Whedonites rejoiced when it was announced Joss Whedon will direct an episode of television's best show, Glee. But you know what would be even cooler? If Whedon could pick up some tricks from Glee and bring them back to Dollhouse.
(And no, I don't believe Dollhouse is for-certain doomed — the ratings are picking up slowly, and the show still has a shot. The fact that it's being left out of November sweeps, and won't be back until December, is a very bad sign, but we've already seen miracles. Joss doesn't seem to think it's necessarily the end. So, you know, be mighty and all that.)
Dollhouse is one of my favorite TV shows right now, but it's not my absolute favorite — sadly, that honor belongs to Glee, which isn't even science fiction. It's not just the show's brilliant musical numbers, its visual flair, or its amazingly rich character-driven comedy. It's not even the relentless pushing of the "it's okay to be different" message. It's the storytelling — even in a year that has seen Torchwood: Children Of Earth and the final half-dozen episodes of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Glee has been making me see whole new possibilities for television as a unique medium, with its own storytelling toolkit.
So here are a few things we'd love to see Joss Whedon bring back to Dollhouse after his visit with Glee.
1) The pacing. That's actually the main thing that jumps out at me every time I watch an episode of Glee. They pack so much into one episode, and none of it feels forced. Last night's episode would have been ten episodes, or maybe even a whole season, of any other show. The Puck-dates-Rachel subplot alone would have spanned several episodes and featured a whole host of scenes of them discussing it and other characters reacting. The bit where Mr. Schu and Sue Sylvester are suddenly doing a dance number together — was it a dream sequence? Was it an imaginary story? No! — it came out of nowhere, and then made total sense.
No other television show burns through plot lines as fast as Glee, and it's exhilarating to watch. It makes other TV shows feel like they're doling out story in little doses, with a teaspoon or something. And it makes each episode of Glee feel more like a movie.
Dollhouse, in particular, has a problem with pacing. It was worse in season one, when Fox pushed the "remote-free viewing" idea, in which every episode had limited commercial interruptions and Whedon's crew had to fill 50 minutes instead of 42 minutes per episode. But the pacing continues to lag quite a bit in season two. Whedon has done faster-paced television before — many Buffy season two episodes rush forward as if they're on fire — but maybe it's time to return to that kind of downhill-racer story-telling. Like, for example, maybe instead of the assignment of the week, we could get the assignment of the next ten minutes?
2) Fun villains. Okay, so Joss probably can't put a gun to Jane Lynch's head and march her over to the Dollhouse sets. If he tried, she would probably disable him for life using her retractable ginsu blades. But maybe Dollhouse could use some more characters who actually enjoy being evil? Adelle has her moments of smugness, and Alpha seemed to have some fun with being nasty, in the tail end of season one — but they both mostly seem tormented. Dollhouse is full of morally gray people who feel really bad about all the awful things they're doing, and what's better to put that into relief than giving us at least one character who just revels in his/her badness? I'm holding out hope for Reaper's Ray Wise, as the head of another Dollhouse, in some upcoming episodes. Also, it's possible we'll be meeting some more high-up Rossum Corp. people who can show us more of the full-blooded nastiness we've only glimpsed so far.
3) More fantasy sequences and montages. Quinn's "You Keep Me Hanging On" sequence last week was just insane — and Dollhouse has shown lots of potential to go to the weird montage/dance sequence/bling-covered fantasy place. Just watch its unaired pilot, which is on the DVD box set. There's so much crazy jumping around between Echo as a gangster and Echo as a ballroom-dancing wedding date, and everything is colorful and zingy — I feel like maybe some of that spirit got lost in the show's revamp, after Fox nixed the original pilot. But it wouldn't hurt to get a bit of that back. I'm picturing mindwiped synchronized swimming, and brainwashed hot-air ballooning, set to showtunes. Come on, why not?
What do you think? Could Dollhouse use just a touch more Glee?