‘Dollhouse’: Season 1 DVD review

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Are you ready for your treatment? The creator of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Firefly returns to the network that, if you believe fan furore, hasn’t always treated him well in the past (by, arguably, cancelling two of his shows prematurely) and gives us a tale of an overly powerful and sleek corporation taking advantage of the bored and needy. Way to go to be Foxed.

Actually, audiences were pretty low for the first season of Dollhouse, which would usually be a death knell. But Fox has given the go-ahead for a second season, and it can’t just be because (as a network executive wryly commented) they were fearful of hordes of angry fans crashing their website.

Like all the best high concepts, this is sharply simple, and a more than a little high: beautiful youngsters, male and female, are wiped clean of their intriguing back stories, and hired out to people with at least as much money as sense for whatever purpose they desire. This is a company that works its trade in people; a couple of steps up from slavery or prostitution, and all the Dolls are kept effortlessly docile, leading to some troubling unease on the part of the viewer – if these youngsters are programmed to be a willing sexpot (and have their memories erased after the event) exactly how consensual are their adventures?

There’s certainly a sense that Whedon might be having his (cup)cake and eating it – while he raises concerns about the dark motives of a shadowy corporation who hire out pretty young things for any purpose, that doesn’t stop him titillating his audience by dressing his pretty young things in any outfit you might desire, from strict secretary to fetish babe.

With a leading character who is weekly jumping from life to life, putting right what once went wrong, and hoping each time that they’ll eventually get their memory back, this is essentially Quantum Leap with curves, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Indeed, the most surprising thing about this series should really be the least surprising – as the Buffy and Angel fans have grown up and moved away, Whedon himself has matured: there’s still a few pop-culture references and valley-speak moments, but this is somewhat adult and grown-up drama, albeit as grown-up as you can be when you’re tempered with jokes, glossy centrefold stars, and hot girls on hot motorbikes.

Underlying all this is the very pleasing sense that Whedon hasn’t even begun to explore his central themes yet – we haven’t really started to discover if all the emotions that Echo experiences under a different personality can be honestly described as her own, for instance, and there is of course the slowly growing realisation that anybody we meet could well be wearing someone else’s mask.

This covers the same sort of ground as The United States Of Tara (lead actress kaleidoscopeing through a variety of personalities) but is understandably a lot more comic book. With strong scripts, fine production values, and a decent cast, this house has strong foundations.

Released on DVD on 7th September 2009 by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.