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Dollhouse: Season One (2009)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 7/28/2009

All Ratings out of
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/13/2009

Have you seen the episode of Robot Chicken where Seth Green and Matthew Seinreich go to Joss Whedon looking for a job and Whedon mentions the "Whedonverse" and Green says, "Oh wow, you actually say Whedonverse in real life." That was a classic moment. Ah, the Whedonverse -- Joss Whedon's television world of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly. I came to this world rather late in the game, as I got Season 3 of Buffy to review, decided to give it a shot, and then was hooked. However, unlike many fans, I do not worship at the altar of Whedon. I simply couldn't get into Firefly and I had little interest in his latest project, Dollhouse. I did DVR the first few episodes, but due to a stack of Blu-rays to review and the show's less-than-stellar reviews and ratings, I simply let those shows slide into oblivion. However, not unlike that Buffy DVD so many years ago, when Dollhouse: Season One arrived on my doorstep, I decided to give it a shot.

Dollhouse is set in modern-day Los Angeles and tells the story of the titular organization. The Dollhouse offers a very special service for the very rich and powerful -- the company has created a technology where a particular personality or set of skills can be imprinted on a person. Thus, clients can hire a doll, or "active" as they are called, to be whoever or whatever they desire. Once the active is done with their mission, they are "wiped" and have a childlike demeanor. They live in a luxurious, spa-like environment, and they have no recollections of their previous lives or their engagements. The Dollhouse is overseen by Adelle DeWitt (Olivia Williams), a tough but smart businesswoman. Topher Brink (Fran Kranz) is the computer genius who oversees all of the imprinting.

The bulk of the show follows Echo (Eliza Dushku), a popular active who goes out on many engagements. As the series opens, a new "handler", Boyd Langton (Harry Lennix), has just been assigned to Echo -- he accompanies her on her missions, usually at a safe distance, to ensure safety. Meanwhile, FBI agent Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett) has become obsessed with urban legends about the Dollhouse, which he assumes has something to do with human trafficking. Someone sends him a picture of a woman (it's Echo) and he begins to piece together some clues about the shady organization. At this same time, cracks begin to show in the "wiping" technology.

OK, full disclosure time -- unlike what appears to be every other male in America, I'm not enamored with Eliza Dushku. I've always found her to be a one-note actress and I've never liked her in anything. This was one of the main reasons that I didn't go out of my way to watch the show. Having now watched the first season of Dollhouse, I have to say that I'm still not a fan, but I like her more than I used to. Dushku always seems to play cocky, basasses who can do no wrong. There's some of that here, but she forced to show some range as Echo, given that the character is typically someone new in each episode. The fact that she takes it down a notch really helps the series as a whole.

As the series itself, Mr. Whedon has created a very interesting show here. Essentially, what we get is The Stepford Wives meets Charlie's Angels -- attractive people are programmed and sent out to do different jobs. This is a series which has a real danger of being too episodic -- each week we see Echo be someone different and get into an adventure -- and the first few episodes fall into this trap. Fortunately, Whedon and his team of writers have taken this seemingly hackneyed framing device and filled it with twists and turns. Each episodes contains at least one good surprise and this helps to hook the viewer. The story arcs between the Dollhouse and Ballard's investigation gel very nicely, and we begin to wonder if we want him to find the Dollhouse or not. We also slowly learn about the various characters, most importantly Echo's past.

Is the show perfect? No. It can be a bit redundant at times, and it's one of those shows which loves to introduce things which are suspiciously convenient to the story. Essentially, things which could have gone wrong for years, suddenly start to happen how. Still, this is a nice mixture of action and sci-fi and as we get to know the characters, there is a degree of heart thrown in as well. Home video is the perfect way to view Dollhouse as it becomes addictive very quickly and you'll want to keep watching to see what happens next. I'm looking forward to new episodes, and that's about the highest rating which I can give.

Dollhouse: Season One goes to the attic on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The three-disc set contains all 12 episodes of the series, plus a bonus episode which didn't air. The shows have been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing only a fine sheen of grain at times and some very minute defects from the source material. The colors look very good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is very good, as we can see every blemish on the actor's faces, and the depth is great, most notably the tracking shots in the Dollhouse. The Disc offers a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track delivers clear dialogue and sound effects. This may be one of the best sounding TV shows which I've experienced on Blu-ray. The stereo effects are great, and nicely detailed. The surround is very good, helping to bring the action scenes to life. Explosions and gunfire deliver precise subwoofer action. Overall, a nice technical package.

The Dollhouse: Season One Blu-ray Disc contains an assortment of extras, all of which are found on Disc 3. "Epitaph One" can be viewed with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Writers Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen. "Original Unaired Pilot - 'Echo'" isn't one of those pieces over which collectors salivate because everything is different. The only character which is different here is "the chair", which has a more streamlined look. No, this pilot is interesting because it plays like a condensed version of the season. Many ideas and some scenes from the show are here, but there's simply too much happening. The Disc contains 23 DELETED SCENES which come from a variety of episodes and run about 30 minutes. "Making Dollhouse" (21 minutes) is interesting because it focuses on the making of the unaired pilot. We get a lot of comments from Whedon, as he discusses the ideas for the show and how it came together. The piece does examine how the first pilot was scrapped and things were re-worked. (We also learn of Jaws-like problems with the chair.) "Coming Home" (7 minutes) contains comments from all of the staff members -- writers, producers, cast -- who have worked with Whedon in the past. "Finding Echo" (5 minutes) is a profile of Dushku. "Designing the Perfect Dollhouse" (6 minutes) has Whedon giving us a tour of the set, and discussing where the influences came from. "A Private Engagement" (6 minutes) has the cast and crew discussing what they would do if the Dollhouse was real.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long