TCA Tour: “Dollhouse” set visit

Last year, I had a chance to visit the “Dollhouse” set, and it was absolutely breathtaking. This year, I went to visit it again, and the effect was the same. I just wish I liked the show as much as I like the Dollhouse itself. But, hey, maybe that’ll change when I finally get a chance to sit down and watch the Season 1 set in its entirety…particularly the bonus 13th episode, “Epitaph One,” which the show’s creator, Joss Whedon, describes as “an incredibly strange sort of bookend to the show.”

When we first arrived on the set, the actors were still shooting elsewhere on the Fox lot, so Whedon held court before the assembled throng of critics (some of whom may or may not have actually been bowing before him) and spoke to the second season of “Dollhouse” all by his lonesome, which he described as “the biggest surprise of my career.”

“What can I say?” asked Whedon. “I really didn’t expect to be sitting here again for a while. This has been like skiing in a cartoon where you go up the mountain and down the mountain and up and down. Right now, we are pretty high up on it because we realized that we were actually going to have to work for a living this summer.”

Okay, I’m sure the Whedon-ites will want to know every last word that Joss had to say, but for the sake of those who – like myself – still have good intentions of playing catch-up before Season 2 begins, I’ll do you the favor of waiting ’til post-jump to offer up his comments.

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“Dollhouse” finally flicks the Awesome switch

I completely understand why my colleague John Paulsen bailed on “Dollhouse” earlier in the season. The show was running in place, a series of self-contained episodes with nothing hanging in the balance. The only takeaway from a couple of the shows was that the dolls were still remembering things after they had been wiped, and were keeping this a secret from their handlers and Topher. The subplot involving FBI Agent Paul Ballard seemed stuck as well. He knows the Dollhouse exists, but has neither the proof nor the support of the agency to pursue it. Yawn.

Then came last Friday’s episode, where “Dollhouse” creator Joss Whedon launched the show into space.

He first played with the idea that Echo, Victor and Sierra were engaged in a secret alliance with the news that Sierra had been having sex and was suddenly terrified of Victor. It doesn’t take long for Boyd, the Dixon to Echo’s Sydney Bristow, to realize that the perp is a fellow handler, and DeWitt gives the handler a choice: take out Mellie, the nosy neighbor of Agent Ballard who Knows Too Much, or get sent to the Attic. (Man, I can’t wait until they finally show us what that place looks like.) Ballard, who’s out getting takeout and realizes that Mellie is in danger, races back while making a call. We see Mellie’s phone ringing as the handler is slowly choking the life out of her. Then the answering machine picks up, and we hear…DeWitt. “There are three flowers in a vase. The third one is green.” Ta-da, instant can of whoopass. Mellie beats the snot out of the handler, killing him in seconds. Then DeWitt says, “There are three flowers in a vase. The third one is yellow.” Poof, she’s back to being “normal” Mellie.

Holy crap.

“Don’t arrest me yet. She hasn’t heard my bit about the KFC bowls, it kills ’em every time.”

This was awesome on a number of levels. For starters, I never suspected that Mellie was a doll. She doesn’t quite have the body type that the other dolls have, though that actually makes her a perfect choice for a role like this. Second of all, the dolls can be activated and deactivated by remote voice command? Again, holy crap. I’m assuming that the third flower in that metaphorical vase is red. What happens to a doll when she uses that line? Does it make them catatonic?

Whedon also pulled another neat trick in doing a story where someone uses the Dollhouse for harmless, and rather sweet, purposes. Patton Oswalt guest starred as an Internet millionaire who planned on surprising his wife with a brand new house, but she was killed in a car accident on her way to see it. So every year on the day of her death, he hires a doll to relive that moment that he never had with his wife. Awwwww, isn’t that cute? Gee, maybe the Dollhouse isn’t so bad after all, right? Mmmmm, wouldn’t go that far, but it does make the ethical aspects of programmable people slightly grayer than it would appear on the surface.

The episode’s Big Reveal, though, was the fact that there is a mole in the Dollhouse, and they used Echo to send a message to Agent Ballard that he has an ally on the inside. On the surface, it would appear that the only person with the ability to slip that kind of thing under Topher’s nose would be his underutilized assistant Ivy, but does she have access to enough information to bring the Dollhouse down, and would she have known that there are over 20 Dollhouses around the world? Doubtful, which is why my money is on Dr. Claire Saunders (my beloved Amy Acker) as the mole. She was horribly disfigured by Alpha, which gives her motive, and as their medical chief of staff, she would have access to lots of data. Plus, you have to know that Whedon isn’t going to recruit Acker for the show and then have her spend most of the time on the bench.

The problem with all this, of course, is that it’s possible Whedon waited too long to get the show rolling. The show isn’t cheap, and Fox certainly has it in its sights when time comes to trim the budget. It needs a huge spike in ratings — it actually needs a better time slot, but that’s another story — but will they get one? If Whedon delivers another episode as great as this one, that should be enough to rally the Browncoats into action. Stay tuned.

