Fall 2010 New Show Roundup

Having watched a number of the new shows that debut this fall, here are some thoughts:

My Generation: I was interested in this show in no small part due to the fact that the main characters, nine students from the class of 2000 at an Austin high school, are nearly my age-peers.  I graduated in the class of 2001 (we did not play Space Odyssey, I’m sad to say), and am far away from where I thought I would be at that time.

This show takes the mocumentary style and applies it to a drama, where filmmakers followed nine students throughout their senior year, and is now checking in with them ten years later.  The characters are introduced with their High School clique labels, such as “The Nerd,” “The Brains,” “The Jock,” etc.  and then shown in their current lives, often very far away from where they’d expected to be.  Circumstances in the characters’ lives bring many of them back to Austin, re-connecting with those who had never left or already returned.

The pilot clearly set the stakes, established the characters and their current trajectories vs. their self-professed worlds that they had imagined for themselves in 2000.  It’s not fantastic, but it’s compelling so far and I’m likely to keep watching for a little while, if for no reason than the degree to which it makes me think about what has been happening in my own life vs. what I expected when I was a senior in HS.

The Event — This is the new The New LOST.  The Event uses mosaic-style storytelling, jumping between characters and time frames in a fairly jarring manner, though over the episode, the rhythm became less distracting for me.  The focus on Sean Walker (Jason Ritter) in the first episode brings the audience into the middle of The titular Event, balanced with POV sections from President Martinez (played by Blair Underwood — no relation) and others.

For me, much of my level of ongoing interest will depend on the truth of the Mt. Inostranka facility.  Who are these people, and how are they connected to The Event?  Once we know more about that, it’ll be easier to decide how much I care.  There are several options that are yawn-worthy, and some others that could prove quite compelling.

Undercovers — The new sexy spy offering from Alias-creator J.J. Abrams is cute and fun.  It’s not fantastic, but it does show a happily-married african-american couple as series leads, which is still noteworthy for network TV.   It’s Sexy People Doing Sexy Spy Things, but it’s pretty well-done, and the leads are both gorgeous and likeable.  I won’t stay home for this one, but I’ll probably catch up via Hulu every so often.

No Ordinary Family — The Pilot of this one hasn’t actually aired, but I got to watch a preview last month when they had it in limited availability.  No Ordinary Family is very nearly a Live Action The Incredibles, with an origin closer to the Fantastic Four, who were an obvious inspiration for the Pixar film.

Michael Chiklis is Jim Powell, police sketch artist and under-appreciated dad.  He feels fairly powerless and disconnected from his family, including his Bigwig Scientist Wife, Stephanie Powell (Julie Benz).  Their children are Just-Trying-To-Fit-In Daphne (Kay Panabaker) and Undiagnosed Learning Disability Kid Brother JJ (Jimmy Bennett).

Jim convinces the family to take a vacation, which leads to their plane crashing into the Amazon — their trip is ruined, but shortly after their return, the members of the family begin manifesting super-powers.  Jim gains incredible strength and toughness, Stephanie gets super-speed, Daphne becomes telepathic and JJ gets a massive intelligence boost.

The show’s formula seems like it will include Jim using his powers and police connections to fight crime while the rest of the family goes about their lives trying to deal with their powers — there are also hints of a larger super-world which will likely play a role as the show goes forward.

Of the new shows this season, I’m probably most excited about No Ordinary Family — it’s fun, doesn’t take itself to seriously, and seems to be respectful of its genre roots.

Hawaii Five-O — The joys of remakes.  I didn’t really watch much of the original, as it was mostly before my time.  However, the new show keeps what some say is the best part of the original show — the opening theme.

Alex O’Laughlin plays Steve McGarrett, who is brought out of the Middle East and offered a position heading a new state police unit in Hawaii, with no red tape and vast resources, tasked with bringing down TV-worthy criminals across the state.

