Thursday, April 16, 2009
Dollhouse at the Paley Festival
Even with Dollhouse facing the threat of cancellation, Joss Whedon scored his second straight sellout with his panel on the show, moderated by Matt Roush of TV Guide. That living doll, Eliza Dushku, was there, along with fellow dolls Miracle Laurie and Dichen Lachman, along with Fran Kranz aka Topher, and writers Sarah Fain and Liz Craft, who wrote two episodes. I was hoping we'd see Amy Acker, Harry Lennix, or Olivia Williams, but this was still a good panel.
Although I got some good pictures, we were not allowed to bring digital recorders, and that included real internet reporters. So this is one big paraphasing, but a fairly good account.
For a while, it looked like we wouldn't get a sell-out, but the Cinerama Dome was packed just before seven p-m. I even brought a doll with me. It wasn't one of those Echo dolls Fox gave to reporters along with the screener, but I could pretend the remains of Laurence Dominic still got a good seat..
Before the panel, we saw episode eight, "Needs", where some of the Actives were able to get closure, and therefore be glitch-free from now on. In theory.
The crowd loved the show, with the cast members having a ball, too. One of the first subjects was that 13th episode that Fox, the TV show maker, wanted for DVD sales and foreign TV, but Fox, the network, decided not to air because it already got its 13 episodes...if you count "Echo", the pilot that never was. In any case, Joss says the episode is incredible, and so will the rest of the shows coming in the next few weeks.
As for whether there's a future, Joss admits his feelings have been moving from resignation to, well, hope. While the regular ratings are soft, the DVR and demo numbers are encouraging. I say throw in Hulu downloads,and we start writing season two immediately.
As for the show, he admits it's been a difficult birthing process, but he praised the cast for its patience through the whole thing. Remember, Firefly's pilot was shown last, but the Dollhouse series has been produced out of order. Fans in the know are aware many parts of "Echo" were used in the first few episodes, and some will be used in "Omega" next month.
Of course, Eliza had lots of praise for the guy who made her a vampire-slaying babe, and admitted she liked his mind. Also, the show has let her do a lot of things, from being a tomboy to a butt-kicking safecracker, and also some challenging roles like when she was a blind prophet in "True Believer". Very soon, she'll actually be older in another engagement, with Bad Horse (yes, that one) in a cameo role.
Fran Kranz had some interesting things to say about the process of getting the show off the ground, and how it's help him understand his character, Topher Brink. He admitted that he thinks Topher is like a child. He says his intelligence is so great, he's never related to anyone until the Dollhouse. He even compared Topher as a guy who plays with his toys, except they're full-sized people. He also said that his relationship with Adelle is almost maternal, which really explains how they've had to rely on each other lately. By the way, Fran was in a movie called The TV Set, which spoofed the process of pilot season. He noted some similarities between the plot with how Dollhouse was developed
Now, how about this huggable doll, Miracle Laurie, who plays November? When we first saw her, she was the girl next door who seems to be a little too interested in Paul. She says she's had to tell her family that she'll be doing more than just give Paul Italian food. She also loves the reaction she's been getting from fans as well as family. She's also pointed out that being a doll is a little difficult because it's something no one has done before. She did point out that although all Actives are supposed to be totally neutral, they still are different in very subtle ways.
As for Dichen, she also says it's been a blast. She especially loved being the dorky fan in "Stage Fright." She's also aware that the show suggests Sierra is the only Active who was forced into the Dollhouse, while the others "volunteered". That fact, she says, brings up many of the ethical issues in the show.
So what can we expect in the future? Eliza still calls Echo "the awesomest glitcher in the world", which may suggest she will keep "evolving" Joss, meanwhile, says Echo may be passive as we get closer to the season finale, but not all the time.
Joss says the casting process can change the characters themselves. DeWitt, for example, was supposed to be some kind of dragon lady, but Olivia Williams' take on DeWitt has made her something different, namely evil yet sympathetic.
Also, the role of the Dollhouse itself has changed. We know the Actives perform engagements, and the details are supposed to be private. Then someone asked, what about all that information the Dollhouse gathers? What is done with that?
The audience then got a chance to ask some questions. One person asked if we'd get some stories about the staff. Fran suggested that we see Topher shop at the supermarket..and spot Paul there. That would set up a scary confrontation at the frozen foods section.
Then someone asked if Joss thought about making his own shows and bypass everyone, especially the networks? While he's impressed how far the internet has come, even as an alternatives to the nets, he says TV is the place for him, and that having a chance to tell stories in that medium is a privilege. He didn't say if he'd work exclusively for cable in the future, but at least he still believes in the keen flat screen, formerly the boob tube.
There was also one person who saw a connection about human experimentation among all of Joss' shows. There could be a link between the Actives, River Tam and how her brain was hacked by the Academy in Firefly, and Adam, the undead cyborg the Initiative made in Buffy. Joss was a bit surprised by this, but did point it it can be seen as a metaphor of how we are conditioned by society. He also talked about A.I., and how that has influenced him.
Then the cast was asked what was their favorite parts of the set. Eliza liked the art corner where Echo could paint, do a little bonzai, or something "artistic". Fran liked Topher's lab because he can store some stuff from craft services, but he also liked Dr.Saunder's office. Dichen also liked Topher's lab, but Miracle has her special place in a nook under the lab.
So how much will be revealed after "Omega", and even "Epitath One", ends. Joss estimates about 35 percent, but assures everyone that episode will open plenty of doors that will guide viewers to another twisty season.
If Fox gives us one, that is.
The only thing I wish I had was Eliza's autograph on my Dollhouse screener, but a good picture of her is just as good.