Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse: Can It Bring TV Back to (Pre-Programmed) Life? We’ll see.

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Did you ever get sent home from school with a report card that said that you “had a lot of untapped potential” from a teacher who was disappointed, but only because she knew you could do better? If so, you’d probably get a sense of deja-vu while reading through reviews of Buffy creator Joss Whedon’s highly-anticipated new show, Dollhouse.

Dollhouse, about an organization that erases all personality from its subjects and re-programs them into tailor-made figures ready to pimp out to wealthy clients, is one of the most promising new shows to make it on air in a while — at least on paper. Since it features the screenwriting genius of Whedon, it already has salivating Buffy/Firefly fans drooling in anticipation, on top of similarly salivating viewers who want to see Eliza Dushku in fembot mode.

It’s also debuting at a time when the week’s worth of TV is almost devoid of fandom-generating obsession; when The Office is practically unwatchable, Mad Men is off the air, and buzzy shows like JJ Abrams’ Fringe have yet to hit their stride (we have yet to catch up on Season 2 of the excellent Friday Night Lights — at least there’s that to look forward to). So it seems understandable that a considerable amount of hope is being projected onto Dollhouse.

Dollhouse could technically fill a large part of that void in this season’s TV lineup. We don’t even watch sci-fi, and yet we’ve been counting down the months until this premiered — a sentiment that seems to be behind much of the disillusionment featured in most early reviews of the show.

“We love you, Joss, but please, build something else.” [USA Today]

“Whedon, who directed the pilot, certainly dressed it up stylishly, but I’ll take simple coherence over fancy-pants trappings any day. After all, this is television, not an art-house cinema in Greenwich Village.” [Washington Post]

“The pilot is, in fact, baffling, and needlessly so. Viewers will be turned off, and if ‘Dollhouse’ is told to hit the showers in the next few weeks, someone, somewhere, will blame thick viewers. But someone, somewhere — probably at Fox — needed to tell Whedon, ‘Start simple, tell a story and build your characters.’ Too bad no one did. There’s an interesting idea in here. Best of luck finding it.” [Newsday]

“I’m not in love, but I am intrigued.” [NY Post]

“I worry about ‘Dollhouse’s’ concept as a weekly show. If Dushku is always playing a different sort of character, sure, she gets to show off a wider range of acting chops than she did when she was the brilliantly broody Faith on ‘Buffy’ and ‘Angel.’ But in effect, we have to start from scratch with each installment and buy into Echo’s new personality. The result: no consistent hero to root for every week.” [Entertainment Weekly]

“’Dollhouse’ is fun to watch, but it could and should have a more compelling story to tell. Science fiction works best when the fiction is as inventive as the science.” [NY Times]