Sunday, February 22, 2009

TV: Dollhouse is baroque, somebody better fix it

We see Fox' Dollhouse as the first TV show to really take to heart the spirit of the new White House. For the show to succeed, like Barack's presidency, it's going to require a lot of people willing to lie to themselves.

Take for example Eliza Dushku -- a name that doesn't scream "STAR!" Nor do her looks. But for the show to succeed, you have to pretend that she really doesn't resemble an actress who would have been cast on Soap back in the seventies as Jody's lesbian friend. You have to pretend, as the camera operators do, that Eliza has cleavage. Shot after shot, you have to pretend because she's always wearing something low cut and the camera's always dwelling on where a line of cleavage would be if Eliza had average or large breasts. She has neither but noting that is like pointing out Barack's a War Hawk.

Some will argue, "It's not very feminist for you to bring up Eliza's looks." We respond (a) TV is a visual medium and Eliza's very unattractive and (b) an actress who goes on TV and calls herself a "sex object" really is begging critics -- feminist and non-feminist -- to rate her looks.

Eliza did that , called herself a "sex object"(her words), throughout the commercials during Terminator two Fridays ago. Terminator airs ahead of Dollhouse on Friday nights and someone thought the way to sell Dollhouse was to have Eliza team up with the beautiful Summer Glau and have the equivalent of those "Pick up the phone!" sex chat line commercials. So every commercial break found Eliza trying to act sexy. It was never believable.

Nor is her acting. Eliza's part of the Joss Whedon universe. Joss created Buffy. He went on to trash Buffy (the UPN years) and he did further damage by elevating Faith on the show Angel. Faith wasn't Buffy, she wasn't Willow, she wasn't Xander, she wasn't Cordelia, she wasn't even Anya. She was Nancy McKeon, brought on to 'butch things up' and she may have done that very well but she never demonstrated she could act. You'd think that wouldn't be a problem with Dollhouse because she's playing someone with no memory who never has to act the same or even consistently. But even that conception is beyond Eliza's limited abilities.

Dollhouse is a blend of about sixty different ideas. We say "blend." Other less generous say "rip off." We will agree that the "dolls" bed brings to mind the bed in Modesty Blaise. And if you look for those details, you may be able to stay awake for most of a broadcast.

The Dolls are people who have done something wrong and are basically 'sentenced' to working for an agency. Part of their work requires having their brains wiped clean. They then walk around the agency like Stepford Children -- not like Stepford Wives, they lack the maturity for even that -- and you can almost hear them repeating, "I'm a very lucky girl." They have no personalities and supposedly no memories. They can be insulted to their faces (and are) by others working at the agency so they apparently also lack the ability to process basic information when in their 'natural' states. When it's time for a mission, they're 'implanted' with memories -- from someone else -- whomever they're supposed to be for the mission. Then they come back to the agency and the memories implanted are wiped away.

They have no real talents, they have no interesting personalities so we can understand how someone could wrongly think this was the perfect premise for a show starring Eliza.

In those little promos before the show aired and in interviews, Eliza wants a lot of credit for playing what she sees as a strong character. That might be the funniest moment she's ever filmed were it not for the fact that she also produces this show with Whedon.

If you're not grasping how appalling that is, she co-produces a show she insists offers young girls a chance to see a strong woman and she's playing a whore.

A whore.

Who hires the Dolls? A man whose daughter was kidnapped hired them one week. Eliza was hired Friday by a man who wanted to have a 'fun' weekend. Long before his idea of 'fun' turned out to include his attempting to kill her, she'd been implanted with a personality that knew how to please him -- including with her tongue sexually as would be revealed after their post sex scene. Yes, he paid a pretty penny to have a whore for the weekend.

Whore may not be a pretty word but it's the only word for it.

Please note, if Eliza's character was interested in a man and sleeping with him, we'd applaud it. That's not what happened. Her character didn't sleep with him, the fantasy woman he described to her manager/pimp -- the woman who liked rock climbing and fishing and using her tongue in his ass -- was created and then implanted. He paid money and he got to pick the program for the whore he picked out because, well before he got around to what he wanted in the woman, he'd already chosen Echo (Eliza's character).

We're failing to see how Eliza can claim -- as she has -- that this is a wonderful show for teenage girls. "Mommy, I hope someday I'm made a toy for a man, brainwashed to do as he wants and I bring in some big bucks for whoring too!"

We think most women will grasp that the idea that most men wanting to sleep with Eliza is laughable but young girls tend to think "pretty" is whatever the camera seizes upon.

