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A Joss Whedon dilemma : the case For Firefly, Dollhouse and Dr. Horrible

Tuesday 31 May 2011, by Webmaster

First things first: I will not be covering Buffy or Angel in this piece. I don’t mean to disparage them in any way. I just didn’t watch them so I don’t have a strong opinion. Instead I’ll be restricting my analysis to three more recent projects: Firefly, Dollhouse and Doctor Horrible.

For the sake of our argument, let us pretend that we are fated to watch only one piece of TV or cinema for the remainder of our lives, and no, porn is not among your choices. Of the three pieces here, which is the most re-watchable? Which is the best overall expression of that special “Whedon-esque-ness” that keeps us, as fans, screaming for more? Let us explore, together, objectively weigh all the options, the pros and cons, after which I will tell you the right answer.


The basic premise of Dollhouse is that of a shadowy company that runs a number of facilities, called Dollhouses (hence the name, see what they did there?), that provide other organizations with humans possessing customized personalities and memories for a variety of purposes, from the criminal to the romantic.

These people, called “Actives” or “Dolls” (there it is again), have had their personalities and memories completely wiped and stored digitally in exchange for big bucks and the erasure of troublesome issues in their past.

The hitch (you knew there was a hitch, right?) is that one Active, called “Echo”, portrayed by the insanely hot Eliza Dushku, has managed to hang onto bits of her own past as well as the created pasts she has carried, even after having those memories wiped.

The whole show is an exploration of self awareness and tries to help us understand what identity actually means, while at the same time throwing us plenty of spy-versus-spy intrigue and good-will-triumph-over-evil-corporations-OR-WILL-IT? sort of plot lines. I don’t want to give away too many spoilarz here as the show is definitely worth checking out.

Why was it dropped so quickly? Hard to say, really. Sometimes it’s just hard to engage viewers in a series where they feel like they have to choose a moral position, sometimes it’s a just a bad time slot and still other times it’s just that they needed to have Dushku on screen more often and in smaller, tighter outfits.


I love this piece. Whether you call it a movie, a short, a vignette, whatever, it’s one of those films that was done only because somebody had a great idea and the means to bring it to life. It was the Power of Whedon that allowed this many major talents to come together during the writers strike of 2008 to create this absolutely infectious musical/tragedy/comedy/internet sensation.

Whedon shelled out $200K of his own cash to create Dr. Horrible and brought in the his brothers Zack and Jed to help with the heavy lifting of writing and composing. The cast includes, among its obvious stars, tons of cameos and inside jokes from loyal Whedonites from the cast and crews of Whedon’s past shows.

The whole thing just feels “right”, as you can tell that everybody involved was 100% committed to the idea of the show. As it turns out, the film won more awards than you can shake a freeze ray at (not an ice beam, that’s all Johnny Snow) and proved that there’s nothing that creativity, love, $200,000 and knowing everyone in Hollywood can’t solve.

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog follows the quest of Dr. Horrible, played perfectly by Neil Patrick Harris, to pull of a heist of sufficient notoriety and evilness to be admitted into the Evil League of Evil, headed by the “Thoroughbred of Sin”, Bad Horse. At the same time he is desperately trying to impress the love of his life, Penny, a woman who frequents the laundromat he uses.

Penny, played by the insanely hot geek goddess Felicia Day, is an advocate for the homeless and is the moral opposite of Bad Horse. To make matters worse, Horrible’s arch-enemy, the self-absorbed hero Captain Hammer, portrayed by Whedon-fave Nathan Fillion, has won Penny’s affection after interceding in one of Dr. Horrible’s minor operations.

Suffice to say that what follows is a perfectly played, musically brilliant and comedicly sublime piece of mini-cinema that you will be coming back to over and over again. And it’s been available free online for ages, so if you have managed to miss this then punch yourself in the head, and then go watch it. And please pick up the DVD or Blu Ray. This is the sort of work that merits your money.


Remember when I said I would tell you the right answer at the end? Well let’s not be coy about this. Firefly is, in my estimation, one of the very best science fiction franchises ever created. From the writing to the characters to the production values to the stellar cast, this is a show that fires on all cylinders, all the time.

Far in the future, after the Earth is used up, humans have spread across the galaxy and begun to colonize new worlds. Near the center of human expansion, the Central Planets are ruled by The Alliance, aka big government, aka The Man, and are a beacon of hope, cleanliness, technology, etc, etc.

Farther out, though, things are different. Some worlds have only the most basic technologies available to them. As a foil to the Central Planets, these wild west worlds are often dirty, sketchy, corrupt places ruled by local strongmen (and women) and only a street-smart (space-smart?) man like Captain Malcolm Reynolds can easily navigate the rough-and-tumble, outlaw nature of these places.

Reynolds, played by Nathan Fillion, is a former sergeant for the Independents, aka The Browncoats, who were opposed to The Alliance’s plans to consolidate rule over all inhabited planets. As a result of The Alliance’s eventual victory, the Independents were scattered across many worlds, many drifting to the edges of inhabited space to eke out a living under the radar. This is where we find Captain Reynolds and his first mate and former war buddy Zoe, played by the insanely hot Gina Torres, and their crew, aboard the cargo ship Serenity.

The show follows the exploits of Reynolds and his crew of unlikely companions as they try to make a buck and avoid confrontation, both with varying degrees of success. The show presents an always gritty, often depressing view of humanity and its struggle but the rapport shared among the crew allows for plenty of moments of levity and humor so that you never feel dragged down or hopeless.

The cast is among the more talented of any ensemble in any genre, and includes the insanely hot Morena Baccarin as a high-class “companion” (wink wink, nudge nudge), Adam Baldwin of Full Metal Jacket fame as Jayne, the muscle for the operations, the insanely hot Jewel Staite as Kaylee, the ship’s innocently sexy mechanic, Ron Glass of Barney Miller fame as Shepherd Book, a traveling priest whose intentions are not always clear, Alan Tudyk, who is hilarious and in everything, as the pilot, Sean Maher as the ship’s doctor and his mentally and emotionally disturbed sister, played by Summer Glau, who is insanely hot.

This seemingly incongruous meshing of sci-fi and westerns is pulled off surprisingly well by Whedon and the cast. The stories are character driven and always move at a good pace. The special effects are great, but infrequent, so you never really feel like you’re watching science fiction but rather just a great story that, by coincidence, is taking place aboard a Firefly class cargo vessel.

Fan demand for some closure was so great that Whedon was able to make the full-length feature, Serenity, to to wrap up some of the loose ends when Fox suddenly and stupidly canceled the show. It continues to enjoy massive (MASSIVE!) fan support and there are even semi-legit rumblings about former cast and/or crew trying to pick up the rights to relaunch the show. Here’s hoping.

To close, let’s all thank Whedon for his vision on these three very different but equally brilliant works, and for his uncanny ability to meet and cast insanely hot women who also happen to be great actors.