Dollhouse premieres tonight, Friday, 9 p.m., on Fox.
I've watched the first episode. It was good, it was bad, it was annoying, it was intriguing — honestly, I never know how to feel about this damn show, even a whole season in. The premise of a brothel full of reprogrammable "dolls" remains, in numerous Philip K. Dick–ish ways, totally fascinating. And also queasy as hell! At times, the show felt like a roofie-laced exploitation fantasy; at other moments, like a challengingly kinky philosophical holodeck. The most successful plot for me by far was the Mellie-November scenario, which had psychic complexity and was also quite affecting. (It helped that Miracle Laurie was terrific in the role, unlike Eliza Dushku, whom I adored as Faith but who sadly bugs the crap out of me as Echo.)
One thing I will say about the premiere, I was wildly impressed by the performance of Fran Kranz as Topher, the geek who programs the dolls. The one character the writers truly have a handle on, he's an angry, complex, control-freak nerd with brothers all over the Whedonverse — from Xander to the Nerd Troika to Dr. Horrible. And his role as the artist-technician-God-figure is the most potent and original thing on Dollhouse, packing far more punch than the hunkiest FBI agent with a savior complex.
That said, I'll be watching. Whedon remains my favorite TV auteur and with a network schedule overflowing with blandly likable formula shows, there's something to be said for a series that upsets and challenges its audience, even if it sometimes misfires as well. In the meanwhile, here's one of the best essays I read on Dollhouse last year, an appreciative, passionate analysis by the blogger at Tigerbeatdown that anyone interested in the show should check out.