I have no idea who this guy is...Complications Ensue
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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

... but he has some interesting things to say. Check out his post about why you don't like DOLLHOUSE.



I've never read a stronger argument for not watching the show...

By Blogger daveed, at 3:52 PM  

He sounds too desperate. Truly good drama doesn't need the "It is not made to be liked or to satisfy" excuse.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:35 PM  

I haven't watched the show, but um now I know I won't. Guess this dude enjoys being (as he perceives) treated badly by a show. That or dude really enjoys being so! uniquely! able! to appreciate such a ~difficult~ show, as well as the leverage it gives him to throw insults at those who don't "get it".

"You don't like it because you don't know what to like" + the tone of the entire post is supposed to make me 1. like the show, 2. respect this guy?

(3. If THAT is the kind of fan this show attracts, then I am definitely not created to properly appreciate the greatness that he thinks it is.)

By Blogger Unknown, at 5:39 PM  

I think it's a good show. Certainly not the best...but it is better than a good chunk of the current fare on network TV.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:59 PM  

I really like the show. I think other people don't like it because it's so trashy. It's Charlie's Angels. It's very Aaron spelling. Beautiful girl is a bank robber one week and a high priced call girl the next and a backup singer in a band the next week.

I like it though. Trashy doesn't bug me.

By Blogger someguy, at 7:51 PM  

As the poster in question, I feel a couple quick comments are in order.

Alex: Thanks for linking, it made my day. But at day's end 'interesting' is kind of a value-neutral adjective, and as a longtime reader of your site I do wonder what you think - does my argument (rant) seem plausible? Do you buy the idea that Whedon is trying to work in a dramatic mode that the TV audience in large part isn't predisposed to enjoy, in hopes that most viewers grow to desire something other than literally-generic satisfaction?

(Also do you need a writer's assistant?!$#@)

JJJ: I'm quite enjoying the show; I think it's effective drama, of a very unusual sort. I enjoy the twists, I wanna know more about the characters. Not desperate by any means (well, not for excuses anyhow). My point is that I've read very little criticism of the show that doesn't come back to 'I'm not sure what to like,' and if you know anything about Joss Whedon's writing, you know the man knows from viewer identification and satisfaction!

irene: I don't much care one way or the other about the respect of people who read my blog; it's gratifying when it comes, but failing to wow people with off-the-cuff dribs and drabs doesn't exactly harsh my mellow. And I haven't written that blog primarily for self-aggrandizement/-pleasure purposes in a long time.

What I want, rather, is better and more detailed and more consistent criticism of the show. 'It doesn't know what kind of show it is' is halfway fair, but Whedon et al. have copped to going back and forth due to network notes of dubious sense and intention - and I'm tempted to believe the man when he says he knows what he's doing and there's an order we don't yet get.

I suppose I'm saying there's a joke, and I get the sense that most viewers aren't in on it, and since I'm supernaturally intelligent and cool I'm here to explain it all. Like Clarissa! Yeah, exactly like Clarissa. (Was she the magical one with the talking cat? I was an inattentive audience member in those days.)


By Blogger W, at 8:35 PM  

I don't care why I don't like it.

I also dislike tiramisu, Hummers, Gone With the Wind, Houston, Canadian House and Home Magazine, and TV shows that guest star Bert Convey. Should I be looking for a pattern??

By Blogger Lisa Hunter, at 8:38 PM  

I certainly don't think Joss intends to make a show for people to not like. He'd have to be out of his mind. He doesn't want his show cancelled.

I think there are a couple of problems. Because FIREFLY flopped he's had to listen to dumb network notes; or, possibly, he has internalized them already.

Two, the concept sounds cool but it's hard to make us care about Echo. I don't know how that goes away.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 9:33 PM  

I think we need to start finding out what Echo was like before she became Echo. Then we can understand what she is missing out on by being Echo. It's hard to sympathize with a blank slate because we have nothing to sympathize with. Maybe having her start dreaming of her former life, or something like that.

