Cathode Tan - Games, Media and Geek Stuff
logo design by man bytes blog

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sci Fi Review: Dollhouse and Stargate: Universe

Science fiction on television seems to go through waves ... you'll have a show which takes off, acts a bit like a tentpole for more sci fi - and then everything winds down and some of the actors from one show start shuffling around. Take the Battlestar reunion taking place on Dollhouse - if Tricia Helfer shows up, I'll be convinced that Echo is actually a Cylon.

Dollhouse peaked somewhat with last season's unaired Epitaph One (unaired, but watched by probably every Dollhouse fan by now), which was easily the best episode of the show so far and serves as guidepost for the direction of the plot. Season two starts not only a little flat, but even somewhat confusing as we jump right in with Ballard now on the side of the 'house and his strategy for bringing it down feeling about as muddled as an active's CAT scan. The third episode, "Belle Chose", actually felt more like a better start for the season as we see Ballard trying to fit into his new role as well as some wonderfully creepy foreshadowing into the events of Epitaph One. The show has an odd game to play now - making the original premise and plotline around Echo work while also building to a potentially dark future. If it has any problem, it's that the latter is proving a lot more interesting than the former. However, if "Belle Chose" is an indication, this season could prove that the show can finally perform to its potential.

The other "networks show sci fi on Fridays because they assume the demographic never goes out and then complains about the numbers" offering right now is Stargate: Universe. Apparently the demise of Atlantis called for something of a reboot on the frachise, which after a long running core show and relatively long running spin off isn't worst idea. Universe has a different cinematic feel and the overall concept is more serious - it's like someone got some Battlestar in my Atlantis.

Sounds great on paper, but the execution so far is a bit lacking. One issue is that the wide array of characters feel largely similar and the ensemble feels somewhat shallow due to it. The military crew feels almost like a band of dwarves - you have stern, youthful, angry, etc. Two of the characters stand out for me ... one being Doctor Rush, in part because Robert Carlyle's portrayal is particularly awesome and secondly he's such a great throwback to a near villain like Doctor Smith (Lost in Space) than another "brilliant scientist with a gun" cutout that the series could so easily offer up.

Sadly the other character is Eli, who is such a horribly transparent viewer advocate that I fear the array of geek apparel and references to arrive. If his "Last Starfighter" premise of even being in the show wasn't bad enough, the fact that every other character willingly accepts his presence so blindly is even worse. Eli's character is a blow to the kneecaps to the show. Take the second episode, for instance, where one has to continually ask - why are they insisting on keeping the slacker civilian in the desert??

The show's pacing seems slow at the moment, so the jury is still out while we see if that's part of a method or just plodding along.


sterno said...

Slight spoilers follow....

Dollhouse has felt a little chaotic to begin this season and the premise of some of what was done seemed a bit awkward. For example, making Echo a mom was very evidently making the point that through the mind they could alter the body. However, it made zero sense to put one of the actives in the role of a mom. I mean, how does that work when her contract expires? The overall episode played out interestingly with it being further reinforced that they do not know how to keep their genie in the bottle, but the concept was a bit flaky.

I expect there to be a few episodes like that for Dollhouse as they try to sketch in how things can go terribly wrong before they start to do so. So I tolerate it, but looking forward to them getting their feet under them this season so we can move down the dark road to Epitaph One.

As for SG-U so far I'm rather liking it. I agree with you about Eli, and hopefully they'll make sure he grows up quickly. I could definitely see him evolving into a daniel jackson like character, starting off pretty naive and a bit of a screw up to being a core interesting character. Time will tell.

SG-U and BSG both speak to the value of having characters in desperate situations. It seems a rarity on television, presumably because it's prone to being a lot darker than most mainstream television. That pressure of being on the verge of death so constantly feeds a lot of energy into a show that can lead to some really interesting character development.

Josh said...

Yeah, they need to watch their core premise a bit better. I wasn't quite sure how a professor could afford an active in this last episode. I also hope that they don't play out their cards too quickly. Since we know what the endgame might look like, the "actives gone wild" angle might get old.

I'm on board with SGU's overall theme and feel, and want to like it - so I'm with you, hopefully they can flush some of the character issues and make it interesting.

Also, if Eli is going to be the viewer advocate here, I would hope he'd act more like the viewers would - but that would amount to more or less freaking the hell out quite a bit...