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.

21 thoughts on “A Castle and a Dollhouse

  1. Greg

    It’s a pity you didn’t watch this week episode of Dollhouse, I’d say it was easily the best yet with lasting repercussions to the series.


  2. Erbo

    ABC did Castle the HUGE favor of putting its premiere right after the premiere of Dancing With The Stars, which we were watching here anyway due to the fact that Steve Wozniak was one of the “celebrity” dancers (and I’m reporting on this season for GeekCulture.com). Selena LOVES the show, and I have to admit it makes a pretty decent crime drama, with plenty of twists and turns in the plot. I had no idea up till now that “Captain Mal” was in the title role; maybe this will inspire Selena to watch more Firefly.


  3. Gallaria

    I had nothing to watch one night and gave “Castle” a shot – great show, it’s now part of our small group of favorites.

    Have Firefly on my Netflix list and since I now know Nathan Fillion is in it, it’s moved up on my queue.


  4. Caryne

    If you want a tip on another show to add to your Tivo – try Leverage on TNT. The first season is done but season 2 should be just as fun as season 1. Highly recommended.

    My husband and I are definitely ejoying Castle btw.


  5. arbitrary

    I thought Castle would be a lot worse than it ended up being. It’s pap, but enjoyable pap, and while I don’t show it to my husband cos he’s not that into TV, it remains firmly on my must-watch list. It’s a great character and the writing is sharp enough to make it eminently watchable.

    As for Dollhouse, I thought it started off annoying and weak. I hated the whole technology babble, and would rather the dolls had been robots or aliens… at first. The last few eps are beginning to redeem the show for me, and I actively enjoyed the last two…


  6. Maarkean

    I was kind of the opposite of you. I wanted Dollhouse to be good but wasn’t sold on the concept. I decided to give it three episodes but wasn’t really into the first two. The third had enough of a hook to keep me going. And the last few have been pretty good. Now its nowhere near Firefly by any stretch of the imagination but its got my interest to keep watching. If it continues.

    Castle we started solely for Nathan Fillon too. We’re not sold on it but Nathan does a great job in the role so that even though its kind of cheesy and unrealistic its still enjoyable.

    If you are interested in another Firefly cast show that is truly awesome check out Terminator The Sarah Connor Chronicles. It has Summer Glau (River) as a Terminator. It is an awesome show. Great writing, great story, great acting. Unfortunately, it is also on Fox and likely to not be renewed for next season. But it made it through its second season so you could Netflix the ~30 or episodes.


  7. openedge1

    First off…you really helped me decide if I need to watch Dollhouse. I also have it stored for later watching, but I was not convinced it would be any good.
    Now I know.
    I am saddened by Terminator not getting another season and being stuck on the Friday night with Dollhouse…but it is Fox …who destroys almost all Science Fiction (look at Fringe, one of the best Sci-Fi shows this year, yet was pulled off the air for over a month…just because..certainly not ratings, as it is one of the 10 highest for the year).

    As to Firefly casts…lets continue that list with the excellent Adam Baldwin playing on Chuck on NBC…I personally think one of the most UNDER-RATED shows of the year, and also being pulled down by another downer show this year…Heroes.
    I hope it survives as it deserves more attention than it gets.



  8. Zubon

    Agreed that the latest Dollhouse was the best. I have been underwhelmed by most of it, but this was actually good, as opposed to, “I’ll stick around and see if Joss can pull this one out.”

    Ballard is useless, and I have no idea if that is the character, the writing, or the actor. Last episode, they did something slightly different with him, and it was more enjoyable. I like Topher, although which member of Buffy’s Trio they model him on varies a bit much between episodes (so he is really unlikeable on the Warren episodes). Boyd is supposed to be our white knight, but we see him interrogating people via torture (shooting them in the legs, granted someone who just tried to kill him). That and a willingness to work at the Dollhouse imply darker shades of gray than he lets on. Echo is mostly given two roles: rapid and some variant on Faith.

    But Victor, surprisingly, is a runaway success. He is a great character, in all his doll roles and even as the vapid base doll. Enver Gjokaj may have great things in his future.


  9. Yeebo

    Terminator is fantastic, and I don’t see how in the hell they are going to wrap up the plot lines that they have going by the end of the season. Since this is all we’ll ever get, that makes me a sad panda.

    Dollhouse has been pretty “meh” so far. Haven’t watched any Castle, maybe I’ll try it out.


