Pilot shenanigans

So I finally watched Dollhouse. Because, well, duh. But also because someone in my writer's group told me that I needed to watch it for a particular similarity it had to my own burgeoning spec pilot. That bit of advice moved Dollhouse up a few slots on my DVR schedule, and tonight I scratched the itch.

On the positive side, I feel relieved as the similarity is minor and my pilot handles the issue, I feel, in a very different manner. But, still, the episode bothered me. It was interesting, and well written, but...

What was going on there? Everyone and their mother read the original pilot script that leaked oh so long ago. And it wasn't perfect. God knows the typos made a lot of us sigh in relief at evidence of the great Whedon's humanity. But it was a compelling script. I liked it.

And I liked this episode, but...there was a but. The whole episode smelled of a note-driven rewrite. Lose the humor. Make it more procedural. More stand-alone. Show us how the Active's "identities" will play out in a typical episode. Show Tahmoh Penikett with his shirt off.

I'm not sure how this episode was supposed to draw me into the world of Dollhouse. Apparently I was supposed to care more about the "monster of the week," or Echo's temporary identity as a former kidnapping victim, than I was about Echo herself. The mystery was buried under plot moves that could be resolved in the 50 minutes of the pilot. It seemed neater, maybe, but not better.

I'm just not sure how this episode was supposed to have improved upon the previous script. As a pilot, what did this episode do right that the earlier version did not?

I'm worried that it was just more digestible, more typical. Less arc, less Whedon. I could be wrong. And I'm going to keep watching. Lord knows Whedon and his crew are incredibly talented. And Lord knows they know better than I. But I'm wary of Fox. And I'm wary of the machine of network TV.

But I'm going to be rewatching Dollhouse. And rereading the original script. Especially as I keep working on my pilot. These issues carry some serious weight when one is breaking a pilot of their own. More sympathy, more concern, more questions.

ps. But I'm throwing my hat in the ring. I'm going to keep watching Dollhouse and trust that Whedon and his staff will pull this thing off.


Emily Blake said...

I liked the original pilot, but my main complaint about it was I had no idea where the hell they were going to go with this. How would this become a series? I trust Joss, but I was a little wary, and if someone who doesn't trust Joss watches this, they may have a bigger problem.

I think with this pilot it's clearer as to how this will make a whole series. I can see what each episode would be. Yes, it's a studio rewrite, but in this case it might be one that saves the show. If Dollhouse starts with standalones and builds to a greater mythology, it will last longer.

Trevor Finn said...

Yeah I had the same problem. I love Whedon stuff usually, but felt kinda detached from Dollhouse's pilot. They seemed to throw me all over the place, and the whole kidnapping plot seemed forced to show it's a procedural, but I felt like it could have been more organic, and had something more to do with her being brought into the Dollhouse, thereby making us care about her more. The only part of her original life we saw was a little clip of her talking to that boss-lady and agreeing to join them for a few years.

I mean, why do we care about her implanted memory's childhood trauma? It's not actually her memory. And what were the chances that she would recognize that kidnapper from those memories? I think it's also confusing that she knows she's not actually the person whose memories she has at any moment, and you'd think that would be more of a problem. The father starts questioning her, and she sort of freaks out, but the entire time she knows she's not that person, so why would she freak out?

I can also see a problem with a main character that has no set personality. I feel like they should have kept her as her own person but just implanted new memories into her head and forced her to act in each situation. And if she is a tabula rasa, then every time she's sent out she shouldn't know that she's a Dollhouse agent.

adam _______________________ said...

Emily, I totally agree that episode framework is more visible with this new pilot. And of course there's room for Whedon to build his mythology, but this just felt really non-Joss to me. And it's possible that this could be a good thing. Maybe he's trying something new, pushing his boundaries. Or the network notes are forcing him to do so -- either way, I'm hoping it'll all work out.

But I think my real complaint is that these changes forced the show to be less Echo and more Active identity. I'm not sure I'm going to care about "Echo" if I'm supposed to reattach my interest to a new character each week.

I just don't think it's a good sign that the most interesting, or at least engaging, character in this pilot was Echo's handler, and not Echo.

But I'm right there with you. I'm all for the show lasting and Whedon and crew getting to do their thing. If and when it hits, they'll be able to do whatever they want.

Anonymous said...

Just watched it. I hate how it's shot. It looks like Angel, not like Fringe. That was fine in '03, but Dollhouse has such a generic early widescreen TV look coupled with it's profoundly generic kidnapped daughter plot.

I don't know. I'll keep watching because I remember how indifferent both the Buffy and Angel pilots were. Still, I don't know why someone not indoctrinated into the Joss would continue watching.

But, then I seem to be the only person who loved the last BSG and hated the one two episodes ago. Give me Espenson written Baltar any day over some Cylon mythology! So Dollhouse will probably hit.