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Dollhouse: Does the 'Better' Episode Live Up to the Hype?

For weeks it seems like we've been hearing from anyone associated with Dollhouse that we just need to sit tight until Episode 6, when the show will really hit its stride. Given the amount of programming that's on TV and the fact that it's already at a disadvantage on a Friday night, that's kind of a lot to ask from people. However, since I'm a Joss Whedon fanatic, I have been hanging in there, hoping that this sluggish start would eventually lead to something good. Well, I've seen the two new episodes that the network sent out and they do seem to be a vast improvement... though I still feel like I'm not 100 percent in love with this show -- yet.

It is clear that they are really trying. Out of the next two eps, the one airing tonight gave me the most hope for the future. Maybe it was because it mostly focused on Ballard, giving his presence on this show some importance and better integration with the main storylines, instead of him seeming like some tacked-on little B-plot. Or maybe it was because Tahmoh Penikett was shirtless. A lot. Seriously. Almost the whole episode. Either way, I finally see the point of this character, and it offered some intriguing, if somewhat predictable, twists. Oh, and another really positive thing? Lots and lots of hand-to-hand combat (and Eliza D. gets to be her awesome kickass self) and just lots of action in gneral. I can't complain about that at all, especially since a "beautiful but dangerous" character is what I'm always happy to see Dushku play.

Tonight's episode is cleverly peppered with man-on-the-street interviews about the urban legend of the Dollhouse, which I also thought was a smart move as it made a lot of sense to me that Ballard wasn't the only person in the world who had heard about these programmable people. Also, it really gave a sense of the scope of the Dollhouse universe -- much more so than we've gotten to see before, with just a few actives and Topher manipulating their minds. And they brought in the funny with Patton Oswalt. Smart. But my biggest quibble with the episode was some of the forced lines of dialogue that just didn't ring true. Usually, my complaint is with almost anything that comes out of Topher's mouth, but here they had Oswalt telling Ballard that "they'll throw the Kindle at you" instead of "the book." The only person who would ever say that is Jeff Bezos. And then there was the use of words like "spankitude." I get that they are trying to pepper the heaviness with some lightness, which I appreciate, but not quite that much.

The second episode they sent, "Needs" (which airs on April 3), was still progressing in the right direction, with the main focus being on the security of the actives, and what indeed would happen to them if they got loose and why some of these actives agreed to volunteer in the first place. Better than all of the the job-of-the-week episodes we've been getting. So, all-in-all, mostly positive. Though I still really, really want to smack Topher sometimes. Is that wrong?

Along with the press screener of the next two episodes was a note from Joss himself, basically asking critics who had written off the show to give it another look. His note actually says: "You've seen what I fondly refer to as the show's 'baby steps' -- these two episodes represent a much stronger vision of what I consider the show to be... For me, the question isn't just whether a show is enjoyable, but whether it is more than the sum of its fun -- whether it truly touches, surprises or connects with you. These eps may do none of the above -- I'm not the boss of your opinion -- but I feel strongly that they, and the eps to follow, are pretty intense, and very much worth the watching."

"Baby steps?" Really? Putting out a high-profile show that is still in its infancy is risky business because while the quality may get better, if the audience declines after five fumbling episodes and never recovers, this show won't ever reach its fully-formed state. And that's a shame, but it's how the television industry works. Networks and advertisers don't typically have the luxury of incubating a show. I appreciate that Joss is out there taking the heat for the mediocre quality of the first batch of episodes (even if he's not entirely to blame), but it is really hard to win people back, especially on a show that has been so hyped before it even got out of the gate.

Take Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles for instance. I found the premiere so unengaging that I have never been able to fully commit to it. I watch sporadically, but feel like it has never lived up to its potential, and maybe that's the same problem with Dollhouse. I'm more than willing to keep watching, because of my appreciation of Joss' other works. After all, I stuck with Angel, even though I didn't like Elisabeth Rohm in the first season, and I'm glad I did. So I'll stick with Dollhouse even though sometimes it pains me. But here's the key factor in this "baby steps" scenario: I am a Joss fan but there are a lot of people in the world that aren't. Asking critics, and the general public, who aren't necessarily Whedon devotees, to give something a second chance is like asking for world peace. Just look at how many people roll their eyes every time Heroes says they've made changes. Or how many hoops that Lost had to jump through to get people to stop ragging on it every week. Network viewers are a fickle bunch and it is worth a try, but I just worry (as someone who is curious to see how Dollhouse unfolds) that it won't ever be enough. Whedon telling the press to spread the word about giving the show another look doesn't mean anyone will listen. And if the ratings don't grow, who knows how Fox will feel. (Well, judging by their past cancel-happy moves, I could hazard a guess...) The truth is that all of this new direction and forward momentum for the show might just be a case of "too little, too late." We'll see.

Will you give the show another chance? Have you written it off for good? Or are you still watching loyally?

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