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Dollhouse Hangs up the Barbie Clothes
TV Landscape looking sparse.
By Rob Vaux
May 04, 2009
The season finale of Dollhouse hits Fox this Friday, accompanied by the inevitable praise from Whedonites, scorn for the network, and nail-biting speculation on whether it will return next year. Pundits have pointed out how much it improved in the second half of its run, particularly after the vaunted sixth episode which supposedly changed everything. The ratings, however, didn't bear out that shift. Indeed, from its less-than-stellar debut, Dollhouse steadily lost viewers week by week--even after Episode 6--and it's tough to actually blame that on Fox.
No one likes seeing a show they adore struggle for ratings… especially if one considers the show's creator a genius. When things go wrong, the gut response is to look for reasons that still maintain the auteur's aura of infallibility. Hence, Dollhouse's low ratings and diminishing audience couldn't possibly reflect the quality of the show as far as some fans were concerned. Every week, a new excuse appeared. First, it was just slow to get going. Then the Watchmen premiere supposedly kept viewers away. Then the NCAA tournament took over the airwaves. Then The Sarah Connor Chronicles "weighed it down." Each one implicitly suggested that the show would be a huge hit… if only people were locked in their homes on Friday night and every other station were running a test pattern.
Certainly, Dollhouse had the cards stacked against it from the beginning, and Fox didn't do it any favors by programming it on Friday nights. But such excuses only go so far. The steady loss of viewers and continual status at the bottom of the ratings pile infers that a number of people who tuned in just didn't see anything they liked. And frankly, it's not hard to spot the problems. Though intriguing, the central premise smacked of undue gimmickry; its leading lady, Eliza Dushku, clearly lacked the thespian chops to become a new person week after week; and like an uncomfortable number of Whedon projects, it often ended up embodying the very sexism it presumed to decry. Some of those issues could be ironed out, as evinced by the show's late-inning rally. But others were there to stay, and too many viewers decided they had better things do to.
Life may go on, of course. A second season is still possible, and Whedon doubtless has new projects to work on. But those quick to give him credit also need to hold him responsible too. If the great things about Dollhouse were his doing, then so too were the difficulties which doomed it. Even geniuses need to own up to the problems in their work. If they can't, then they neither learn nor grow… which means their next projects are bedeviled by the same issues. Whedon's fans presumably care too much about his work to let that happen. When the dust settles, an honest assessment of Dollhouse--good parts and bad--might do wonders for whatever Big Joss has cooked up next.
24 (Fox, 9:00 PM EDT)
Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub) definitely needs a hug as Jack (Kiefer Sutherland) gets worse and the Will-Patton-led Star Chamber gets closer to gassing the city. Over at the White House, the domestic squabbling between Olivia (Sprague Grayden) and the President (Cherry Jones) heats up as well.
Medium (NBC, 9:00 PM EDT)
With Chuck and Heroes done for the season, Medium hits us with parts one and two of a three-part story. Allison (Patricia Arquette) sells out to a giant corporation--one of the few not in bankruptcy court, apparently--then later has second thoughts when visions of serial killers start dancing in her head.
CSI: Miami (CBS, 10:00 PM EDT)
GRENAAAAAAAAADE!!!! That nice, normal family having dinner next to you might not be so nice and normal after all, especially after playing hot potato with live ordnance. Here's hoping David Caruso gets a chance to sweat out the two-year-old under the interrogation room lights.
Fringe (Fox, 9:00 PM EDT)
Olivia's (Anna Torv) visions become more specific while Walter (John Noble) takes time to focus on ZFT's manifesto.
Reaper (The CW, 8:00 PM EDT)
Play with the devil, you're going to get burned… quite literally in this case, as Nina (Jenny Wade) has to change living arrangements when her place burns down.
The Mentalist (CBS, 9:00 PM EDT)
Never play head games with a man who does it for a living. That's the scenario when Jane (Simon Baker) sets a pair of murder suspects against each in order to determine whodunit.
Underworld: Evolution (FX, 8:00 PM EDT)
This stinky, stinky piece of vampires vs. werewolves nonsense is brightened considerably by the fact that Kate Beckinsale looks really good in a catsuit.
Lost (ABC, 9:00 PM EDT)
Sawyer (Josh Holloway) and Juliette (Elizabeth Mitchell) have been pinched, while Jack (Matthew Fox) and Kate (Evangeline Lily) squabble about whether Faraday's (Jeremy Davies) screwy theory has any validity. Considering that the poor guy just got shot by his mom, maybe they can give him the benefit of the doubt.
