Dolled Up24 Jul, 2009 By: John Latchem
Joss Whedon is the first to admit his latest series, “Dollhouse,” got off to a rocky start. But despite the show gaining momentum toward the end of the first season, he was prepared for its cancellation.
“I had a plan this summer,” Whedon jokes. “I was going to relax. Go to the beach.”
But while Fox’s decision to renew the series for a second season was surprising to many, Whedon — the creative force behind “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel” and “Firefly,” the latter of which lasted less than one season on Fox, but was a huge seller on DVD — says it was not out of the blue.
“The studio knows TV doesn’t work the way it used to,” says Whedon. “There are revenue streams beyond TV, such as DVD, and particularly the DVDs of my work.”
Dollhouse: Season One will be available July 28 on DVD (four-disc set $49.98) and Blu-ray (three-disc set $69.99) from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment (special San Diego Comic-Con International editions are available early at the Fox Comic-Con booth). The set includes the 12 episodes that aired, plus a bonus 13th episode, “Epitaph One,” the unaired pilot, “Echo,” as well as select episode commentary, deleted scenes and making-of featurettes.
News the original pilot had been shelved resurrected fears among fans about the kind of network apathy that ultimately doomed “Firefly,” but Whedon admits he was slow to pick up the lessons of the earlier experience.
“I learned nothing,” Whedon says. “I wrote a pilot that was slow and contemplative, and that’s not what you do on a Fox show. And that misstep echoed through most of the production.”
Whedon says the show suffered at the beginning as a result of trying to merge his original vision with network expectations.
“The show we ultimately came up with in the second half of the season I think is the show that satisfies both of us,” Whedon says. “So for those who were very wishy washy about the show at the beginning, I have to say I completely agree.”
“Dollhouse” stars Eliza Dushku as a woman whose mind is routinely reprogrammed with new personalities in the service of a mysterious underground corporation that performs specialized tasks for wealthy clients. Tahmoh Penikett (“Battlestar Galactica”) plays an FBI agent determined to expose the illegal organization. Whedon says exploring the mechanisms behind the mind-wipe gimmick opened up storylines to show off the rest of the cast, which includes Harry Lennix, Olivia Williams, Fran Kranz, Amy Acker, Enver Gjokaj, Dichen Lachman, Reed Diamond and Miracle Laurie.
“Starting with episode six, I think we were where we wanted to be,” Whedon says. “And with episode 13 we really kicked things up a notch.”
Whedon says “Epitaph One,” which debuts on the DVD and Blu-ray Disc of the first season, represents a high point for the show and a good omen of things to come.
“It’s one of the best hours of television I’ve made,” Whedon says. “I love that episode. Now it seems like a strange afterthought. But it’s a gorgeous episode.”
The renewal of “Dollhouse” has put “Epitaph One” somewhat in a state of limbo as Whedon prepares the second season without knowing if Fox will air the episode, which for a while seemed as if it would be the series finale.
“I was begging them to air it,” Whedon says. “The studio tried to get them to show it, but they know holding it could increase DVD sales. So I’m building the second season on the assumption people have seen it. I’m not expecting it to air, but I’m hoping it does.”
The Actor’s Perspective
Joss Whedon’s ability to create a variety of fan-favorite shows may be aided in part by the unwavering support of his casts. “Dollhouse” star Eliza Dushku (pictured), who previously worked with Whedon when she played the vampire slayer Faith on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel,” had nothing but praise for their working relationship.
“He is my brother, my friend, my hero,” Dushku says. “He amazes me every day. Every idea that comes from him I admire — he has a deep understanding of human beings and especially women. I am humbled to work with him.”