by Jennifer Squires Biller
Last week I was invited to a conference call with one of my favorite TV writers: Joss Whedon.
Yes, that Joss Whedon, of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly fame.
Whedon was, of course, funny. Anyone familiar with his writing knows he can turn a phrase so quickly and so humorously that you’re laughing before you realize just how clever he really is.
Whedon participated in the call to speak to journalists about his new TV show Dollhouse, premiering on FOX Friday at 9 p.m. ET.
Dollhouse is set in a futuristic laboratory where the residents are implanted with memories and skills and then assigned various tasks and personas, only to have their memories erased upon the completion of their assignments. They can become anyone. The show centers on Echo, actress Eliza Dushku, (Faith of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.) Echo is beginning to realize who she is and what’s going on.
Here’s a quick recap of the interview. You have to love a guy who can use the words “enounce” and “amorphous” in the same sentence. (See the paragraph where he discusses the genesis of the show.)
Comparing Dollhouse to Whedon’s former shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly.
Whedon: “There is a lot of fun and a lot of humor in it. What it doesn’t have is an inherent silliness that both Buffy and Firefly had, and even Angel. That was we could just take one step back, that part of the fun was deconstructing the genre we were in. This has to be a little bit more grounded in order for it to play, or it would become campy, and with vampires and spaceships and horses, we had more leeway to be a little less realistic in how we plotted things. But humor is a part of the show all over the place, because we have really funny actors, and these situations do become absurd, and besides, we would get really bored if we didn’t.”
On rewriting the Dollhouse pilot to make the network happier:
Whedon: “Part of the mandate of the show is to make people nervous. It’s to make them identify with people they don’t like and get into situations that they don’t approve of, and also look at some of the heroic side of things and wonder if maybe they were wrong about what motivated those as well. So we’re out to make people uncomfortable, but not maybe so much our bosses…. We had all of the elements, the characters, none of which were changed really, and none of the regular characters, and the premise, the concept, the way we were able to explore what makes us human, all of that is in there. As the season progresses, it ends up going exactly where I had hoped it would go before all of this happened, so I do feel like we got back to our vision in a way that really works for the network. And the last few episodes that we just completed shooting got all of us extraordinarily excited.”
On the Friday night time slot
Whedon: “Honestly, I really do see the opportunity there because the deal with the Friday night time slot was you don’t come out, bang, opening weekend, and it’s all decided. It’s about growing a fan base, both for Dollhouse and Terminator. I think Terminator is a remarkably good show, and the kind of show that makes sense to be paired with Dollhouse, so I feel great about that, plus I get to see all these posters with Summer (Glau) and Eliza together and that’s just too cool. Ultimately, this is a show where people will hopefully become intrigued and then hang in, that really builds, so it needs the 13 weeks, and it needs the 13 weeks of people paying attention, but not so much attention that it gets burned out in the glare of the spotlight. I’ve always worked best under the radar. Most of my shows people have come to after they stopped airing, but I would like to buck that trend, and at the same time, it is part of how I work that you stay with it and it grows on you and it becomes family, and the Friday night is a much better place for that to actually happen.”
On whether he’ll do any of his trademark unique ideas such as having an episode where no one speaks (Buffy), an episode of puppets (Angel) or an all musical episode (Buffy.)
Whedon: “Most of the things I think have been done at some point, and we don’t think it’s done for their own sakes, but one of the exciting things about the show, one of the reasons why we’re excited to have more runs at it is that you can really come at these stories from a lot of different perspectives; from the perspective of a client, from the perspective, as we do in episode six, from the man on the street, from the perspective of obviously Echo or any of the dolls or the people who are running it. But I don’t have anything specific in mind, and no, I’m not planning a Dollhouse musical just yet.”
Commenting on episode two of Dollhouse and why it wasn’t used as the pilot. (I won’t spoil you but the concept is a bit “outrageous.”)
Whedon: “Outrageous is always good. That episode was meant originally to be around episode five, or possibly even eight, and it was the network who said, excuse me, did you say bow hunting? That will come second please, because we already had the pilot working, so it kind of got bumped up further than, but you’re not the first person to say why didn’t you just open with that, and my answer would be I don’t know. I had the other idea first.”
On the genesis of the show and how it began with a lunch with Eliza Dushku
Whedon: “I’m very interested in concepts of identity, what enounce is our own, what’s socialized, can people actually change, what do we expect from each other, how much do we use each other and manipulate each other, and what would we do if we had this kind of power over each other? And in this, our increasingly virtual world, self-definition has become a very amorphous concept, so it just felt what was on my mind. I don’t mean it felt timely like I was trolling the papers looking for something timely. It’s just been something I think about a lot.”
On Dollhouse star Eliza Dushku
Whedon: “She’s overcome her homely shyness over these years. Eliza is, apart from being, in my opinion, as great a star as I have ever known; she has a genuinely powerful electric and luminous quality that I’ve rarely seen. She’s also a really solid person. She’s a good friend. She’s a feminist. She’s an activist. She’s interested in the people around her. She has a lot of different things going on, and I’ve watched her over the years, as a friend, try to take control of her career, and try to get the roles that weren’t available to her, and protect the ethos and the message of what it was that she was doing, and I respect that enormously. Being part of that progression is, for me, one of the greatest benefits of this show.”
Dollhouse premieres this Friday at 9 p.m. ET on FOX.
Monday, February 09, 2009
by Jennifer Squires Biller