Dollhouse is an American science fiction television series created by writer and director Joss Whedon under Mutant Enemy Productions. It premiered on February 13, 2009, on the Fox network and was officially canceled on November 11, 2009. The final episode aired on January 29, 2010. Production wrapped in December 2009, with a total of 27 episodes produced including the original pilot.
The show revolves around a corporation running numerous underground establishments (known as "Dollhouses") around the globe that program individuals referred to as Actives (or Dolls) with temporary personalities and skills. Wealthy clients hire Actives from Dollhouses at great expense for various purposes, including heists, sexual encounters, assassinations, expert counsel, and all manner of unique experiences. The series primarily follows the Active known as Echo, played by Eliza Dushku, on her journey toward self-awareness. Dushku also served as series producer.
Dollhouse initially received mixed reviews and underwhelming ratings, but improved progressively enough to be renewed for a second season. After the second season finale, the series was canceled.
Season one of Dollhouse had mixed reviews, with Metacritic giving it a rating of 57 out of a possible 100. Ellen Gray of the Philadelphia Daily News gave a positive review, remarking that "Dollhouse is less about the ninja kicks and witty banter than it is about instant transformations, and about making the audience care about a character who's likely to behave differently every time we see her. That Dushku mostly pulls this off is a happy surprise, as is Dollhouse, which has survived Firefly-like trials of its own to get this far."Salon reviewer Heather Havrilesky was also positive, commenting that the show's combination of mystery, sly dialogue, and steady flow of action results in a "provocative, bubbly new drama that looks as promising as anything to hit the small screen over the course of the past year."
Alternately, Tom Shales of The Washington Post wrote that the premise was "admittedly intriguing", but described the series as a "pretentious and risible jumble" and that Echo did not "inspire much concern or interest in the audience". He commented that the actors seemed to struggle due to the decor being so "outlandish", stating that it "simply isn't worth the trouble". Brian Lowry of Variety also wrote "Dushku's grasp of this vague, personality-changing character is a bit of a muddle. What's left, then, is a series with a hollow center that doesn't initially make you care about its mentally malleable protagonist." Robert Bianco of USA Today had a more nonchalant view of the series, describing Dollhouse as not boring or ordinary, and that the end result is a show "that Joss Whedon's most devoted fans will debate and embrace, and a mass audience just won't get".
Many critics felt that the series' first season improved as it progressed. IGN Reviewer Eric Goldman believed the show became much stronger and more compelling with the episodes "Needs" and "A Spy in the House of Love". He opined of the later episodes that, "As a whole this show is definitely working better as we get away from Echo's missions of the week, and from focusing so much on just Echo and letting there be more of a true ensemble feel, with the time split amongst the Dolls." Sarah Hughes of The Independent was unimpressed with the first five episodes but also found that the later episodes became "as involving and addictive as Whedon's best work". Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribuneliked Dollhouse's "unsettling" tone and found the show to be "unexpectedly moving and complex" during the second half of the first season. She called the second season renewal "a good day for unconventional television".