“A Bright New Day”
November 17th, 2009
In its first four episodes, V has one of the toughest tasks in network television: it needs to both create a sense of momentum (in order to continue to engage viewers) and also leave viewers wanting more (so that they’ll come back when the show returns in March to finish its first season). What’s been clear thus far for the series is that it is sort of trapped between the two tasks, unwilling to blow its metaphorical load but also unwilling to slow things down to fully pull out the most interesting elements of the show’s mythology. It’s led to a methodical but unfocused start to the series, and unfortunately one which hasn’t yet pulled me in to the degree that it seems to want to.
The problem with “A Bright New Day” isn’t that it is doing anything particularly wrong with this premise, but rather that it feels entirely inorganic when introducing any sort of new developments. There is nothing elegant about this show, and while it (unlike FlashForward) has done well to keep its stories more inherently related to the plot of the series it has done nothing to make some of those inherently relevant stories entertaining (although parts of this episode are on the right path). The show is so desperate to show us certain things, and to have certain characters be in certain situations, that it doesn’t really care how it accomplishes it.
And while a more cheesy, 80s inspired series with some flair could easily get away with this, a show that purports to take itself seriously is going to run into a narrative brick wall, hiatus or no hiatus.
“There is No Normal Anymore”
November 10th, 2009
“You still don’t understand humanity.”
And neither does this show.
After a fairly solid pilot that did a good job of making this premise seem like it could be a good one for a television series if not actually demonstrating much in the way of examples of that potential, “There is No Normal Anymore” is the sort of failure that these types of genre shows (including FlashForward) tend to fall into. What goes wrong is nothing to do with the show’s premise and more to do with the fact that the writers seem unwilling to fully embrace that premise from the get go. There are interesting elements in these stories, but as a whole the writing and for that matter the performances just aren’t living up to that interest.
The episode tries to play up a sense of paranoia, but by ignoring the macro level paranoia in favour of the micro level paranoia the show becomes far less interesting than its premise. And, unfortunately for the show, nothing in the writing or in the episode’s forward momentum has me thinking this will change at any time in the near future.
November 3rd, 2009
“Where were you this morning?”
From an overall scheduling standpoint, V’s early November debut is problematic. It forces the show into airing only four short episodes this calendar year, and it won’t return until March with the remainder of its first season. However, in terms of its arrival, it comes perhaps at the perfect time in terms of impressive this particular critic. With disillusionment with FlashForward turning into outright disinterest, there’s room for another serialized piece of mystery/science fiction programming in my life.
And while there are some issues with V’s pilot, mostly stemming from issues symptomatic of pilots more than this particular show, it manages to do what FlashForward did not. By not only providing an adrenaline-filled opening that catches the eye with sharp rhetoric and explosive imagery but then following it up by demonstrating that it has long-term social and personal consequences (that the show intends to deal with), the show maintains an expansive scenario without reducing it to a single perspective. While the arrival of the Visitors affects some individuals more than others, that interpersonal conflict is superseded by a broader cultural impact that is as much a part of the show’s identity as is any one individual’s story.
What results is a pilot that manages to be both action-packed and ideologically-driven, and the building blocks of a show which could logically remain both of these things over its run so long as behind the scenes production issues don’t get in the way.
May 8th, 2009
If there is a single common trait amongst Joss Whedon’s best work, it’s passion. There is this impression that Whedon is pouring his heart into every little scene, and it’s almost always clear when Whedon himself is scripting an episode because it feels particularly purposeful and engaging. And, as a result of this, his passionate legion of fans respond in kind, and a fan favourite series is born. Unfortunately, the same series is probably also doomed to criminally low ratings, so to an extent Whedon has been painted with the brush of “Critical Darling, Ratings Failure.”
But to be honest, halfway through Dollhouse’s inaugural season, I didn’t feel Joss Whedon’s passion for this series: the premise wasn’t being used to its potential, the actors weren’t being allowed to dig into their characters, and in a television arena where patience is not a dependable virtue amongst a mainstream audience Whedon waited six episodes before finally delivering something with a pulse. But out of loyalty to a man whose work I admire and who even admitted last month at PaleyFest that he was going through a creative struggle on his end more than network intereference, myself and the legions of Whedonverse fans patiently waited for the show to break free.
And break free it has: starting with “Man on the Street” and extending into “Spy in the House of Love” and last week’s fantastic “Briar Rose,” the series has not so much reinvited itself as it has discovered the proper perspective on its themes and ideas. Even the episodes not quite as effective have helped to introduce key elements in a way that, rather than seeming like a random “This could be cool, I guess” sort of storyline, feel organic in the season’s momentum. Key mysteries were squared away faster than expected, one key reveal was played so well that being spoiled didn’t even matter, and heading into “Omega” there have been a number of critics who have noted that Dollhouse has quite stealthily become the show they most want saved during this year’s upfronts.
What impresses me about “Omega” is that it doesn’t present a cliffhanger, nor does it fundamentally change our knowledge of the Dollhouse universe (although I thought we should have seen it change on its own a bit more); while it confirms just what happened with Alpha, and makes good on a subtle line from Dominic last week that many astute fans picked up on, the episode is more about paying off some of the ethical questions and dilemmas posed over the last season in such a way as to less justify than explain them. While not perfect, slowing a bit in its conclusion and struggling in sections that required comic timing from Eliza Dushku, it was a finale that nicely summed up why this show is most certainly worth saving, while leaving more than enough questions to lay the groundwork for a second season.