Joss Whedon’s past and the future of “Dollhouse”: Part 1

April 21, 2009

Please click through to see this post on harrysaxon.com.

Sorry for the inconvenience!



  1. […] posted here:  Joss Whedon’s past and the future of "Dollhouse": Part 1 Tags: […]

  2. Came over via whedonesque… and I must say, impressive and insightful analysis! I’m looking forward to the next instalment!


  3. Really nice piece, and overall a brilliant insight. But forgive me for correcting and adding on; you cite Angel, the First Slayer and Willow as big bads, with Spike & Dru, Adam and the Trio, respectively, as red herrings.

    I think it goes like this (in order):

    S2 Angel = BB/Spike & Dru = RH
    S3 Faith = BB/the Mayor = RH
    S4 The Initiative = BB/Adam = RH (and this is another great example of what you’re talking about, with all its deeper implications as a Big Bad)
    S5 First Slayer = BB, Glory = Red Herring (I’m not sure about this one, but it’s really interesting. In some ways it was Buffy’s understanding of mortality—losing her mother, finding all that love for Dawn)
    S6 Willow = BB/the Trio (Warren) = RH
    S7 The First (evil) = BB/Caleb (or even Anya) = RH

  4. I think you can also give Whedon the credit for starting fan/writer interaction over the internet. It all started with the Bronze website and he still writes on Whedonesque. Other tv show writers have since done similar things and lets not forget Twitter’s explosion due to celebrities interactions with fans

  5. I am a major Buffy and a Whedon fan, but don’t forget the contribution of Babylon 5 to the long story arc approach with five years of startling character growth/reversals/death in which the series manages to survive losing the lead character after just one season. It’s hard to imagine B5 without Sheridan but he didn’t exist in Season One.

    The reveal regarding Talia Winters is one of the great storyline shocks of all time.

    That said, Buffy stands as Joss’ best work to date and hopefully, if Dollhouse gets a second season he will have a chance to shine once more.

  6. Only have time for a quick reply; while I wasn’t a B5 watcher, I’m aware of its credentials as a pre-mapped full-arc story. As I said at the end of the article, Whedon wasn’t the first to do this, but it wasn’t just that that I think is important; it’s the flexibility he worked into the story which I think was the real bit of genius, and the way he got away with it on a mainstream network rather than in a syndicated or cable show. I’ll be expanding on that in part 2.

    Thanks for the comments! Swamped at work today but looking forward to taking some time with them later.

  7. Can’t wait to read the rest. Best Buffy article in a long while.

  8. […] Joss Whedon’s past and the future of “Dollhouse”: Part 1 The jury is still out for Joss Whedon’s latest endeavour, the Friday night spy-drama Dollhouse. If you’re […] […]

  9. Regarding the first paragraph: the feminine singular of alumnus is alumna.

  10. Hey, Roberta- I think the point about the Big Bad and the Red Herring is that in Joss’s world, the Big Bad is really inside of us- in the choices we face, in the sacrifices we make, in risking ourselves to make the world better. Having to accept the pain of living and maybe getting no payoff for ourselves.

    It seems to me that “Buffy” is about the discovery of how we grow up and become real adults; “Angel” is about giving up what one wants to achieve a greater good; “Firefly” is about who your family really are and how we love each other; and “Dollhouse” is about the essence of who and what we are. That’s what makes these shows great- they are actually *about* something.

  11. Kudos to you, sir.

  12. Great comments, and as tempted as I am to address them all, I’m swamped at work this week and am using my scant free time to get Part 2 together. I hope to have it up tomorrow, but since I’m at a conference for 15 hours, it may have to be Friday.

    Thanks again to all our commenters and new readers!

  13. Could not disagree more.

    Whedon was and is very 1997, that is tied into the zeitgeist of yuppie status striving, and building on work done by previous pioneers. Stephen J. Cannell with “Wiseguy” worked arc stuff ten years before Whedon, and Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere, and particularly Miami Vice used arc stories, villains, and so on about 15 years before Whedon. He merely copied what had worked before. History did not begin in 1997.

    Moreover not only did he not plan years in advance (by his own admission into interviews) but actor availability (low budgets made it questionable), sudden course changes, and so on made the show more mini-arc than say Babylon 5 which largely held to Straciinskey’s 5 year plan.

    Whedon’s success with Buffy, middling status with Angel, and failure with Firefly and Dollhouse stem from casting progressions (brilliant on Buffy, pathetic on Dollhouse), use of outside, talented spec writers (brilliant on Buffy’s first season, it’s best and most focused, non-existent on Dollhouse) and most importantly time and place.

    Buffy cannot be separated from the yuppie status striving to be the most “morally and status superior” person in a go-go, risk-free, anything is possible ten year Post-Cold-War party thrown in the Yuppie-ridden 1990’s. In the post-9/11 World Buffy the series looked pathetic (and thematically cowardly, refusing to address REAL terror and horror). As did the general yuppie status striving to be the coolest princess, hottest BMOC that characterizes Whedon’s stuff. It’s hard to rail against the man and be the man — particularly now.

    In the current environment of deep, sustained recession, existential nuclear terrorist threats against cities, ineffective pc-ridden Yuppie leaders who can’t even provide basic security, Whedon’s stuff is about as thematically relevant as the Jazz Age and flappers in Prohibition speakeasies.

    I’ve touched on this in my Blog, Whedon like most 1990’s creators and unlike the generation of Cannell, Belisario, etc. cannot relate or connect to non-Yuppie, non-status striving people. Which is most of us now. When you are struggling to make ends meet, trying to be the new Cool Yuppie status leader and BMOC is a waste of your entertainment time. What has been critically and popularly received has been “old-school” stuff like “the Mentalist” and “Eleventh Hour” and the various Bruckheimer-factory stuff that is formulaic but gives the audience a sense of: TEAM, BELONGING, SUCCESS, ACHIEVEMENT, JUSTICE. Yeah nothing original there, but that seems to be what the audience wants.

    Joss Whedon’s time was the 1990’s. Back then he was a master like F Scott Fitzgerald. But like Fitzgerald, time has clearly passed him by, despite obvious talent. The things he wants to write about, the audience just is not interested. That’s why Dollhouse failed. People don’t care about striving against “the Man.” They want the Man to do his job, and include them in on it.

  14. Well, you made me cry. Brilliant work!!

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