Looking Into the ‘Dollhouse’

By  | has a first look at Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse. Read on!

Tucked in a dark room in a spa-like L.A. set, Eliza Dushku (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) lies on a table, grimacing as a gizmo pulses light on her temples. It’s not erasing unsightly laugh lines, but rather her entire memory. But you’ll want to remember this: She’s shooting the pilot for Fox’s Dollhouse (which will premiere in early 2009), the first new show from Buffy creator Joss Whedon since Firefly flickered out in 2003. Evoking memories of Alias, Samantha Who?, The Pretender, and Total Recall — then wiping them away with the promise of Whedon’s distinctively hilarious, humane, high-strange vision — Dollhouse follows Dushku’s Echo, a mysterious agent with no identity except for the personalities imprinted on her and then deleted by her employer depending on the wishes and needs of wealthy clients. Between assignments, Echo lives inside a cushy secret HQ with other blank-slate dolls in a state of oblivious, hyper-healthy bliss…though as the series unfolds, she’s starting to remember stuff she shouldn’t.

Whedon says that, like Buffy and Firefly, Dollhouse aspires to be both deep (how does society shape, influence, ”program” the individual: discuss!) and fun. A typical episode will see Dushku cycle through three to four personas, making for a wild mix of moods and genres. ”The other day I shot scenes for a 1940s musical dance number and a Mexican spaghetti Western — just for the pilot episode,” says Whedon, kicking back on a plush couch under the stairwell of Dollhouse‘s set. Says Dushku: ”It’s really perfect for my personality, which is kind of ADD. It’s nice to not have the same wardrobe every day.”

Such a complicated idea, and it was all hatched during one bathroom break. Last fall, Dushku invited Whedon — a close friend since he cast her as Buffy bad-girl slayer Faith — to lunch at the Ivy to discuss her desire to develop a smart and sexy TV role that would let her prove her range. During the meal, Whedon went to the john, where the Dollhouse premise suddenly struck him. He returned with a pitch, which she immediately ate up: ”It was the best lunch I ever splurged for,” says Dushku. ”If I was going to do TV again, it had to be with Joss.”

Whedon quickly fleshed out the cast, bringing in Olivia Williams (The Sixth Sense) as the Dollhouse CEO, Amy Acker (Alias) as the dolls’ personal physician, Fran Kranz (Welcome to the Captain) as the geeky personality programmer, and Tahmoh Penikett (Battlestar Galactica) as an FBI agent investigating their bizarre business. Fox has committed to producing seven episodes of Dollhouse, which will feature largely stand-alone stories and an evolving subplot of an MIA doll. ”It was a fresh idea that didn’t promise to become overwhelmed by mythology,” says Fox Entertainment president Kevin Reilly. ”And it brought Eliza and Joss back to TV.” Hardcore Whedonites will recall how their hero clashed with Fox over Firefly, which the network canceled after just 11 episodes. But Whedon says a new network regime has helped him forgive, if not forget. ”Everyone knows that my last experience here was devastating, and remains so. But the support for Dollhouse has been nothing short of amazing,” says Whedon. ”The show is morally dark and strange, so it’s fun for me, and it gives Eliza the chance to do the thing I’ve always wanted to see her do — which is everything.” And fans can only hope that this show will last longer than Echo’s memory.

Liz is a wife and mother of three from the Nashville area who likes being able to discuss her favorite TV shows with adults sometimes. She is addicted to the Sookie Stackhouse novels and was a huge fan of the HBO series based on the books, True Blood. Her other favorite shows include Chuck, Grimm, Pretty Little Liars, Blindspot, Heroes Reborn, The Goldbergs, Sleepy Hollow, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter, just to name a few. Contact her at