Good bye, Echo.
Sent to the Attic
Echo: Everyone’s unhappy today.
Topher: Somebody put her tiny little thinking cap on!
Spy in the House of Love
The inevitable has occurred. Dollhouse, the science fiction series masterminded by Joss Whedon, fought against dismal ratings and executive meddling only to finally get canceled after two seasons. To use the jargon of Adele DeWitt, the series was “sent to the Attic.”
While the Dollhouse cancellation is traumatic for fans, viewers must also take a step back from emotional reaction and explore the possibilities. The TV landscape and the media landscape are radically different from 2002. Remember, this is Joss Whedon, the genius behind the Dr. Horrible Sing-a-long Blog. Buffy the Vampire Slayer lives on as a comic book series (Season Eight); Firefly lives on as a role-playing game; not to mention the myriad other officially sanctioned tie-ins and the productions of fandom.
Unlike 2002, the Internet and the DVD market offer chances for creative reincarnation. The webisode and the DVD tie-in (as seen with other canceled FOX series like Family Guy and Futurama) can provide venues to explore the Dollverse. Dollhouse could do very well exploring the world of “Epitaph One” via movie tie-in (a la Serenity) and/or direct-to-DVD series produced on the cheap. The ascendancy of high-quality digital video cameras, digital editing equipment, and the like, could make episodes on YouTube and/or Hulu a reality. The entertainment revolution will not be televised. With all the production and distribution options, why would it need to be? The Internet, blogging, and fandom can alter elections and legislation actions. A little know-how can surely keep a nifty action show alive, albeit in different forms.
In the world of toy manufacture, Dollhouse could always create a Dollhouse dollhouse and populate it with action figures. Unless someone in the fandom beat the toymakers to the punch.
Yes, it is a sad day for Whedon fandom. Then again, this is not 1954 and one is not under the domination of three networks to provide them with entertainment content.
Too cool and too weird for 2002.
Dollhouse and Firefly: Amputated series
“Off with their heads!”
Red Queen, Alice in Wonderland
Dollhouse and Firefly could be termed “amputated series.” Firefly canceled after one season, Dollhouse after two. The narrative arcs cut short before they could become fruitful.
On the one hand, an amputated narrative arc frustrates viewers. On the other, if we take Firefly as an example, the limited arc presents the viewer with a beautifully self-contained world. Firefly presented an offbeat, sexy space Western complete with politics, religion, and Chinese dialogue. The series appeared too weird for a TV audience still reeling from the televised atrocities of 9/11 and the resultant patriotic saber rattling. In retrospect, Firefly plays like a complementary overture to the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica. While the series appear radically different, both contended with authoritarian government power, terrorism, and demonizing the other.
Dollhouse offers a slight variation on the Firefly situation. It is too early to judge it retrospectively, but the changes occurring in the lives of the characters would have made compelling TV, with the unaired “Epitaph One” floating about as the narrative capstone. Prior to the network enforced hiatus, the Dollhouse facility appeared on the verge of unraveling. Dr. Saunders (aka Whiskey, played by Amy Acker) left; Topher (Fran Kranz) developed from a snarky wunderkind to possessing his own story arc; Echo (aka Caroline, played by Eliza Dushku) wrote messages on her sleeping pod; Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett) switched “teams” from the FBI to the Dollhouse; and Sierra (Dichen Lachman) and Victor (Enver Gjokaj) came to create their own brand of romance within the tabula rasa of wiped minds and toned bodies in the Dollhouse. Clearly a lot is going on.
However, as I explained before, this is not 2002 and there are ways to continue these stories. I hope that Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy Productions will find a way. Perhaps the FOX network and commercial interruptions was not the best venue to tell the stories of Dollhouse. In a world of mind wipes, nefarious corporations, and complex storylines, video games and Internet clips could complement more traditional narratives pursued in media like DVD.
You don’t need to be on TV to bring the awesome.
Brilliant but cancelled
One of the few good things about modern times: If you die horribly on television, you will not have died in vain. You will have entertained us.
In this essay, I did not come to bury Dollhouse, but to praise it. This is also a call to arms to the fandom and the Whedon production team. There are different stories and there are different ways to tell those stories. While a narrative arc has been cut short through the vagaries of commercial television, it can live on, maybe in a venue less dependent on advertising dollars. Maybe, just maybe, Dollhouse could become like Futurama and Family Guy, getting resurrected on a different network. With a series premised on implanting a personality into a body, this fate would fit the nature of the show. If the writers, given the opportunity, could also make FOX executive Rossum Corporation clients. The potential for metacommentaries on TV production and corporate misbehavior seem limitless.
The Recession has forced everyone to make sacrifices and to become inventive. I see the cancelling in the same light. It is unfortunate that the series was canceled, but commercial television is not the only venue to tell these stories.