By Blogger Tim W., at 10:14 PM  

Wally assumes that Joss Wheedon is conducting this paradigm-shifting experiment on an unknowing viewing public. Maybe he should ask JW if that's his objective. I'd rather hear it from the source, than through third-party conjecture.

But in the end, does it matter? If a show's not compelling to a lot of people (whether they simply don't "get it", or fail to fully understand the epistemological underpinnings of their dislike), the intentions of the creator(s), however earth-shatteringly brilliant, don't mean squat.

I'm under no obligation to justify why I don't like the show based on Wally's or anyone else's critical speculations. It's not my job to make sure Dollhouse succeeds.

Wheedon is a storyteller. And he's paid to tell stories that a significant number of people will like. If he can't deliver on that requirement, he's out of a job. Or he figures out a way to bankroll entirely whatever creative endeavors he chooses to pursue.

As for pointed criticism, the dialogue is underwhelming, the acting (especially Dushku's) is sub-par, and the story line for the pilot was inane. I've been told that "it gets better". Perhaps. But life's too preciouse -- especially on a Friday night -- to sit around and wait for Joss Wheedon to deliver me from my rationalizations.

By Blogger daveed, at 11:53 AM  

Why does he reject perfectly valid criticisms about plot holes, dialogue and acting when they apply to every other drama that's ever existed? Suppose Whedon IS creating an elaborate, top secret analogy about corporations, to which the viewers are supposed to remain detached and objective... why should the stories, acting and what have you be immune to critique?? This is where the argument totally loses me. Whedon's a good writer, but the deification of this guy is very OTT, in my opinion.

By Blogger Unknown, at 2:03 PM  

I also find the use of internet acronyms OTT. BTM. KWIM?

By Blogger Tim W., at 3:56 PM  

Suppose Whedon IS creating an elaborate, top secret analogy about corporations, to which the viewers are supposed to remain detached and objective... why should the stories, acting and what have you be immune to critique??

I think that with the exception of the Whedon-proxy nerd character, the acting on the show hasn't been bad (see below). Melodramatic at times, sure, but again - given that Whedon's a very, very good writer and director (of the directors on his shows he's always drawn the most nuanced, relaxed performances from his actors) and has been around to oversee at least part of the proceedings this time around, I think it's reasonable to assume that the broadness/hamminess/ambiguity of the show in moments is part of a design, or at least fits within his conception of the show. and so I'd rather ask 'What's it all mean?' than 'How much derision can I fit in 140 bytes of instant message?'


If this were, say, CSI: Dollhouse, I'd be more skeptical.

Meanwhile the inner stories are very clearly marked as overwrought melodramas, the kinds of stories Joss Whedon's done countless times - and after a couple hundred hours of broadcast TV experience, Whedon's required to buy trust from the audience by delivering clearly-delineated generic entertainment?

Of course Alex is right that Whedon doesn't want to get cancelled. But did you see Dr Horrible? Hear the music he wrote about the Writers' Strike ('And lose we did / Impressively / And slunk back to our offices declaring victory')? Have you listened to his increasingly angry, bitter interviews over the past several years, or read the darker-by-the-month Buffy comic? Whedon has other things on his mind than giving audiences what they want. He's a conceptualist who entertains, not the other way around.

If Dollhouse were created by J.J. Abrams, I'd happily admit that there's no there there, that it's not worth the effort. (And note: I'm saying an effort is required, and worthwhile.) But Whedon's earned a hell of a lot of goodwill. There are episodes of Firefly of which any fifteen-minute segment would give next to no indication of how the previous had gone or the succeeding would go.

I'm excited to read substantive critiques methodically presented. Mostly I've seen 'I don't like it...the acting is bad...the stories are dumb,' almost entirely from nonactors and nonwriters. From several writers I've read curiosity - 'How are we supposed to care about Echo?' - intoned as criticism. How do you care about Echo? I don't know, but I do. Having (largely) suspended my disbelief re: her situation, I really do hope she turns out alright. Given my own Asperger's-y empathy limitations, I'm inclined to credit Whedon and Dushku with spiking my empathy on this one.

