Dollhouse is an American science fiction television series created by writer and director Joss Whedon under Mutant Enemy Productions. It premiered on February 13, 2009, on the Fox network and was officially cancelled on November 11, 2009. The final episode aired on January 29, 2010. Production wrapped in December 2009, with a total of 27 episodes produced.
The show revolves around a corporation running numerous underground establishments (known as "Dollhouses") across the globe which program individuals referred to as Actives (or Dolls) with temporary personalities and skills. Wealthy clients hire Actives from Dollhouses at great expense for various purposes. The series primarily follows the Active known as Echo, played by Eliza Dushku (who also served as producer), on her journey towards self-awareness.
The story follows Echo (Eliza Dushku), a "doll" or "Active" for the Los Angeles "Dollhouse", one of several fictional facilities run by a company which hires out human beings to wealthy clients. These "engagements" range from romantic interludes to high-risk criminal enterprises. Each Active has their original memories wiped and exists in a child-like blank state until programmed via the insertion of new memories and personalities for each mission.
Actives such as Echo are ostensibly volunteers who have surrendered their minds and bodies to the organization for five-year stints, during which their original personalities are saved on hard drives, in exchange for vast amounts of money and a solution to any other problematic circumstances in their lives. Echo is unique however in that she remembers small amounts even after personality "wipes", and gradually develops an increasingly cognizant self-awareness and personality. This concept allows the series to examine the notions of identity and personhood....
Second Season and Cancellation:
Despite low ratings in its first season, Dollhouse was renewed for a second season of thirteen episodes. Among other factors, fan response to the show was seen as a reason for the renewal; Fox's president of entertainment stated that "if we'd canceled Joss's show I'd probably have 110 million e-mails this morning from the fans". As part of the deal, there was a cut in the show's budget, though Whedon stated that this would not affect the quality of the episodes. The second season also had changes visually, the show moved from being shot on 35 mm film to high-definition video.
With the addition of new cinematographer Lisa Wiegand, Whedon wanted the show to look darker. Other visual changes included more hand-held camera work and the addition of snap zooms (an effect that moves in or pulls back very quickly, and is effective for revealing things, à la Firefly). The series continued in its 9–10 pm Friday timeslot, with the season premiere on September 25, 2009. Season 2 of Dollhouse began filming on July 22, 2009, so Fox pushed back Dollhouse's return to the 25th to afford Whedon and the Dollhouse production team sufficient time to produce enough hours to kick off the season with at least three or four consecutive episodes.
Alexis Denisof joined the cast in a recurring role as Senator Daniel Perrin, as did Summer Glau, who was originally scheduled to appear in just two episodes, a number that was later extended. Michael Hogan and Jamie Bamber, both former castmates of series regular Tahmoh Penikett on Battlestar Galactica, each had roles as guest stars. Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters (creators of Reaper) joined the writing staff for season 2 as replacements for former showrunners Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain (who left Dollhouse to join the writing staff of Lie to Me).
Fox announced in October 2009 that it would not be airing any episodes of Dollhouse during November sweeps, and that the series would return in December, airing episodes back-to-back instead. On November 11, 2009, The Hollywood Reporter announced that the show had been cancelled. Fox passed on ordering more episodes of the show; although it did air the entirety of the 13-episode order. After airing the back-to-back episodes in December, the final three episodes aired during January 2010.
Season one of Dollhouse had mixed reviews, with Metacritic giving it a rating of 57 out of a possible 100. Ellen Gray of Philadelphia Daily News gave a positive review, remarking that "Dollhouse is less about the ninja kicks and witty banter than it is about instant transformations, and about making the audience care about a character who's likely to behave differently every time we see her. That Dushku mostly pulls this off is a happy surprise, as is Dollhouse, which has survived Firefly-like trials of its own to get this far."
Salon.com reviewer Heather Havrilesky was also positive, commenting that the show's combination of mystery, sly dialogue, and steady flow of action results in a "provocative, bubbly new drama that looks as promising as anything to hit the small screen over the course of the past year." Alternately, Tom Shales of the Washington Post wrote that the premise was "admittedly intriguing", but described the series as a "pretentious and risible jumble" and that Echo did not "inspire much concern or interest in the audience".
He commented that the actors seemed to struggle due to the decor being so "outlandish", stating that it "simply isn't worth the trouble". Brian Lowry of Variety also wrote "Dushku's grasp of this vague, personality-changing character is a bit of a muddle. What's left, then, is a series with a hollow center that doesn't initially make you care about its mentally malleable protagonist." Robert Bianco of USA Today had a more nonchalant view of the series, describing Dollhouse as not boring or ordinary, and that the end result is a show "that Joss Whedon's most devoted fans will debate and embrace, and a mass audience just won't get".
Many critics felt that the series' first season improved as it progressed. IGN Reviewer Eric Goldman believed the show became much stronger and more compelling with the episodes "Needs" and "A Spy in the House of Love". He opined of the later episodes that, "As a whole this show is definitely working better as we get away from Echo's missions of the week, and from focusing so much on just Echo and letting there be more of a true ensemble feel, with the time split amongst the Dolls."
Sarah Hughes of The Independent was unimpressed with the first five episodes but also found that the later episodes became "as involving and addictive as Whedon's best work". Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune liked Dollhouse's "unsettling" tone and found the show to be "unexpectedly moving and complex" during the second half of the first season. She called the second season renewal "a good day for unconventional television".