He crosses paths with Danny “Danno” Williams, a divorced father who moved to Hawaii to be near his daughter (who primarily lives with her mother and step-dad), and also recruits Chin Ho (Daniel Dae Kim), a disgraced cop who worked with McGarrett’s father.  Rounding out the cast is Grace Park, playing Chin Ho’s cousin Kona “Kono” Kalakaua, a hotshot rookie policewoman.  McGarrett recruits her right out of the academy, as she’d have trouble getting respect in the normal force due to her familial connection to the disgraced Chin Ho.

The exotic locale, nostalgia, and charming cast are likely to be the show’s best assets, at least to begin with.  I admit that if the show finds a way to highlight Grace “Boomer” Park’s gorgeousness on a regular basis, that will help by willingness to watch.

The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers

The Uprising has begun.

After a year of build-up and promotion, the LXD webseries has debuted (on Hulu.com and on the LXD website).

LXD first caught my attention with the pair of trailers that have been available for quite some time, displaying clips of incredible feats of athleticism through dance and promising a superhero-style story. In the time that has passed since, more details have been unveiled:

Director John M. Chu is the spokesperson for the series, which displays a group of talented dancers by creating a narrative which casts the dancers as superhuman — after all, these people are perfoming at a level which cannot be matched by more than a handful of people around the world. And many of the feats do appear superhuman.

The LXD then is a super-team of people who have discovered their powers through dance and are gathering their forces for…something — which I imagine puts John M. Chu in the role of the Professor Xavier to the nascent Legion. Also, there seems to be a creepy dancer bad-guy who would then be the series’ Magneto. From origin stories to secret powers and a group of heroes seeking out talented youth to train and add to the team, the superhero motifs are already well in-place.

Two episodes have gone live so far, “The Tale of Trevor Drift” and “Antigravity Heroes,” both debuting on July 7th on Hulu and the LXD site. “The Tale of Trevor Drift” is the longer and more narratively meat-y of the two, showing the origin story of a young man whose powers manifest through his skills as a b-boy, which he reveals when he pursues his crush (Alice Wondershaw) at prom and is opposed by her boyfriend, Brendan Broman. (His name is seriously Broman. As in “Bro, Man.” I find this hilarious).

The second episode, “Antigravity Heroes,” focuses on two friends who gain anti-gravity powers when they horse around in an abandoned warehouse. There’s far less characterization, and it’s mostly a showcase episode until the end when the friends are pulled apart by circumstance…and evil plotting. Let’s not forget evil plotting.

As of yet, the narrative is not terribly sophisticated, but I’m intrigued by the superhero framework and consistently amazed by the level of the dancing. Dance Crew as Super-Team is a great metaphor, and I’m eager to see more.

For those unfamiliar with the series, here’s what to watch:

http://thelxd.com — You can watch the first two episodes here, as well as many of their promotional appearances, including The Oscars, So You Think You Can Dance, and their appearance at the TED Talks.

The episodes are also playing at http://hulu.com/thelxd

I think I need their T-Shirt.  When they come for me, I will be known as Turbo, with Tactile Telepathy (via Tango Dancing).

Review: V — “Pilot”

I was too young to watch/remember the original V miniseries/ongoing series, but I learned the basic premise growing up as a geek.  I’ll be talking about stuff that constitutes as spoilers, but not really, as ABC is foregrounding the ‘Big Sekrit!’ of the V’s identity even in the previews.  Most of what I’ll talk about is the not-hard-to-find Vs = Obama reading.

The leader of the Vs is played by Morena Baccarin, a Brazillian woman whose looks are easily pushed past beauty to the edge of the uncanny valley, her mixed-ethnicity background easily positioned as ‘exotic’ from a US-American gaze.  All of the Vs who are seen in the public eye would count as attractive, and even in the pilot, the Vs are leveraging attractiveness into manipulation (one sub-plot features the FBI-Agent lead’s son being attracted to a female V played by Laura “Supergirl” Vandervoort).

