"Dollhouse" marks the return of beloved writer/director Joss Whedon, whose "Firefly" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" have become big enough cult hits to still be discussed long after the credits have rolled on the final episodes of both shows. Although the series could have used a better time-slot than Friday nights, "Dollhouse" still did well enough to warrant a second season, which is coming soon.
The show stars Eliza Dushku as Echo, one of a series of people referred to as "actives" or "dolls" - people who have had their entire memories of the outside world wiped away in order to set them up for fresh "imprints" - they are given the memories, personality and additional traits of others and purchased by elite individuals who want to use these "actives" for whatever jobs they may desire - whether for good or evil. After every assignment, their memories are wiped clean in order to once again be a blank slate for the next job. In exchange for signing themselves up for a five year commitment, they are also given a luxurious residence in which to live in-between gigs and handlers - including Echo's handler, Boyd Langton (Harry Lennix) - who assure their safety at all times.
The mysterious organization (first rule of the Dollhouse: you do not talk about the Dollhouse) is headed by Adelle DeWitt (Olivia Williams, perfect in the role), who has tried to keep the illegal activities of the company a secret for as long as possible. However, Federal Agent Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett) has heard about the Dollhouse, and believes that he must get to the bottom of what is truly going on. There's also the matter of a rogue "active" whose knowledge of the organization may put it in jeopardy.
The series benefits from both solid writing and excellent performances. While Dushku offers an excellent lead performance, the series does manage to let the ensemble cast share the spotlight well, with Lennix and Williams offering superb supporting efforts. As for the writing, the series comes up with mostly compelling new tasks for the "actives", and does a very fine job exploring some of the deeper emotional and ethical issues of the story. Whedon handles both sides quite well, crafting both strong, engaging drama (there's definitely moments of genuine sadness throughout the show, which don't require manipulation or Big Emotional Speeches) and slick action superbly.
Overall, this is an excellent series, and hopefully the series can get the attention it deserves in the second season.
Note: The set includes the original, unaired pilot ("Echo") and the never-aired episode, "Epitaph One".
Original Pilot: Echo
1. 1- 1 13 Feb 09 Ghost
2. 1- 2 20 Feb 09 The Target
3. 1- 3 27 Feb 09 Stage Fright
4. 1- 4 6 Mar 09 Gray Hour
5. 1- 5 13 Mar 09 True Believer
6. 1- 6 20 Mar 09 Man On The Street
7. 1- 7 27 Mar 09 Echoes
8. 1- 8 3 Apr 09 Needs
9. 1- 9 10 Apr 09 Spy in the House of Love
10. 1-10 24 Apr 09 Haunted
11. 1-11 1 May 09 Briar Rose
12. 1-12 8 May 09 Omega
13. 1-13 Unaired Epitaph One
VIDEO: "Dollhouse" is presented on Blu-Ray in 1.78:1 (1080p/AVC) and the results are generally good. Sharpness and detail are usually fine, although some scenes can look a tad softer than the rest. The series has a gritty, mildly grainy look, which is more apparent in some scenes than others. There are a few minor specks seen on the elements used, which is a bit of a surprise. Unfortunately, mild edge enhancement causes a bit of a distraction at times, too.
Colors look bright and warm, with excellent saturation and no smearing or other faults. Black level also remained solid, while flesh tones looked accurate. While not without a few issues, this was overall still a nice effort.
SOUND: The series is offered with a DTS-HD 5.1 soundtrack. The show's soundtrack does provide an above-average amount of surround use for a TV program, with the rear speakers offering up effects and ambience at times in each episode. Audio quality was quite good, with crisp dialogue, a rich score and clear, well-recorded effects.
EXTRAS: "Ghost" offers an audio commentary from creator Joss Whedon and actress Eliza Dushku, while "Man on the Street" offers comments from Whedon and "Epitaph One" offers a commentary with writers Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon.
"Making Dollhouse" is an enjoyable 21-minute documentary focusing on the production of the series, starting with Whedon's initial comments as the production is trying to get underway. While this is in some regards promotional in nature - we get a discussion of the story and characters - the majority of the piece is quite informative, as we learn a great deal about casting, the rehearsal process and production obstacles that occurred. "Coming Home" lasts for about 7 minutes and features interviews with frequent Whedon collaborators who are working on "Dollhouse", as well. "Designing the Perfect Dollhouse" and "Finding Echo" run a few minutes each and look into set design and casting of Dushku. We also get deleted scenes and the "A Private Engagement" (a look at the show's sci-fi) featurette.
Final Thoughts: Overall, this is an excellent series, and hopefully the show can attract a wider following in season 2. The Blu-Ray set offers generally solid audio/video quality, as well as a terrific set of extras. Recommended.