[As promised, this is the second part of a two-part Joss Whedon feature culled from Whedon's recent conference call with reporters in anticipation of Friday (Feb. 13) night's 9 p.m. ET premiere of "Dollhouse"... The first part, with more introductory information, is HERE.]
In an effort to draw viewers in and to welcome viewers who might miss an early episode or two, Joss Whedon's "Dollhouse" will launch with a series of largely stand-alone episodes, episodes the show's creator has dubbed The Seven Pilots.
"The mandate to go ahead and just really make the first several episodes pure standalone engagements is tough," Whedon says. "It’s more work for a staff to drum up that enthusiasm and that identification for the guest of the week. That’s just difficult, but we knew that was part of the show going in, that every week, we were not only going to have to create a new world and care about it, but that she was actually going to have to join the guest cast, because she would be a new person."
The early episodes revolve around a job-of-the-week structure in which viewers go along with Eliza Dushku's Echo, or whoever she's imprinted to be.
Whedon emphasizes, though, that the structure won't prevent him from doing the sort of format-bending hours he did on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (silence, musical, death) or "Angel" (puppets).
"Most of the things I think have been done at some point, and we don’t think it’s done for their own sakes, but one of the exciting things about the show, one of the reasons why we’re excited to have more runs at it is that you can really come at these stories from a lot of different perspectives; from the perspective of a client, from the perspective, as we do in episode six, from the man on the street, from the perspective of obviously Echo or any of the dolls or the people who are running it," Whedon says. "There’s always a different way into the story, and since there is a basic structure of an engagement where somebody comes in, says what they want, and they build that personality and the engagement takes place, there is a lot of fun that can be had with how you come at those stories. But I don’t have anything specific in mind, and no, I’m not planning a 'Dollhouse' musical just yet."
As dark as "Buffy" could be at times, the "Dollhouse" universe seems to be a very dark place, often eschewing the sort of quips and repartee that shaped earlier Whedon shows.
"There is a lot of fun and a lot of humor in it," Whedon insists. "What it doesn’t have is an inherent silliness that both 'Buffy' and 'Firefly' had, and even 'Angel,' that was we could just take one step back that part of the fun was of deconstructing the genre we were in. This has to be a little bit more grounded in order for it to play, or it would become campy, and with vampires and spaceships and horses, we had more leeway to be a little less realistic in how we plotted things. But humor is a part of the show all over the place, because we have really funny actors, and these situations do become absurd, and besides, we would get really bored if we didn’t."
So the humor will eventually make itself felt. Continuity within the Whedonverse will also come courtesy of Duskhu, plus Amy Acker, who plays a mysteriously scarred researcher.
"The basic mandate for me was to find new people, because I had Eliza and I didn’t want to feel like it was going to be 'Faith' or just a reunion for my pals or anything like that, and I found some not only amazing new actors, but amazing new friends," Whedon recalls. "But then, eventually, a person has to wake up and smell the Acker and realize you just have to cast anything that you can with her, so that happened. Apart from that, we’ve put on some old faces in some guest roles, but not too often, and sometimes, we’ve been very much behind the eight ball in terms of production and when you know somebody can do something right and you don’t have time to go and find somebody else who can, you hire them. But apart from Amy and Eliza, it’s a new crowd."
Much of that new crowd will include the other dolls, who will get to have more screentime as the season progresses.
"The other dolls, obviously we start out focusing on Echo, but the friends that she makes, in particular, Sierra, all have their own stories, their own reasons for being there, and their own reaction to things," Whedon says. "As her friendships are formed more, we get to spend more time with the other dolls, and we get real tastes of how easy they have it, and how hard they do, how controlled their lives are, and then how out of control they can get, because they have no skills for dealing with the world. I can’t really go into specifics, but we pretty much get to start putting everybody through the ringer long about halfway through. It starts to get complicated for all of them."
Perhaps the most interesting answer in the Whedon call came to a question regarding one of FOX's more eye-catching ad campaigns for the show, one featuring Dusku without clothing. The inquiry was whether Whedon felt this campaign was exploitative or whether it was subverting exploitation. It's a long answer. But it's a good one.
"The premise of the show involves these men and women being hired and obviously, some of that has to do with sex," Whedon begins. "This is something that was in the premise from the start. It came from my conversation with Eliza. We wanted to talk about it, she mentioned herself, wanted to talk about sexuality in whatever show she was doing, not just by virtue of her being all hot, but by really examining human sexuality and how it drives us and why it’s important to us."
He continues, "And the idea of objectification versus identification, these are all things that I’ve been working on all the time. I didn’t actually know that tagline was in there. I just heard oh, they released those photos, so I didn’t know that, and it brings up what is ultimately the touchiest issue of this show, which is are we actually making a comment about the way people use each other that is useful and interesting and textured, or are we just putting her in a series of hot outfits and paying lip service to the idea of asking the questions."
And continues, "And I think there are going to be things that people react to different. I think some things will offend some people, some things will not. There are things in it that I’m not positive I support, and some of the things that bother me don’t bother any of the other writers, and that’s something that I’ve been a little bit afraid of, but I haven’t shied away from, because part of the point is to look at these gray areas and to see what of this is unique in us, what is it we need from each other, how much do we objectify each other, how much do we use each other, both men and women, and what is actually virtuous."
And, seriously, he continues "One of the problems I ran into early on, and this was the only real dissonance between me and the network was they didn’t really want to deal with those issues having bought the show. They didn’t want to deal with the idea of what they are now clearly marketing, but the sexy side of it. It’s a classic network problem. You want to evoke this, but then they don’t want to say anything. They don’t want to be specific about it, so we’ve struggled with that. We’ve struggled with making sure that the show doesn’t, by virtue of playing it safe, become offensive, because the idea of this show was never to play it safe. The idea of this show was always to be in your face about it."
"Dollhouse" will be in your face on FOX on Friday nights at 9 p.m.
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