The Pilot episode gets all the way to the ‘Vs are actually Lizards and trying to take over the world’ stage, with Elizabeth “LOST Juliette” Mitchell and Joel “4400” Gretsch as FBI Agent and Pastor who are witness to a V attack on a word-of-mouth group spreading word of the Vs’ real agenda.

A note — unless you go in looking for the Obama = V reading, it may be rather easy to miss/not think of it.  It’s not that the show pounds you over with it.  The show’s pacing is strong (stronger than the original miniseries in the equivalent section that I watched), and goes quickly to the ‘The Vs are tricking people, time to fight back!’ stage of the story, where our two adult leads will develop a resistance, with assistance from another lead — how quickly he’ll connect with the group is hard to tell.  Interpersonal conflict will come from the FBI Agent’s son getting deeper in bed (literally) with the Vs and refusing to accept mom’s warnings/explanations of the V’s villainy.  This is exacerbated by the fact that until the resistance can get a V corpse to show the lizard under-parts, they don’t have a very strong case.

It was great to see Alan Tudyk in the show, though I don’t think he’s listed as a full series regular.  He brought a great balance of seriousness and levity to the show, remind us how awesome an actor he is (as if we needed any more reminding after “Briar Rose/Alpha” in Dollhouse.

The new version of V seems to be written and executed in a way that invites an anti-Obama reading. The rhetoric of the pilot episode includes mentions of Hope!  Change!  Universal Health Care! and features a charismatic leader of mixed ethnicity.  There’s an interesting degree to which this version of V is a dream come true for the Fox News Opinion Show crew.  Many of the most outrageous fears about Obama are made manifest in the series — The Vs come with a message of hope and change, with people flocking to them, clamoring to be saved.  The Vs insinuate themselves into people’s hearts, but are secretly not who they say they are and will take over and destroy the world.

Basically, the premise reads like an unused script from the Glenn Beck show with space-lizards instead of Chairman Mao.  The show’s basic premise is much as it was in the 80s series (as far as I know/have read), but it just goes to show that as times change, a story can remain more or less the same but be read very differently.  It seems that the new ABC version of V is specifically written to highlight the Vs as Obama reading (the rhetoric about hope and change and universal health care),

Overall, the Pilot isn’t magnificent, but it is a solid start and I’m interested to see how this version continues and develops like or unlike the original.

Now I leave review-land and go into ‘I’m a writer-land’ — I realize that I’d be as interested or possibly more interested in a series where the aliens really were trying to improve humanity’s lot, with conflict coming from paranoia and quibbling over cultural differences/expectations between the Vs and various US cultures.  Basically, if it were a script from Keith Olbermann/Rachel Maddow instead of Glenn Beck. 😛  A story that highlights the tension between a well-meaning group with technological advantage and an ambivalent community that doesn’t want to bow to cultural demands but does want those technologies.  This presents a different metaphor, more analogous to western humanitarian campaigns in the 3rd world/Global South — where cultural imperialism comes part-and-parcel (intentional or unintentional) with humanitarian aid.

Sadly, this would probably not work as a TV show — it would lend itself much less to explosions and gunfights and the like.

Review: Stargate Universe “Air Part 1&2”

I watched the Stargate film back in 1994 when it came to theatres, and then when Stargate: SG-1 came around, I didn’t bother watching it.  I watched a season-and-a-half or so of Stargate:Atlantis, and was usually amused. But I have many friends who swear by various parts of the Stargate-verse, loving SG-1 and trashing on Atlantis, loving-but-criticizing-Atlantis and not caring about SG-1, etc.

So when I saw that there was a new, supposedly stand-alone Stargate series, I took notice.  The casting of Robert Carlyle in the lead went a long way towards getting my attention, as did the concept.

For those not already in the know, here’s the breakdown:  Stargate Universe is about a group of people who get trapped on an ancient spaceship made by a predecessor species only known as the Ancients.  The ship was designed to tour the universe, and from time to time opens up a dimensional portal (the Stargates, natch) to a habitable planet in the surrounding galaxy.  The Stargate remains open for a finite amount of time, and the ship is on auto-pilot, preventing the heroes from taking control of its route.  Using the gate to get back to Earth or to get from Earth to the ship (called the Destiny) is tremendously-plot-says-don’t-do-it difficult.  The tone seems to be substantially darker than previous Stargate series, prompting people to dub it Stargate Galactica or BattleStargate, likening it to the critically-acclaimed 2004-09 Battlestar Galactica.

