DOLLHOUSE Season One Blu-ray Review

     August 29, 2009

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“Dollhouse” is a strange, strange beast. The peculiar brand of Whedon-fan loved the show sight unseen simply for its pedigree (I love you guys and I’m one of you guys, but you still scare me) while preemptively planning the method of protest that would be employed with the series’ inevitable cancellation.

The show finally hit the airwaves (or the internets as the kids call it these days; I think “Dollhouse” is the first television show I’ve watched entirely on Hulu) and the reaction of Whedonfan and non-Whedonfan alike was sort of a resounding “meh”. The show had a supercool premise: A top-secret facility that uses specially targeted individuals (or “dolls”) that can have their entire personality replaced depending on their specific assignment. Every week, Eliza Dushku effectively gets to play someone else and goes on a wacky adventure. It’s like “Charlie’s Angels” meets “Quantum Leap”. So what went wrong? My thoughts after the jump:

Dollhouse season one Blu-ray.jpgBefore re-examining the series on DVD, I could have thrown out a couple theories; Anything from the alleged “dumbing down” of the pilot by the network to residual apathy to Fox simply not just renewing “Firefly”. Whatever it was, “Dollhouse” felt passable but nothing truly special. This is why, after careful reconsideration, I’m happy to report to anyone who may have simply given the series the once-over: “Dollhouse” is a much, much better show than you think it is.

For a show that so specifically lends itself to episodic adventures (She’s a rock star! She’s a safecracker!), Joss Whedon managed to more or less pull the wool over our eyes and create a mythology series that, by season’s end, is so far removed from where it started, you actually suspect that everything you didn’t like about the series was just a setup to make the twists all the more unexpected.

In this set, we get 12 aired episodes, an original pilot and “Epitaph One”, the only-screened-at-Comic-Con season/series finaleish type deal. The regular episodes, admittedly, start kind of slow but do show off the charming camp element of the series’ basic setup. It’s not really until halfway through the season (specifically, the sixth episode, “Man of the Street”) that the show finds its legs and starts to pull you in, driving towards a season finale that, at the very least, is great (if not top-notch) Whedon.

But then there’s “Epitaph One”, the unaired 13th episode which I’ll state, with no hyperbole, is worth the price of the entire DVD set. I can’t begin to explain without some serious spoilers, so I’ll just put it this way: If “Dollhouse” had, indeed, been cancelled at the end of this season, “Epitaph One” would probably be in my top ten list for best series finales ever. After watching it, you’re instantly rabid for more and I found myself immediately returning to the other episodes on the set looking for clues to what the second season might bring.

dollhouse_tv_show_image_tahmoh_penikett__enver_gjokaj__eliza_dushku__dichen_lachman__fran_kranz__olivia_williams__harry_lennix.jpgThe original pilot winds up serving as more of a special feature than an in-canon episode. It’s certainly different from what wound up broadcast, but it’s a far cry from the perfect, intense pilot that some fans had dreamed it up to be.

The set has three audio commentaries, one each on “Ghosts”, “Man on the Street” and “Epitaph One”. All three are a lot of fun to listen to, though the “Ghosts” one (which pairs Whedon and Dushku) is particularly fun simply because of the way both talents play off one another.

There’s about a half dozen featurettes, mostly 5 minutes long (one hits 20 minutes) and, while they’re fair enough in and of themselves, they’re also pretty forgettable. Likewise is nearly half an hour of deleted scenes, most of which are actually longer versions of scenes that did make the final cut.

How does it look? No complaints, but nothing to write home about either. You’ll definitely notice the HD and I’ll be damned if it isn’t pretty, but I can’t really make a case for going Blu over standard def unless you’re already inclined to head in that direction.

Dollhouse tv show image Eliza Dushku.jpgMy biggest complaint about the set: The packaging. Three discs are housed in a regular-sized Blu-ray case. It’s slim and attractive, but there’s absolutely no insert or even episodes listed on the discs, making it impossible to select a specific episode without inserting the disc and checking the menu. It’s such an easy thing to have fixed and winds up being really annoying.

Suffice to say, I’ve got Dollhouse’s back this season and implore the world to give it a chance. Rewatching the series for this review really reminded me of rewatching the first season of “Buffy” and I’m hoping that, likewise, its second season really gives it a chance to show fans what it can offer.