Joss Whedon, creator of the groundbreaking cult favorites, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," and "Firefly," returns to television and reunites with fellow "Buffy" alumna, Eliza Dushku, for a thrilling new drama, DOLLHOUSE.
ECHO (Dushku) is an "Active," a member of a highly illegal and underground group of individuals who have had their personalities wiped clean so they can be imprinted with any number of new personas. Hired by the wealthy, powerful and connected, the Actives don't just perform their hired roles, they wholly become -- with mind, personality and physiology -- whomever the client wants or needs them to be. Whether imprinted to be a lover, an assassin, a corporate negotiator or a best friend, the Actives know no other life than the specific engagements they are in at that time.
'Dollhouse' really is a one of a kind show.
That is to say, when it started airing this year on Fox, nobody had seen anything like it, really. Even though it was created by Joss Whedon, the genre genius behind the classic series 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer,' 'Angel' and the tragically short-lived 'Firefly' (later resurrected as the rip-snorting 'Serenity' motion picture), this was an entirely different beast and, while still centering around the time-tested Joss Whedon themes of feminism, technology, and morality, it was just a whole lot weirder.
'Dollhouse' takes place in modern day Los Angeles, and centers around the titular house, a secret, below-ground complex that uses cutting-edge technology to erase the minds of its agents or "dolls." For every "engagement," these dolls can have their minds retrofitted from the ground up for whatever the Dollhouse is hired for. In the pilot, our lead Echo (played by 'Buffy' hottie Eliza Dushku) is hired to be a hostage negotiator when a small child is abducted. In another episode, she's the bodyguard for a famous pop star. In yet another, she's programmed with the personality of a dead woman and forced to solve her own murder, and so on, and so on.
Of course, there are those that think the Dollhouse is maybe not such a good thing. Echo's handler, Boyd Langton (Harry Lennix from the 'Matrix' sequels) expresses his concerns about the Dollhouse infrastructure to the Los Angeles Dollhouse's head, Adelle DeWitt (Olivia Williams, forever Ms. Cross from 'Rushmore'), the head of security Laurence Dominic (Reed Diamond), and Topher Brink (Franz Kranz), the young techno-wizard behind the implanting technology. There's also the Dollhouse's doctor Claire Saunders (Amy Acker, from 'Angel'), who occasionally protests. And on the outside, there's FBI Agent Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett, from 'Battlestar Galactica') whose goal in season one is to concretely identify the Dollhouse as an actual place and then, of course, bring it down.
There's also a former doll on the loose, named Alpha, who is up to some very bad things…
This first season of 'Dollhouse' starts off shaky (but it's still intriguing), before finally hitting its stride on the sixth episode. That episode, entitled "Man on the Street," really explored the moral depths of the Dollhouse conundrum, while simultaneously pushing the mythology of the show forward in bold new directions. From there on out, things were just non-stop brilliance. You would be hard pressed to find a more challenging, interesting, strange, gutsy, complicated series on network television.
With so many shows on television having so few ideas, it's nice to watch one that almost seems to have too many.
There were some behind-the-scenes battles that happened on 'Dollhouse.' The pilot had to be reshot and re-edited several times, and the show was shut down for three weeks while everyone (Joss, the writers, the studio) got on the same page as to what, exactly, it was all about. Even rarer still is the fact that a show can be born from such chaos and actually be amazing. But like I said, this is a one of a kind show.
Everything works well here - from the uniformly excellent cast, to the power of the show's ideas - and once you reach the end, with the bonus unaired thirteenth episode (I'll get to that in a minute), well, you'll probably want to watch the whole thing again.
'Dollhouse' comes equipped with a lovely 1080p AVC MPEG-4 (1.78:1 aspect ratio) transfer, with the first season spread across three 50GB discs.
Overall, I found this to be a really great-looking Blu-ray set. In HD, 'Dollhouse' really shines, and it's a marked improvement across the board from its television debut - skin tones look good, details are fine, shadows and blacks are deep and dark, and depth is amazing. The intricately sophisticated Dollhouse set, a kind of spa-as-designed-by-Philip K. Dick, really comes to life here in a truly impressive way. Contrast is solid, and there are no bothersome technical issues to worry about (nary an artifact was found).
While some are complaining that detail is somewhat soft, a concession of the artificial sharpening that went into the high definition release, I didn't find that to be bothersome or even noteworthy.
This is one of the best TV-on-Blu-ray presentations, and certainly a step up from both the show's broadcast and standard-DVD forms. Really great stuff.
We get another stellar audio engagement with the 'Dollhouse's' wonderful DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track.
Anyone who has watched a Joss Whedon show knows that he favors rapidfire, pop culture-enriched dialogue. He's like a nerd version of Aaron Sorkin. So it's nice to have the dialogue on this track sounding clean and crisp, no matter if people are walking up and down stairs, fighting, or talking over the telephone. It's just great. The dialogue is up front, and thanks to the lossless track, it truly sparkles.
Elsewhere, the surround gets quite the workout. There's a lot of rear-speaker activity, particularly during more action-centered scenes, and there is a lot of atmospheric activity, with great pans that add a lot to the immersive aspect of the show's world.
In short, the audio is just as good as the video, another plus when considering this pricey Blu-ray upgrade.
The disc also comes with English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.
The discs are beautifully designed for the most part, but aside from the commentary for the much ballyhooed thirteenth episode, "Epitaph One," the commentaries are incredibly hard to navigate to. There isn't a special features option on the menus for the first two discs, so you pop in disc two, select "Man on the Street" (the aforementioned, game-changing sixth episode), and if you don't notice the two tiny arrows on either side of the episode title, then you won't get access to the Commentary with Joss Whedon. (And really, why would you even pay attention to those two little arrows? If I wasn't looking for it, I never would have found it. It's a terrible design flaw and Fox should have known better when putting this thing together.
'Dollhouse' is one of the best shows on television. With its heady mix of philosophical and moral quandaries, kick-ass action thriller elements, and superb acting, episode after episode will leave you dazzled. With strong video and audio and a wonderful collection of special features, this is highly recommended. If you watched and loved the show when it originally aired this year, then it's a straight-up must own.