Dollhouse's Creative Battles Were Over Sex, Not Mythos

We all know Fox wouldn't let Joss Whedon tell the stories he wanted to tell in his mind-bitches-for-money show Dollhouse, resulting in some hit-and-miss early installments. But in a new interview, Whedon explains that Fox's biggest problem was with sexuality.

Even though Fox forced Whedon to scrap the show's original pilot (which was much more mythology-heavy and set up a ton of ongoing storylines) and replace it with a bunch of standalone episodes, Whedon tells the Chicago Tribune that wasn't really Fox's problem with the series. Whedon explains:

The problems that the show encountered weren't standalone versus mythology. Basically the show didn't really get off the ground because the network pretty much wanted to back away from the concept five minutes after they bought it... The idea of sexuality was a big part of the show when it started and when that fell out, when the show turned into a thriller every week, it took something out of it that was kind of basic to what we were trying to do...

Part of what was going to be the show was the idea of ... these clients and what their fantasies were, what they expected, what they wanted. You know, what do we get from each other in our most intimate relationships, be they sexual or [whatever else]. The interest in the client kind of moved away.

We weren't going to tell little [client] stories. They were going to be scary, exciting or funny. They weren't going to just be people ruminating. But these little stories inevitably just took on a thriller component, and if Echo is sleeping with somebody it's to service something else...

Fox sort of has that reputation for sexy or edgy or blah, blah, blah, but they don't actually want that and it frustrates me. It's the classic American double standard —torture, "Great." Sex, "Oh, that's so bad."

And but this was also more complicated because people responded to this [by saying], "This is trafficking. This is sex for money." It wasn't just sex. It was also the other implications of what was originally supposed to be somewhat more of a fantasy. The real world version of [this kind of activity] was I think what made the network really twitchy and I can't really fault them for that. I just thought when I went in and pitched it ...you know, it frightened me too [but I thought] we all got that that was what we were doing.

Exploitation wasn't the whole theme. It was going to be a question of, how much of this fantasy will people let us have. Now, I didn't make exactly the same show [that was pitched], but we did get to delve in the territory a little bit. The idea was always, how much of the fantasy will [viewers] accept and how much will they go, "You know what, this just is too much like real-world situations that are truly appalling and so I can't let the fantasy happen."

Because as I said before, when you're dealing with fantasies, particularly sexual ones, you're going off the reservation. You're not going to be doing things that are perfectly correct. It's supposed to be about the sides of us that we don't want people to see.

The idea that Dollhouse's exploration of sexual fantasies would have been aimed at making the viewers uncomfortable — not so much because of the human trafficking or non-consensual aspects, but because they were too close to our real situations, is a fascinating one. Given that the show's sexual aspects already squicked tons of viewers in their watered-down form, I'm not sure how viewers would have responded to a full-on in-your-face version. Maybe it would have been more nuanced and gone a bit deeper, and thus been okay.

The full interview, in which Whedon talks more about what he thinks worked and what didn't work in Dollhouse, gives a few hints about the final episode, and talks about why he's more excited to make television for the Internet than for cable TV, is well worth reading. [Chicago Tribune]