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What's Going on with Joss Whedon's "Dollhouse"?

Whither Dollhouse?

That seems to be the big question today following news that television auteur Joss Whedon would be retooling the pilot for his midseason action drama Dollhouse, starring Eliza Dushku, Tahmoh Penikett, Amy Acker, Harry Lennix, Olivia Williams, Fran Kranz, Reed Diamond, and a host of others. (You can read my early review of the pilot script for Dollhouse here.)

Early reports seemed to indicate that Whedon had made the decision to scrap the pilot in favor of reshooting an introductory episode that was less noir and had more of the "visceral pop" that was promised in the pilot script and that the decision was not one handed down to him from FOX.

According to Whedon in a post on Whedonesque: "The fact is, I’m very proud of the ep we shot and the series is making me crazy with the excitement. But I tend to come at things sideways, and there were a few clarity issues for some viewers. There were also some slight issues with tone – I was in a dark, noir kind of place (where, as many of you know, I make my home), and didn’t bring the visceral pop the network had expected from the script. The network was cool about it, but not sure how to come out of the gate with the ep."

It's now been clarified that the recently completed Dollhouse pilot itself won't be reshot, as many news outlets seemed to indicate, but will instead become the series' second episode, with the planned second outing being reconfigured to act as the premiere installment, a move Whedon refers to as a "preemptive strike." Still with me?

“Joss came to the realization that there was a better way to start the show,” a Twentieth Century Fox Television spokesman told Variety. “After he wrote episode two, he asked the network to use that as episode one.”

The move, which at least seems to have originated from Whedon himself and not the network, doesn't exactly make me rest easy; if you remember, airing episodes out of order was exactly what signaled the beginning of the end for Whedon's other FOX series Firefly.

Let's take a look at Whedon talking to The Hollywood Reporter about the decision from the TCA:

I'm not entirely sure how this new introductory episode will work as the pilot as the original perfectly set up the world of the Dollhouse, including the central conceit (memories and abilities can be downloaded into template-like humans) and the exploration of Echo and her companions, enemies, employers, and possible allies.

But as Whedon himself notes, the development of a television series is often met with peril and the product that appears on screen is the result of a collaborative process between the creator, the studio, and the network. He's quick to point out that FOX isn't the villain here ("it's a whole new crew") and that he isn't working with the same development/current team as when the network aired Firefly, which showed signs of the "frisson" between his creative vision and the network's.

Let's hope that this is the only occasion that Dollhouse gets shown out of order, rather than the first in a growing pattern of structural decisions. After all, January is still a long way off and I don't want to lose my faith in what promises to be a daring and thought-provoking series.


The CineManiac said…
The fact that it's Joss Whedon's choice to change the order and create a new first episode goes a long way towards calming me down, as I have complete faith in the man.
Other than his disastrous 2nd arc of Astonishing X-Men I've loved everything he's done.

So bring on the new (and presumable improved Dollhouse)
Unknown said…
"which showed signs of the "frisson" between his creative vision and the network's."

Do you mean friction?
Jace Lacob said…
Joss' word choice, not mine. From the French, it means "sensation of excitement." While he clearly says frisson, I am sensing the underlying meaning is more friction than anything else...
Anonymous said…
Hmm...having read the pilot script, I'm not really sure how it's going to play as the second ep but if anyone can make it work, it's Joss ("frisson" or not)! I love the concept and am a huge Joss fan and truly hope that Dollhouse is a success.
Unknown said…
Jace, I agree. To me, a frisson is something good, but my impression has been their relationship was anything but. :-) I'm glad they all seem to have moved on and can work together again.
Anonymous said…
As it was apparently Joss' choice, it makes me feel more confident we won't have another Firefly debacle on our hands. I trust in Joss!

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