The overall formula seems to be (Stargate + LOST) x (Sliders + Battlestar Galacatica) = Stargate Universe — which is certainly not a bad mixture of inspirations.

A more detailed and spoilery review follows:

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New TV Thoughts (and some returning shows)

Glee: I really like that the show is continuing to build an argument for its thesis, seen in the epitaph for Irene Adler in the Pilot. “Glee, by its very definition, is about opening yourself up to joy.” We’ve seen Glee/musical theatre/dancing help a variety of the primary and secondary characters express themselves, find unrecognized talent. In “Preggers,” we see Quinn’s pregnancy introduced, which will allow for the classic narrative technique of using two problems to resolve one another. Terri needs a baby (or thinks she needs one to keep Will), and Will doesn’t want to be a dad (and Quinn would probably rather not have to raise a child at this time). The questions now are when/if Will and Finn discover their respective partner’s lies.

Something to keep an eye on is that most of the antagonism in the show is being conducted by female characters — Terri’s lies, Rachel’s tantrums, Sue’s schemes, Quinn’s plots to reclaim her boyfriend. I hope that we don’t continue to see the women in the show as the ones causing the problems for the cast. However, we do have Sandy’s meddling, Ken acting as a obstacle standing between Will and Emma. Luckily, we also have Emma, who is probably the most unquestionably positive character in the show. The attraction between her and Will is antagonistic to Will and Terri’s marriage, but Terri is still marginally likeable at best, even if it is now easier to empathize with her.

The real winner of this episode, however, was Kurt and his story. After coming out to Mercedes last episode, Kurt comes out of the gates with the “Single ladies” dance in a unitard, rocking out in his fabulosity. He lands the kicker gig and then helps the football team break their losing streak. And why, how? Through the empowering force of dancing…to a music video from a female performer, talking about being a single lady. The best moment of the episode for me, and one of the best of the show so far — seeing the football team break out into the dance, and one of the opposing team’s players getting into it as well. The power of dance compels you!

Eastwick: Desperately Magical Housewives. A re-make/sequel to the Updike novel and/or the earlier TV series, this brings us three women of Eastwick who are stuck in their lives, wishing for a change. A powerful sexy dark man whisks into town to fulfill all their dreams — sex, control, power. The show didn’t really grab me despite some respectable performances. I’m clearly not the intended demographic, and it may appeal to hardcore fans of Housewives and/or Sex and the City, Lipstick Jungle, etc.

Accidentally on Purpose: This one is basically Knocked Up: The Series. Woman in her thirties has a one-night stand with boytoy. One-night stand becomes several week stand, and then she gets pregnant. Boy is homeless and Woman invites him to stay with her while he gets on his feet. Clearly, they will fall in love over a course of stumbling back and forth romantic comedy follies. The performances over the series will determine whether the show is worthwhile or just more execrable crap. How I Met Your Mother works as a romantic comedy series for two big reasons: The amazing work of the actors, and the ridiculousness of the stories involved. Time will tell if Accidentally on Purpose can achieve those reasons or find some of its own. This is also one of two ‘Cougar’ TV shows, along with “Cougar Town.” Cougars are bi now. I know because MTV told me so. 😛

FastForward(preview): I’ve only seen the first 17 minutes of this, since the premiere is tonight on ABC. This adaptation of the Robert J. Sawyer novel has the whole world blacking out for two minutes and 17 seconds, with a vision of 6 months in the future. Our leads so far (from the preview) are two mae FBI agents, one agent’s wife (a doctor), one of the doctor’s colleagues, the doctor and agent’s daughter, and that family’s babysitter. We have John “Harold” Cho as one of the agents and Joseph Fiennes as the other. Sonya Walger (Penny from LOST) plays the female doctor.

