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Joss Whedon

Master of the Dollhouse

Feb 01, 2009 Joss Whedon
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After a half-decade absence from the medium that made him famous, Joss Whedon is coming back to television. The mastermind behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly (as well as Serenity, Firefly’s big screen resurrection) returns to the small screen with Dollhouse, a sci-fi action drama that’s decidedly different from his previous ventures.

The show centers on Echo (Eliza Dushku, best known as Faith on Buffy and Angel, as well as for roles in Bring It On, True Lies, and other TV and film projects), who starts the series by volunteering to have her memory wiped clean as part of a contracted project by a shady underground corporation. In each subsequent episode, she’s essentially bought by the highest bidder and imprinted with someone else’s skills and memories to suit a specific purpose. That’s all a drastic change from previous Whedon ventures, which can arguably be called the most empowered female roles of the last decade.

“It’s definitely not the standard for me,” says Whedon, “but it is the same question: It’s basically an examination of power, this time from the perspective of somebody who’s not that ultimate great power, but in fact has had it taken away from her, but at the same time has enormous power in that, in a somewhat helpless position, she begins to define herself. While she’s being created as all these different people each week, she’s creating her own self.” Whedon adds that the show also serves as an opportunity to examine power identity and male-female relationships.

Whedon created the role specifically for Dushku and pitched an entire six-season arc to Fox—the same network that famously botched Firefly in 2001, meddling with the show and airing episodes out of order. But he says there’s
no animosity between him and Fox.

“Every network has its own advantages and disadvantages,” he says. “I wouldn’t have gone back to work with the same execs I worked on Firefly with, but there’s new guys now who have lots of cred with writers I respect…[In the past] I didn’t understand the ways in which a Fox show and a me show are very different and need to find a way to come together. I’ve made some of the same mistakes in what I thought they were looking for, but no place is safe. There’s no [network] where you’ll just be left alone and do whatever the heck you want. That’s not how it works.”

As far as creating the show itself, he says that despite reports of difficulty, “it was never a question of acrimony; it was only a question of having different visions and trying to slide them up so they ran on parallel tracks.”

Now that the kinks have been largely smoothed out, it’s on to the bigger picture: fleshing out the story and covering the issues he hopes to cover.

“If you want to really discuss things, you do a genre show—just enough of a genre show that you can get at the problem,” says Whedon. “You can discuss things at enough of a remove that people feel safe. The sci-fi angle of it I see it as being—not to sound like I’m bragging—like Gattaca: It has as much sci-fi as it needs to make its point, but it’s not about the trappings, it’s about the people.”

In other words, don’t expect as much of the wit that’s come to define a Whedon project: “It’s a little straighter in the sense that it’s real action drama every week. The stakes are high; Buffy was a situation where you had the joy of normal people reacting to an abnormal situation, so you could always be long on the funny. This is a much more grounded show.”

If Dollhouse is one side of Whedon, then he’s got plenty of other venues to express the other sides, including spearheading the Buffy and Angel comics (both shows have been resurrected in comic book form), writing film scripts, and basking in the success of last year’s web-exclusive short Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, which featured Neil Patrick Harris as a singing lovelorn evil genius.

“I’m absolutely dedicated to the idea of Web content,” says Whedon. “I’d like to do something different from Dr. Horrible; I’d like to do different entertainment, but with different structures of financing and platforms…I feel very much that it’s time for people to be building artistic communities on the Internet before they get sort of fenced off by the people who own movies and TV. So I’m trying to figure out how to make that work. Unfortunately I’m not exactly a biz visionary.”


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September 16th 2013

Hi. I am from a future where people aren’t complete and total idiots. I am really enjoying Season 4 of “Dollhouse” right now. I can’t believe he got Obama to play a recurring cameo role.