  

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Greetings to the New Show: Dollhouse

“Hi, I’m Joss Whedon. You may remember me from such shows as ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer,’ ‘Angel,’ and ‘Firefly.’ Or perhaps my internet sensation, ‘Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.’ Or, of course, my role as Douglas the car rental clerk in the famous ‘Rat Saw God’ episode of ‘Veronica Mars.’ And let’s not forget that I also wrote the screenplay for ‘Toy Story.’ Basically, what I’m trying to say is that I’m awesome, and you should watch my new show, ‘Dollhouse,’ because I created it, and everything I create is genius. And also because Eliza Dushku is hot.”

The above is, in fact, not an actual quote from Joss Whedon. It is, however, a nice summation of the things that Fox is hoping you’ll remember and keep in mind when tuning into “Dollhouse.” There are a lot of rumblings about how the show is only “meh,” and how if it was by anyone else, it wouldn’t inspire anyone to watch beyond the pilot episode. I’m here to tell you that this isn’t…well, okay, I can’t say it’s completely untrue. In fact, there’s some stuff that goes down during the first 15 minutes of the episode that will make you feel like you’re being hit over the head with a hammer, so obvious is it attempting to set up the show. Survive beyond that, however, and you’ll probably find yourself intrigued enough to come back next week.

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Bullz-Eye’s TV Girlfriends, Round One: Hot and Smart

Bullz-Eye TV Girlfriends: Hot and Smart

Our inspiration was innocuous enough: as fervent “24” watchers – and occasional haters – the entire Bullz-Eye staff fell head over heels for one of the terror thriller’s female leads. Smart but challenging, tough but vulnerable, every minute that she wasn’t on screen – provided Jack wasn’t killing or maiming someone, of course – was just wasted time. Eventually, we declared her to be the official girlfriend of Bullz-Eye, because she was the only girl we could all agree on. We’re talking, of course, about…

Chloe O’Brian.

Chloe O'BrianWhat, you were thinking Michelle Dessler? Nina Myers? Kim Bauer? First Lady Sherry Palmer? Mandy the bisexual assassin? Good guesses all, but none of them hold a candle to Chloe and her delightfully quirky “personality disorder,” as her supervisor Bill Buchanan succinctly put it. Once we had christened her, though, we wanted more girlfriends. Eventually we went all “Big Love” on the boob tube (oh man, do we deserve to be slapped for that one) and started appropriating women from dozens of shows to join our burgeoning harem.

And now, our harem is having its debutante ball, its season premiere, if you will. We have hand-selected 100 women from the last 40 years of television and put them into ten categories, based on personality type, career, intelligence (or lack thereof) and even marital status. We’ll unveil a new list each month, and you, gentle reader, will tell us which ones you would most like to have as your girlfriend. Once we’ve whittled the list down to one girlfriend from each category, we’ll pit them against each other and get the hell out of the way.

With that in mind, it is our great pleasure to introduce the first group: Hot and Smart.

Liz Lemon (Tina Fey, “30 Rock”)
Liz Lemon With her quirky sense of humor, social ineptness and those sexy librarian glasses, Liz Lemon may be the only true-blue nerd on our list. That, of course, is anything but an insult. As the head writer for NBC’s “TGS with Tracy Jordan,” Liz doesn’t have a whole lot of free time to date, and even when she does go out, chances are she’ll figure out a way to sabotage the whole thing. But Liz’s foibles merely make her that much more endearing, even if the incessant “tick-tick-tick” of her internal clock understandably makes us a little nervous. Then again, there are worse things in life than settling down with an attractive, intelligent and successful woman who loves junk food, “Star Wars” and a good joke. Her boss, Jack Donaghy, still suspects that Liz may be a lesbian, but we’re not ashamed to admit that the mere possibility only heightens our interest in her. Plus, she kind of looks like the beautiful (if slightly crazy) Sarah Palin.

Dr. Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson, “The X-Files”)
Smart, tough, beautiful – Scully is an insecure man’s worst nightmare. She challenged and contradicted Mulder at every turn, and even though she was usually some version of wrong, it never deterred her. Always the skeptic, she somewhat grounded her partner by demanding some sort of logic and scientific proof. Wrangling Mulder was like herding cats, but Scully might have had a little feline in her as well – she avoided death on several occasions leading to the theory that she was, in fact, immortal. It’s more likely that she was just too stubborn to die. She stared down countless psychopaths, supernatural beings, aliens — you name it — and always came back for more. This quality — her fierce and undying loyalty — was her greatest trait. True, the woman could be a giant pain in the ass, but Fox always knew that she would have his back, and that’s why he eventually fell in love with her. And really, who can blame him?

To see the rest of Bullz-Eye’s Hot & Smart TV Girlfriends and vote for your favorite, click here. We will announce the winner – and the nominees for our next group, Pretty, Vacant – on Friday, February 27.

  

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