ABC seems to be trying to make this the next LOST, but this show’s concept is actually far more contained, since there’s only so long you can go before hitting the six month mark and seeing how people’s futures have changed (or not). The larger question of “why” can provide the show with some longer-term legs, but as with any serial character-driven show, it comes down to the execution of the characters’ arcs.

Returning Shows:

Castle: This was one of my favorite new shows last year: Fillion is a fantastic comedic/dramatic lead, and the Castle/Beckett dynamic is dynamic and story-productive. I was happy to see the famous-writer poker game come back, and was appreciative of Beckett’s quick change to Russian Girlfriend Mode to get in to the underground game. Here we saw flashes of Beckett as taking a cue from What Would Nikki Heat Do? — It’ll be interesting to see if Nikki Heat as a character influences Kate Beckett as a character. I’m imagining that investigating Kate’s mother’s murder will be the arc-plot for the first season (if not longer), and we’ll continue to see Castle and Beckett become increasingly reliant on one another. Whether this leads to them connecting romantically remains to be seen, ala television convention.

Review: Defying Gravity (Pilot through H2IK)

The 2009 series Defying Gravity is notable for several reasons, first among these being the fact that it is a multinational production, a collaboration between BBC, Fox Television Studios, SPACE, and others.

It’s also being simultaneously broadcast in first-run in Canada, the UK, Germany and Canada. In the US, it’s being broadcast by ABC, and is available on Hulu.com

The show is centered on a 6-year space exploration mission on board the Antares. The eight-person crew includes 4 men and 4 women. The primary POV character is Maddux Donner (Ron Livingston), who appears to be the primary POV character. Donner, along with antagonistic Mike Goss (Andrew Airlie) and Ted Shaw (Malik Yoba) were part of a Mars mission which lost two members.

Defying Gravity was originally pitched as “Grey’s Anatomy in space,” given a relationship-focus to ground (heh) the space exploration elements. In the first four episodes aired thusfar, the space plots tend to combine/resonate with the interpersonal stories, adding to each. The show also includes several elements reminiscent of LOST, with flashbacks to the crew throughout their training process and also to the Mars mission with Donner, Goss and Shaw, as well as a mystery that shows that the Antares mission may be more than originally advertised. It’s also easily compared to the backdoor pilot-turned-tv-movie Virtuality — though unlike Virtuality, by skipping the virtual reality element, I think Defying Gravity manages to not be conceptually over-stuffed. It’s showing a balance between ‘OMG something on the ship is broken!,’ ‘This person won’t sleep with me!’ and ‘What’s in pod 4?’ — There is a reality TV element to the show, as the crew is completely monitored, with the pilot also serving as the TV show producer/host, but that element has not been foregrounded as much in the first episodes.

So far, the show is not phenomenal, but it is promising, with indications of interpersonal plots unfolding over several years worth of stories. I’m excited to see more, though so far, its US ratings haven’t been terribly impressive. ABC may drop the series if the numbers don’t go up, but I can’t say if that would mean the show was entirely doomed, given its multi-national status.

Defying Gravity airs Sunday nights on ABC (with episodes appearing on Hulu.com the morning following).

(P)review: Glee

I’ve maintained for a few years now that the world needs more high-profile musicals. It’s certainly due to my own bias, but every so often, a show/film/whatever that reminds me why I love the genre.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes about creating art, from Etienne Decroux, known for his Corporeal Mime style:

One must have something to say. Art is first of all a complaint. One who is happy with things as they are has no business being on the stage. — Etienne Decroux

In addition to its own argument, any musical can be seen as an argument that we need more music and wonder in our lives — by positing a universe where people are able to delve into emotion and express it through song and dance.

Glee achieves this effect not by the unrealistic approach of expecting everyday people to burst into song in unison and perfectly execute choreagraphy that didn’t exist five seconds before, however. It contextualizes the musical theatre genre within actual musical theatre — in this case a High School Glee club in the fictional McKinley High School of Lima, OH.

