Daily Archives: April 11, 2009

A Castle and a Dollhouse

After watching all of the series “Firefly” through NetFlix, my wife and I started looking for what the creator, Joss Whedon, and the cast members were going to do next.  We enjoyed the series enough to give them all a chance with whatever shows they came up with next.

This season we got our chance with two different shows.

The first was “Dollhouse,” which had Joss Whedon at the helm.  This looked to be very interesting.

The second was “Castle,” which had Nathan Fillion, the captain from “Firefly,” in the title role.  This show looked to be more than a bit contrived and I wasn’t convinced it was worth the effort, but there was Nathan Fillion, so it got a season pass on our Tivo along with “Dollhouse.”

“Dollhouse” started off strong, but started losing us after a couple of shows.

For me the show seemed to suffer from one of the classic “Star Trek” problems.

Back in the original “Star Trek” they introduced a lot of cool future technologies, key among them was the transporter.  Beam me up Scotty and all that.  It certainly saved us from a lot of “away team flies down to the planet in a shuttle” cut scenes.

On the other hand, it had the potential to eliminate a lot of common plot complications.  If anybody got in trouble, just beam them up, problem solved, and spend the remaining 40 minutes playing tri-dimensional chess or something.

So transporter technology had to be made quite fragile.  The transporters broke down a lot.  They were subject to interference from a seemingly endless variety of atmospheric and geologic conditions.  Advanced aliens could even divert and grab people from transporter beams, thus proving that they really needed a better encryption scheme.

But at least the transporters were part of the environment of the show, usually just tangential to the plot.

In “Dollhouse” we have the whole personality creation technology to make the “dolls” into whatever person they needed to be for a given assignment.  If it worked perfectly, the show might have been just a series of doll assignments with the occasional unexpected quirk in the personality mix along with the exploration of the morality of the whole thing.  The right team could make that interesting.

Instead the whole technology seems to be deeply flawed, the dolls crash and burn on a regular basis starting with the mysterious “Alpha,” leading to “what will go wrong next” being the major plot theme of the show, and an unsatisfying one for my wife and I.

Meanwhile the major antagonist for the Dollhouse is an FBI agent who is so discredited in his own agency and so owned and led around by the Dollhouse and its dolls that one wonders why he was even included.  Sure, they throw him a bone every so often, but he always ends up two steps back for every step forward.

And we really did not end up identifying or sympathizing with any of the main characters.

The dolls?  They made their deal with the devil, they’re getting paid, or so we hear. The Dollhouse might just put them in the wood chipper when they are done with them, and given how unreliable the technology they use is, that might not be the worst plan.  We got a glimpse of Sierra’s past, so maybe we should be sympathetic

The Dollhouse staff?  Topher is amusing but represents science gone awry.  Boyd seems strong and moral and we often see things through his eyes, but he is such a cog in the machine that he doesn’t change anything.  Plus he signed up with the Dollhouse, so he has his price. Ms. DeWitt and Mr. Dominic are the ruthless exploiters who will do whatever is necessary to protect the Dollhouse… or make a customer happy if the price is right.

Agent Ballard of the FBI?  He is incompetent and ineffectual and being led around by the nose.  He is surrounded by dolls by can’t seem to find them.

After two shows we were to the point of “give it another week and see if it gets better.”  After episode 8 (“Needs”) we canceled the season pass and gave up.  And, in a similar note, it appears the show itself may be getting canceled.

Meanwhile, our lesser choice, “Castle,” has turned out to be quite a gem.

Yes, it is completely contrived.

Richard Castle is a famous, rich, divorced, and spoiled crime novelist who lives in a New York apartment even bigger than you see in Woody Allen movies and who hangs out with James Patterson, Stephen J. Cannell and the mayor of city.  But when do we let that get in the way of a good story?  Who begrudges Bruce Wayne his riches?

Richard Castle gets some of the best dialog I have heard in a long time and Nathan Fillion is so totally believable in the role that you just have to give him a pass on the whole unlikely scenario of him being allowed to follow around a New York City murder detective for “research.”  His boyish charm, which works on almost everybody except detective Detective Beckett, and she is fighting it, makes you go along with the whole thing.

So “Castle” has become the must watch show in our house of late.  My wife can’t wait to watch on Tivo later, she has to watch it when it is aired, and now she has me up sitting through commercials, when I should be headed to bed, watching the show.

And rumor has it that “Dollhouse” is set to be cancelled.

Well, we own the “Firefly” DVD set now.  We can always go back and watch that.