(And as for the acting: C'mon. Dushku is playing 3 or 4 different parts a week, making them easily distinguishable, altering her physical presence and vocal mannerisms between parts...and playing a long-term arc in which all the parts bleed into one another. Permit me to venture, perhaps uncharitably, that very few people have any idea how to judge such a performance, certainly not on the basis of four parts of a thirteen-part serial. Atop which, given that the role is meant in part to allegorize Dushku's own career - fell into acting as a little kid, never did anything but, only recently started to choose work of which she could be proud - I have no problem with how much of her own mannerisms I see from assignment to assignment.)

Every episode of this show has included some clunkers, linewise and plotwise. Yay. Each ep has also included at least one line that's had me sitting up straight in my chair going 'Wow, that's a hell of a good point.' Or else had me and my wife arguing about What Are Women And Men To One Another. Which is not 'Charlie's Angels,' FWIW, and which is a bigger deal than whether I can guess what the Act Three twist is gonna be.

etc., etc., etc.

By Blogger W, at 4:08 PM  

an elaborate, top secret analogy about corporations, to which the viewers are supposed to remain detached

And to be clear (sorry for going on, here):

'Alert to subversion' and 'willfully suspending simple, comforting evaluation and categorization' are absolutely not the same thing as 'detached.' Whedon's not a fool; he might want you angry or at sea but he obviously wants you watching.

Plus I don't think the show's allegories are particularly 'secret.' I may be supernaturally intelligent and cool - and did I mention that my bald spot is sexy? - but I'm not really spouting anything in my post that doesn't inhere in the premise. Heck, half of this stuff is stated explicitly by characters onscreen. I'm not a goddamn Lost fan...:)

By Blogger W, at 4:12 PM  

I have to say that Dushku's acting has nothing on, say, Grace Park's subtle delineations between Boomer and Athena and the other Sharons, or Tricia Helfer's various 6's. Yet she gets to play completely different characters, not variations on a theme. I don't really see real people there, with real mannerisms. A really good actor would create entirely different human beings, not just broad cartoons.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 4:14 PM  

I have to say that Dushku's acting has nothing on, say, Grace Park's subtle delineations between Boomer and Athena and the other Sharons, or Tricia Helfer's various 6's. Yet she gets to play completely different characters, not variations on a theme. I don't really see real people there, with real mannerisms. A really good actor would create entirely different human beings, not just broad cartoons.

Tricia Helfer is a huge find, no question - a runway model doing what she does upends my sense of the world - and Grace Park has also done excellent work in those roles.

Aah, so one set of questions - and I'll be happy to admit foolishness on these later should the show get shitcanned or Dushku's acting improve dramatically over a month - is whether the Dollhouse actually rents out 'real people,' and why we expect it to. Never mind that Dushku has three acts to develop these characters when Helfer and Park have had four seasons, and is playing quite literally a fantasy version of herself, a type - did you see this week's ep, with the 'tabula rasa' personality returning and slowly starting to chip away to reveal not-really-Taffy (the thief) but also not-quite-Caroline (the original girl)? Loopy as that concept was, I bought it, though I disliked the on-the-nose broken-mirror-up-to-life metaphor at the time (which was probably a lot cooler in the room than on the page or screen).

Dushku's not a great actor, but she's not bad, and is at times quite good - and to her credit she's not coasting on charisma at all in this show, though she obviously could (cf. Faith the Bad/Hot Slayer). I do notice subtle physical changes between assignments, and her 'tabula rasa' character breaks my heart. That's how Whedon'll get you: all these depredations and violations, sexual or otherwise, are being visited on a child. That the child signed up for the duty is part of the show's nasty ambivalence. And I read Dushku's performance as pulled-every-which-way, popping in and out of types and then decentered by that pesky baseline personality, which is in large part the actress's I imagine, and which I admit looks an awful lot like 'the mask slipping' or 'inappropriate broadness in performance' or somesuch.