Sometimes it travels across the faces of Tahmoh Penikett as an FBI agent or Harry J. Lennix as Echo's handler. Both men try to act and one manages to overcome the bad scripts: Lennix. So much so that you wish he were acting in a better series or, if that's impossible, that Whedon would develop Lennix's character (Boyd) so that we could see his non-working life. He's the only face parading through the show that you give a damn about.

Penikett you only give a damn about wondering if he'll take the shirt off or not. He's not that much eye candy but stripping down might allow him to stop with the puppy dog eyes and the hand dog mooning that seem to be his two emotions.

In fairness to Penikett, that's two more emotions than Eliza's ever shown in all her years of 'acting.' She was a terror on the Buffy set as friends who acted on that show have long shared. With that sort of diva like behavior, you'd think she could at least muster an emotion when before the camera, but it's all too much for Eliza.

A perfect example of how difficult acting is for the lead actress took place in the debut episode. On the trail of the kidnappers to find a child, Eliza's Echo's implanted character (are you following that) encountered her own kidnapper from when she was a child. She was supposed to be nervous, alarmed and repulsed. In a mind numbing, slow-card manner, Eliza managed to contort her face into a variety of misshapen poses that might have passed for emotion. None of the poses were connected to the others. None of them were believable or recognizable human emotions. Nor was it pleasant to watch.

Language warning, Bob Somerby caught another typical moment of unpleasantness on TV this week. Self-loathing lesbian Laura Flanders stopped by to chat with Keith Olbermann on MSNBC and the fur flew and the facts withered. A sample dialogue included:

Little Keithie: With Bristol Palin using the one word "choice," such -- in that word such a profound repudiation of the social engineers on the right. Do we think her mother gets the dichotomy between her public positions on all these issues and the people she is pandering to and the real life that she is experiencing with her own daughter and her grandchild?

Self-loathing Lesbian Laura Flanders: Well, again, you have got that "getting it" question.

As Somerby points out, the record does not show that Sarah Palin supports abstinence only 'education'. So the person who has trouble "getting it" would appear to be Laura Flanders.

As Somerby portrayed it, the moment was one of those so-bad-you-have-to-watch ones -- so we did. He was not mistaken. We want to zoom in on what Laura hoped was one of her zingers. She gets this prissy little set to her face when she thinks she's been especially witty (which brings to mind Lily Tomlin's character Ernestine) and it was there when she declared, "I think there is a name for people who only teach their kids about abstinence and that's 'grandparents'." What?

Grandparents is the name? And for those who teach their children about sex, what's the name? We realize Laura is childless but that really doesn't excuse the fact that she doesn't grasp that "grandparents" exist because children are born. It really isn't about abstinence teaching or not. In Laura's demented world, every stroller you see pushed is being pushed by a couple or individual who was taught abstinence only.

What an unmitigated freak show that woman has become.

Bob Somerby used a term when calling out Keith and Laura that required we note "language warning" before linking. He explained his use of the term on Friday during which he noted:

That said: We went "out of our way," and off normal paths, for an actual reason. The language to which the reader objects shows you where Flanders and Olbermann take you. On Tuesday night, Flanders couldn't open her mouth without directing an instant, gender-based insult at Palin. We've criticized this sort of thing politely for years. (In the case of Matthews, this goes back to early 1999.) But polite criticism just doesn't work. People like Flanders and Olbermann don't give a fig. Neither do high-minded liberals.

We weren't offended by his term but we think he let Laura slide a bit. He's correct that she "couldn't open her mouth without directing an instant, gender-based insult at [Sarah] Palin." But that's long been Laura's pattern. In 2008, for example, she was referring to Hillary's so-called "cackle" long after even TV personalities grasped that it was sexist. In 2008, she repeatedly distorted Hillary's feminist credentials by refusing to recognize them. She allowed that one speech -- in Hillary's entire life -- qualified as a feminist action and she then went on to cut that speech apart in her repeated efforts to destroy Hillary (self-loathing lesbian Laura endorsed Barack). These are gender-based insults and so was what she churned out in Bush Women. But the point we want to make is this is the woman who was the 'chair' of FAIR's women's department back in the 90s. When they pretended to care about sexism. (If they really cared about it, they wouldn't have put a sexist pig like Laura Flanders in charge of the department.)

We bring that up because FAIR begs for money. And, at some point, maybe not in the Barack-era, it will again be time for them to pretend to give a damn about sexism. Should that day come, we ask that you remember the Democratic Party primaries which began in January and lasted until the start of June. In all that time, FAIR's weekly radio show CounterSpin tracked racism and what they labeled as racism week after week. Despite all the sexism, they only found sexism worthy of noting once. That was the last Friday in May. They waited that long. And what did they say?