The members of the Glee club are outcasts and outsiders who don’t fit in anywhere, as well as the odd-man-out for the outsiders — Finn Hudson (Cory Montieth) the quarterback of football squad, who has cultivated a love of music from an early age.

The show is quirky, cute, fun and inspirational, with compelling oddball characters well cast and well-performed. Especially outstanding are Jane Lynch as Sue Sylvester, the coach of the socially dominant “Cheerios” cheerleading squad, Lea Michele as Rachel Berry, self-styled ingenue, and Jayma Mays as Emma Pillsbury, the cute OCD school counselor with feelings for the Spanish-teacher director of the glee club.

In what I can only hope will be a tradition for the show, two pieces from the Pilot are available as iTunes downloads — a rival glee club’s rendition of Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” and the McKinley glee club’s version of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”, well-chosen for its ability to be a theme not just for the pilot, but the whole show.

Glee is a quirky, oddball show full of underdogs. Initial response to the show is very positive, and there is a lot to be positive about. I encourage readers to look for the pilot episode on Fox.com and Hulu, then watch the show as it continues this fall.


Review — Castle “Flowers For Your Grave”

Nathan Fillion’s new series Castle premiered last night on ABC, and the pilot has already established a number of character dynamics and claimed its own territory in the Specialist + Handler mode of procedural drama.

Fillion stars as Richard Castle, narcissistic best-selling mystery novelist.  Castle is called in to assist Detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) when a copycat killer re-creates murder scenes from Castle’s books.   Castle’s upcoming book  kills off the protagonist of his long-running series of best-sellers, and Castle is now stymied by writer’s block.

Katic and Fillion have created great chemistry between their characters, but Fillion is the real stand-out here.  Castle has enough qualities in common with his role of Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly to re-captrure some of the fun of that character. Castle is rebellious, impulsive, and narcicisstic, while Beckett is controlled, by the book, and sharp-tongued.  They grate on one another in a way that brings conflict but also sexual chemistry as a result.  Like any similar situation, much will depend on how well the ‘will-they-won’t-they’ question is handled.

Aside from the chemistry between the leads, I think the show’s main staying power will be the fact that Castle sees everything through the lens of storytelling and the laws of dramatic narrative.  He continues investigating a case after it is initially ‘closed’ due to the fact that as it was, it made a crappy story.  He also reads people well based on his experience with characterization.  Castle sees things that Beckett doesn’t, and Beckett picks up on things when Castle misses them.  Castle‘s version of the Specialist appeals to me specifically because of my love of genre conventions and because I am a writer myself.  It is likely to appeal not only to general procedural watchers but especially to true fans of the genre due to the way that it weaves in direct discussion of the mystery/detective genre to the story.

At the end of the pilot, we’ve established how the show is going to work — Castle is doing research for his new series (with a protagonist inspired by Det. Beckett), so he’ll be hanging around getting into trouble, giving insights based on investigative and/or dramatic theory, and annoying the hell out Beckett, while they’ll waltz around their feelings.

Castle is for Fillion fans, procedural fans, and for fans of self-referential/post modern genre/narrative amusement.

Dollhouse — “Ghost”

“Ghost” was not the original pilot for Dollhouse, Joss Whedon’s new show on FOX.  Like Firefly before it, Fox asked Whedon and Mutant Enemy to produce a new, more accessible pilot than the first one delivered.

Dollhouse is centered on a business known to urban legend as the Dollhouse, a business that can offer clients an Active, a companion/servant/lover/etc. with any skills, any personality, any memories needed for the situation.  In “Ghost,” the Active called Echo (Eliza Dushku) is at first a 21st-century Cinderella, the perfect woman for a weekend-long, no-strings love affair for one client, and then becomes a by-the-book hostage negotiator for another client.  Between her ‘engagements,’ Echo lives in the Dollhouse as a childlike tabula rasa, unaware of what happens when she ‘goes to sleep.’

