains.

Mind you, this is from the creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Firefly," a producer who has built his reputation on re-creating modern-day heroes in ultra-hip fashion.

But I don't come from the "Church of Joss Whedon" and didn't particularly gravitate toward any of his series. His ideas tend to be more comic-book-boy fantasies than truly compelling concepts.

"Dollhouse" deserves a few more looks before you can make a true assessment. I'll watch a few more episodes, but I'm afraid it won't be any more watchable than one of "Star Trek's" worst episodes ever.

Vince Horiuchi 's column appears Mondays and Fridays. He can be reached at vince@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">vince@sltrib.com or 801-257-8607. For more television insights, visit Horiuchi's blog, "The Village Vidiot," at blogs.sltrib.com/tv/. Send comments about this column to livingeditor@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">livingeditor@sltrib.com.

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