Peter Hart: One of the most disturbing features of the media coverage of the Democratic presidential race is the way racism and sexism have been expressed. CNN viewers were treated to one pundit explanation that people might call Hillary Clinton a bitch because well isn't that just what some women are. Not everyone's so out in the open. MSNBC host Chris Matthews opened his May 18th show wondering how Barack Obama would connect with regular Democrats? Obviously code for working class Whites. This would seem to make the millions of Obama voters so far irregular. But then consider the May 14th op-ed by Washington Post Writers Group Kathleen Parker. She wrote about 'full bloodness' and the patriot divide between Obama and John McCain offering that there is "different sense of America among those who trace their bloodlines through generations of sacrifice." This makes Obama less American than his likely Republican rival and his success part of a larger threat "There is a very real sense that once upon a time America is getting lost in the dash to diversity." Well thanks to The Washington Post, Parker's rant appeared in newspapers around the country including the Baltimore Sun and Chicago Tribune. We're not sure what those papers used for a headline but one blogger suggest [nonsense] would do. Parker's attack wasn't even new. Before in the pages of The Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan wondered if Obama had ever gotten misty thinking about his country's rich heritage. John McCain by contrast "carries it in his bones." There's an appetite in corporate media for such repellent ideas as Editor & Publisher's Greg Mitchell recalled, Noonan's column was praised by NBC's Brian Williams anchor Brian Williams as Pulitzer worthy.

Hillary's called a bitch. There's no need to interpret that to figure out what it meant. There's no need to try to determine what was meant. She was insulted and insulted in a sexist manner. And yet CounterSpin -- in the only time they noted sexism -- registered their official 'complaint' in one sentence before moving on to Barack. There was Peter Hart telling you that sexism and racism had been "disturbing" in the campaign season and yet CounterSpin had never mentioned sexism before that week. When they finally got around to mentioning it, it was for one sentence. Every week, they had documented real racism and what they assumed was racism.

It's important to remember that because they need money and they will pretend at some point that they really care about sexism, that it really disturbs them. Not enough to do as Bob Somerby has done and call out Keith Olbermann. They have never called him out. After the primaries, when their shame forced them to run a brief story on the sexism, they called out Chris Matthews and avoided Keith Olbermann. Olbermann's a FAIR pet (specifically Jeffy Cohen's), the same way David Shuster is (which is why his accusing Hillary of "pimping" her daughter raised no objection from FAIR).

We have our problems with Somerby (and he has his with us) but FAIR's supposed to be offering the same type of media criticism he does. They have an organization, they have a pamphlet (they call it a magazine, but the last 'issue' looked to be eight pages), they have a radio program and they have action alerts. With all of that, during the primaries they made time to offer one sentence and only one sentence objecting to sexism. (Somerby addressed it regularly.) With all they have, they've never once found the need to call out Keith Olbermann.

For all his faults and positives, Bob Somerby does The Daily Howler free of charge, has never begged for money, has no budget for The Daily Howler. But somehow he can do what media watchdog FAIR refuses to and that's hold the media accountable. We think that's worth noting. We also think it's worth noting that he's called out what he's dubbed the "Dear Leader" Soviet-style propaganda nature of Bob Herbert's columns while FAIR has remained silent.

FAIR's remained silent because the "Dear Leader" is Barack Obama and not George W. Bush.

And here's how it all ties together. The style for Dollhouse is baroque. You note the imposing staircase immediately. You notice the high ceilings. When you try to reason with the people behind Dollhouse (we have, we were asked to review this show and we hated the first episode, we were begged to watch the second episode and assured we'd love the show, we obviously did not) about the show's limitations and failures, you are told ___ is a "metaphor" or "that was an allegory" or some such nonsense. That's baroque literature for you. And these days, FAIR stands in for the Catholic Church. The original baroque period was encouraged by the Church which saw it as a way to advance the church, the same way that FAIR wants MSNBC, Bob Herbert and others to deify Barack (with the hope that it will enrich FAIR).

The baroque period preceded the Age of Reason and how apt that a man named Barack would show up in the second coming of baroque. (How apt that the DNC acceptance speech had a baroque setting though most critics focused on the Greek nature of it.) When the period ends, as all periods do, maybe we'll return to reason? If so, reason will include accepting that many so-called "media watchdogs" were nothing but propaganda outlets. In neither period would Eliza qualify for an actress nor Dollhouse for TV worth watching.
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