This writer’s immediate reaction walking onto the Dollhouse stage on the Fox lot: This set is so nice there’s no way FOX will ever cancel this series.
The Dollhouse set is like a luxury spa filtered through the vision of an architect with a very peculiar version of the future. It’s all rich wooden paneling and clear glass windows, with ample empty space. I’m no expert on feng shui, but the flow is superb. There are very few hard edges, circles dominate, and the mood is soothing.
There are the odd touches, of course, like the sleeping pods, arranged in a circle and in-laid several feet below the floor that resemble nothing so much as coffins with pleasant cushions at the bottom. There are also the co-ed showers, which might seem even more peculiar if not for series creator Joss Whedon’s insistence that the residents of The Dollhouse are essentially innocents. It helps that series star Eliza Dushku is the one standing in the showers at the moment reporters from the Television Critics Association are touring.
Because of its pedigree, Dollhouse is one of the year’s most anticipated shows, even though it won’t premiere on FOX until January. The premise — mysterious dolls are imprinted with various personalities, as they go on a series of engagements, a process that becomes complicated when one doll, Dushku’s Echo, begins to ask questions — is hard to explain. That hasn’t stopped journalists and fans alike from working up a lather online.
How is Whedon feeling about the pressure?
"I am so sick of reporters and fans. Is that the right thing to say?" Whedon says. He’s kidding, of course. "You know, we are kind of living in the fish bowl a little bit. But, that should be our problem, Too much publicity, damn it, why?’ Sometimes I don’t like people to see the man behind the curtain. I don’t like them to know that something wasn’t awesome before they saw it. You know, the things we had to tweak, the things we had to cut, that is inevitable. But now, I don’t think it is just us. The whole world is so much about seeing behind the curtain and seeing how things are made and how they work and the extended cut and what we could have done and what we didn’t do and the alternate ending and you just, you kind of take it as part and parcel at the beginning."
Whedon is referring to the fact that Dollhouse has already shot a new first episode, sort of a prequel to the original pilot script and episode he delivered to the network. This news won’t be surprising to the fans, since Whedon already posted a long explanation for his fans over at Whedonesque.com.
"It was interesting because when I was talking to the network, I could sense some hesitation about what I had given them and I understood why, and rather than try to take what I had and gut it, which didn’t make any sense to me and ultimately never satisfies anyone, you end up with this sort of weird hybrid of trying to please everyone, that’s not a show," Whedon explains. "I believe that episode works very well, but I also believe that their concerns about the audience coming into that world a little more simply were valid, so I hit them with, ‘Let’s leave this, I’ll tweak some of it, which I was gong to do anyway, and let me write what I refer to as a prequel,’ because we come into this world with all of these people already. She is already in the Dollhouse. Everyone already knows each other and the relationships are set up. It’s not a situation where everyone meets and then meets again in the next episode. That would be strange and bad."
He continues, "It’s just sort of a question of well there are a lot of aspects of how they interact that we were planning on showing and so what’s a nice one to put up front? What is the best way? It was kind of nice to do a dry run and then go back and say, ‘Okay, what is absolutely the most iconic way to introduce this character and this character?’ And for a lot of them it has worked out very well."
Dushku adds, "And I, for some reason, did not get to wear my leather pants in the first episode, and that was kind of a problem… that was like a deal breaker. We have leather pants for me in the next one."
I somehow suspect that many a fan concern just evaporated into the ether.
Whedon obviously isn’t planning on any sort of failure and as a series creator, he has an unnatural gift for turning disaster in success. His last FOX show, the space Western Firefly, would look like an empirical disappointment, but the dedication of its fanbase was so deep that Whedon got the opportunity to revisit the series on the big screen as Serenity. So when it comes to living up to expectations, Whedon is pragmatic.
"Every time, I’m like ‘Here it comes. This is the big miss. This is where I fail. This is where they tear me down. This is the one that they don’t like,’" he says. "And you do feel a little bit of pressure. You do start, once people have recognized that you have done something. But at the same time, you learn to let go off that or not one word can you write. So you have to sort of swing. You have got to swing. And you are going to miss, it’s going to happen. But it doesn’t necessarily mean, again, not black and white. It could be that not everybody related to it or that one episode, or it could just be ‘Wow, America hated my show.’ It could be that bad, but if you live in fear of that…"
He says, "The only thing I really live in fear of is that I’ll put something out there that I really didn’t do my best on. That’s all, and that doesn’t mean that it wont be something that, it could be something that I did quickly. It could have been something that I slaved over for a long time. It doesn’t matter. If I am putting out less than my best, if this is me running the show then people will know and that is something to be ashamed of. If I believe in the story and the rest of the world ends up not, that’s a blow that I will have to take and can live with it."