  10. Ceadrick

    My son and I watch dollhouse and for the most part we enjoy it. I have not seen Castle but I’ll have to check it out. Chuck is a fun show that I don’t miss. I’ll watch Terminator when season 2 comes out on DVD. I still have to watch the first season, but my brother says its his favorite show. There is a ton of good stuff on TV right now, I just wish I could slow down time and watch it all!


  11. Werit

    Castle, really? Just looked like another ‘lets pair a cop with X’ show.

    Hour long TV shows just seem awful these days.

    Kings is pretty good, but that will be gone soon too.

    I’m surprised Terminator lasted this long.


  12. PTD

    Hmm…you mentioned that you started watching Dollhouse because you liked Firefly so much. Did you watch Buffy at all? It’s in my personal “top 5 shows ever” list. (The West Wing, The Wire, Seinfeld, and Six Feet Under being the other four.)


  13. Deck

    Don’t forget about “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”. It’s what Joss and friends came up with during the writer’s strike.

    Great cast (Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion, Felicia Day). Great story. Great songs. Very unusual but also very Whedonesque.

    You can watch it on DVD or online at Hulu or at DrHorrible.com.


  14. Ess

    We get together with friends every weekend to watch cheesy tv and our assessments of these shows were pretty similar.

    Dollhouse seems like it’s trying pretty hard to be Alias, in many ways. Definitely give Alias a look if you haven’t already. The acting is better (Dushku is weak in Dollhouse — ack), the story is more compelling, and the whole thing is better executed. Alias is still dress-up + ass-kicking, but we found ourselves hooked on it more than we thought we would. It goes downhill a bit after Jennifer Garner got pregnant, but they did manage to resolve stuff pretty well. The first few seasons are great!

    We also love Castle. It is a pretty standard formula, but Fillion is so charming, he makes the whole thing work. (Reminds me of everything I loved about Moonlighting back in the day.) “Flavor country…” Hehe…


  15. Zubon

    He’s right about Alias. Dollhouse has hope of being a souped-up version, although Jennifer Garner does “dress-up + ass-kicking” better (at least so far).

    There is a particular scene in the fourth season where, as you watch it, you can see the show jumping the shark. Even though there were fun bits ahead, you could see the show’s imminent collapse. In quality, that is — it survived a few more seasons.


  16. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    We watched the most recent episode of Dollhouse, but I’m not sure it got us more into the series.

    Echo has another quirk, go figure. They put a spy hunting profile in her because… she asks. Of course, that turns out good because…

    There is a government spy in the Dollhouse! The government no doubt knows the location of the Dollhouse now, but when they (Echo) catch the spy, they wipe them and put them in the “attic” because the government will never figure that one out. Way to prove you’re not to be trusted with that technology!

    Agent Ballard gets another doll delivered message… and seriously, if these messages are coming from anybody other than Topher or Ivy then just pull over because my suspension of disbelief has come undone… but he has become convinced that the Dollhouse is under ground… literally/physically… and has gone in search of a divining rod to help him find it. Which, given his success so far, seems like a logical step. Haven’t we seen the sky outside of Ms. DeWitt’s office window?

    Meanwhile Ms. DeWitt gets to show her insecurity… then turns around, takes a bullet and pisses BBs.

    Still, we’ll probably watch it again this week.

    @PTD – Never was much for Buffy myself, but it was on during a time when I was at war with Comcast and had no live TV at home. Three years of nothing on TV but rented videos. I do know several people who were way into the show though. There was a disturbing trend of also being really into Highlander that might have colored me against Buffy.


  17. jason macor

    another new show you should earmark is the unusuals. it’s only gone through the first episode, and it’s already high up on my list with castle. i give a show 5 eps before i make a final decision, but the unusuals definitely is headed in the right direction.


  18. L Morgan

    Don’t give up on Dollhouse. Unfortunately Joss was not given the freedom to make the first five or six episodes the way he wanted. After about episode 6 the feeling that Joss was back in the saddle and in control again was evident. The last two episodes of the season will make you laugh out loud. I love that Joss can make one laugh in the middle of a kidnapping by a deranged madman.

    As far as Castle. I totally agree. It is a fun lark, and Nathen is a so much fun to watch. The show doesn’t take itself too seriously, and the witty dialogue delivered so well by the cast is worth watching.


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