But: in my reading the show is morally complex but by no means complicated, and in that reading, Dushku's doing exactly what she's supposed to. Alex, I suspect you might be right - Whedon might be letting Dushku get away with too much of something, in performance - but it doesn't impair my viewing. Of course my brilliance/wit/sexiness/Mac-compatibility might have something to do with that, but whatever.

By Blogger W, at 4:42 PM  

I feel like the guy who introduced his Wolverine and Batman action figures to each other to talk superhero-shop and now they’re fighting on the arm of the couch. . . :)

Rather than clog the commentsphere, I just posted a one-off at http://remainingbalance.blogspot.com/. I think all these questions and nuggets about an artist’s freedom of intent in a mass-medium are fascinating. Maybe we just need a little spackle to hold them together?

By Blogger Jeff, at 5:17 PM  

Actually I think you hit on something there, Wally. It would be less pure of a concept but much more exciting if, when she's just Echo, Echo is a child. Not a blank slate, but a child. THAT would be much more compelling, I think.

So when she's the other characters, she's not other people but she's Caroline-if-Caroline-had-gone-down-this-life path.

Harder concept to grasp maybe but it would work on the screen better, imho.

@Jeff, so nice to think of myself as an action figure. ;-)

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 7:05 PM  

Personally, Wally, the rhetoric you use in your blog entry about Dushku feels off putting to me. It gives me an impression of a rallying call to geeks and pretentious types that dislike the mainstream, using Whedon as an icon.

As much as I like Whedon, I feel like most hardcore Whedon fans take this tone, and I always get annoyed by it. I like Buffy, I like Angel, I like Firefly, I like Dollhouse, I like his guest appearance on VH-1's Best Week Ever, I like the tweaks he made to Alien IV. Nonetheless, I think a lot of Whedon's success with Firefly and even Dollhouse comes more from his success from Buffy and how much it very much encapsulated a generation of TV watchers and even altered the diction and grammar of a generation.

I like most of what he's created, but I also find the instant hardcore commitment that Whedon fans give to him for anything new really annoying. Personally, I believe his fans give up a lot of independent thought and creative potential to dedicate themselves to his apparent dedication. Then again, I get annoyed by general gimmicky conformism, whether it be mainstream or geek conformism, but that's just me.

On a less serious note, I've got a big jealous chip on my shoulder in regards to Dushku and her becoming a celebrity straight out of high school. I've never met her, but I grew up relatively close to Boston and am in the same general age range. I know people who went to school with her. A good friend of mine went to a dance at her school. Why'd she get to be celebrity while I've yet to even really start fulfilling my dreams.

Then I realize that she has put a good amount of work into her craft since she was a teenager. . .while I goofed off here and there. Sure, people opened doors for her and such, but she still put hard work into getting to where she is now.

Nonetheless, I have to ask, coming from a fairly close geographical area and growing up in a fairly close generational gap, what right does she have to complain about finding success?

This coming from someone with a jealous chip on their shoulder about her success.

By Blogger The_Lex, at 8:54 PM  

Lex, Plus she's just really hot. So that's gotta help.

By Blogger Tim W., at 12:10 AM  

According to Wikipedia, I guess she also had some breaks into Hollywood starting at the early age of 10. That could feed somewhat into the "famous victim" category, depending on other, personal life factors.

Then again, she would still have to have been put out there/presented to Hollywood professionals to have landed the initial role. How often does a 10 year old from the Boston area land a role in a Hollywood project by doing nothing?

And yeah, being pretty helps in the Hollywood world, but the early roles would definitely groom her for the non-physical aspects of being hot.

By Blogger The_Lex, at 8:08 AM  

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