Olivia Williams plays Adelle DeWitt, the owner/operator of the Dollhouse business.  She speaks of the organization as being one that helps people, but tries to keep the business side above all else.  Her tools of control over the Actives include Topher Brink (Fran Kranz), who programs the Actives, and Dr. Claire Saunders, the staff Doctor for the Actives.  Echo’s handler in the field, there to take her to her assignments, protect her there, and bring her back is former policeman Boyd Langdon (Harry Lennix).

One of the questions I’d had leading up to the premiere was if and to what degree the show would address the lives of the “actives” before they signed on with the Dollhouse.  “Ghost” does just that, opening with Echo (before she becomes Echo) in conversation with DeWitt.  DeWitt is offering Not-Yet-Echo a five-year contract as an Active, and promises that when the term is over, the organization will help clear up the Vague But Important trouble that Not-Yet-Echo has gotten herself into.

Providing a counter-point narrative is Agent Paul Ballard (Battlestar Galactica’s Tamoh “Helo” Penikett), who has been assigned to the Dollhouse case for the last 14 months.  Ballard has bent and broken the rules chasing the Dollhouse, which has drawn the ire of his immediate superiors — however, it’s made clear that someone high up in the organization believes in the Dollhouse, since Ballard is kept on the case.  Ballard tracks and confronts Victor, one of the other actives (played by Enver Gjokaj).  The Actives know nothing of their special nature or the Dollhouse while they are being ‘engaged,’ which stymies Ballard’s efforts.

The premise makes for a show that pushes the normal boundaries of the episodic drama.  Not only will there be a new problem and new guest-stars every week, Echo will be a different character each episode, spending most of her time not as Echo, but as the person her client needs her to be.

The show’s momentum is built off of the fact that Echo begins to remember flashes from between engagements and from her time in the Dollhouse.   The first of these memories is seeing a new Active called Sierra (Dichen Lachman) in intense pain as her original memories are being wiped. Echo’s growing self-awareness and memory will allow the engagements to retain ongoing meaning, but the show faces the problem that in any given episode, a classic “What happened last episode stays in last episode” effect will occur, one that tends to bespeak lazy writing.  This problem cannot have eluded Whedon and the creative team for the show, but it remains to be seen if audiences will respond positively to this unusual format.

Fortunately, there is more than enough eye candy to go around, for everyone.  Between Dushku, Penikett, Lachman, Gjokaj, Williams, et al, the pretty doesn’t stop.

The thematic center of the show is well-established by Not-Yet-Echo’s comments to a video yearbook being played in front of a mysterious character in “Ghost”‘s tag — Not-Yet-Echo is a recent graduate with her whole life in front of her.  She wants to be every person, travel to every place, have every experience.  We’re asked to think that while no ‘normal’ person can actually have every experience or be all of the people they want to be, as Echo she can.  The irony there is that in order to become every person, have every experience, she has to give up her own identity, her sense of self.  Whedon has explicitly said that the show also focuses on objectification, the way that we make other people into who we need them to be rather than who they are.  The Dolls are ‘perfect’ objects in that way, until of course the perfection breaks down and the object achieves/reclaims subjectivity outside of their ‘engagements’

At that time, the memories building up and Echo may either remember who she was before or build a new sense of self.  Will she spark the same reactions in Victor and Sierra?  How will her chemistry with Ballard feed into this growth, where Echo is a different person every time she and Ballard meet?  What did Not-Yet-Echo do to get in so much trouble?  What happened to the people surrounding the mystery man watching Not-Yet-Echo’s video?  There are a lot of dramatic questions established right away, which should give viewers more reasons to keep watching week to week, as answers get doled out in a manner probably reminiscent of LOST, Battlestar Galactica and the other top contemporary dramas.

The show’s initial order was nine episodes, two of which seem to be taken up by the shelved pilot.  Whedon has had bad luck with FOX, a network notorious for cancelling beloved shows.  It remains to be seen if Dollhouse will survive long enough for its answers to unfold.  Tune in to find out.