CSI: NY (CBS, 10:00 PM EDT)
It's the sunshine-and-daffodils episode as an innocent man goes free and Lindsay (Anna Belknap) gives birth. Murder and mayhem will presumably resume to slake our bloodlust next time.
MonsterQuest (History, 9:00 PM EDT)
Carnivorous fish are on the menu, including something called the Goliath grouper. Again, if anyone has any info on them, do feel free to share. Are they big enough to swallow a man whole? Where do they stand on the "skeletonize a cow" index? Enquiring minds want to know.
UFO Hunters (History, 10:00 PM EDT)
The veracity of a number of objects supposedly of extraterrestrial origin are examined.
SciFi is showing Ghost Hunters all night, but they apparently consist solely of reruns.
Smallville (The CW, 8:00 PM EDT)
Surprise, surprise. Chloe's (Allison Mack) relationship with Davis (Sam Witwer) goes bad and she wants Clark (Tom Welling) to kill him… presumably after she eats the biggest plate of crow ever.
Supernatural (The CW, 9:00 PM EDT)
Sam (Jared Padalecki) uses a panic room to come down from an infusion of demon's blood. Do those things even lock from the outside?
Kröd Mändoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire (Comedy, 10:00 PM EDT)
It's a desperate race to stop Lord Dongalor's (Matt Lucas) fiendish plan. Just like all the other desperate races to stop every other villain's fiendish plans, only theoretically funnier.
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (CBS, 9:00 PM EDT)
The phrase "stomped like a narc in a biker bar," is rarely used literally. In this case, however, an actual narc is stomped in an actual biker bar. Best of luck winnowing down the suspects.
Star Trek: Nemesis (AMC, 8:00 PM EDT)
Star Trek: Generations (Cinemax, 8:00 PM EDT)
Star Trek: First Contact (SciFi, 9:00 PM EDT)
Of all the stations attempting to cash in on the release of the new Star Trek movie, only SciFi bothers to program a decent one. Savor the rich, meaty irony of that and we'll continue.
Highlander (AMC, 10:30 PM EDT)
AKA "The Good One." To help wash that manky post-Star Trek: Nemesis taste out of your mouth.
Dollhouse (Fox, 9:00 PM EDT)
Alan Tudyk returns for more fun and games as the season wraps up. See the top of the article for more.
Ghost Whisperer (CBS, 8:00 PM EDT)
Unquiet spirits Melinda (Jennifer Love Hewitt) can handle. But vampires? You've got the wrong triple-named starlet for that one.
Primeval (SciFi 10:00 PM EDT)
It's Pterodactyl-O-Rama Night as a winged reptile takes flight and presumably needs a stern talking to before devouring anybody.
Batman: The Brave and the Bold (Cartoon, 8:30 PM EDT)
The Brave and the Bold is back! With the Huntress! And the Blue Beetle! And that creepy gangster with the infant's face! Woo-hoo!
Iron Man: Armored Adventures (NickToons, 7:00 PM EDT)
Obadiah Stane is on the loose in another poorly animated episode of this blatant attempt to cash in on the success of the Robert Downey movie. Marvel really can do better…
Men in Black (TNT, 8:00 PM EDT)
The trouble with this 1997 sci-fi/comedy is that people subsequently just stuck Will Smith in any genre film they liked… then failed to add any of the charm, wit, and terrific chemistry with Tommy Lee Jones that proved so essential to its success.
The Chronicles of Riddick (TNT, 10:00 PM EDT)
Dammit, I like Vin Diesel! Even after The Pacifier. And Babylon A.D. And that Sidney Lumet gangster thing he did. And… okay, I'll stop. But give this one another look if you have time. It's much better than people say.
The Incredible Hulk (Cinemax, 10:00 PM EDT)
Vast improvement over the Ang Lee original or hollowed-out rehash of the Bill Bixby TV show? The truth, it seems, is in the eye of the beholder.
The Descent (SciFi, 9:00 PM EDT)
SciFi breaks with tradition to provide a genuinely great film for our Saturday night viewing: Neil Marshall's intense and terrifying account of six female spelunkers who pick the god-king of wrong caves to explore.
Bloodrayne (SciFi, 9:00 PM EDT)
Clearly, The Descent was a one-time only thing. We return to form Sunday night with un film du Uwe Boll: technically based on a video game, which should send a shiver of fear through the hearts of video game fans everywhere. Ben Kingsley co-stars in a palpable career low.