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Thursday, May 7, 2009

It Makes Me Feel a Little Bit Weird That I Kind of Get Where This Dude Is Coming From.

Posted by Erik Henriksen on Thu, May 7, 2009 at 4:06 PM

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So the season finale of Dollhouse is tomorrow night—and, most likely, that episode will also turn out to be the series finale, too. (Which sucks, 'cause last week's episode was pretty badass. Along with the now-mythical and holy sixth episode—the one with Patton Oswalt, the one that I'm too lazy to look up the title of—last week's episode justified why the often-underwhelming Dollhouse deserves to be renewed.) All of you obsessive Whedonphiles can expect a blog post about the Dollhouse finale from Kiala in a little while, but in the meantime, I wanna talk about Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and the attempts to keep it alive.

It's not like these shows have much in common with each other—besides the fact that they both aired on Friday nights on FOX, and it's not like either of them, to be perfectly honest, have any real shot of getting renewed. But that hasn't stopped fans of both of them for lobbying for their survival. It feels weird to say this considering what big Whedon fan I am, but... okay, I'm just gonna say it, and hope that somebody in a Jayne hat doesn't slit my throat when I walk out of the Mercury offices this evening: Terminator is a better show than Dollhouse, and goddamn, it's really hit its stride, and I'm really hoping it sticks around. Hit the jump for info on how Terminator (and Dollhouse) fans are working on keep their favorite show on the air, including Li'l Brian Jr. up there.

Spoilers for both Dollhouse and Terminator to follow. YOU'VE BEEN WARNED.

So it's not like Dollhouse is competing with Terminator for renewal—unless, for whatever reason, FOX decides they're only going to renew one nerd show—but I think it's interesting to take a side-by-side look at these two struggling sci-fi series.

Dollhouse launched with an intriguing concept, then did nothing with it for five episodes. One can blame this on studio interference, or the confusing tonal funk that every new TV show finds itself in, or any number of other behind-the-scenes explanations—but ultimately, none of that matters, because if the show's not good, the show's not good. Dollhouse fiddled around, said nothing, and wasted everybody's time for five episodes, then had one kickass episode that just fucking nailed it and made everyone realize why creator Joss Whedon had bothered making the thing in the first place. And then, ever since, it's been hit and miss—it's definitely stronger than when it started, but I wouldn't call it strong, either. Until, that is, last week's episode—when Firefly's Wash showed up and overacted like a spaz for 40 minutes before revealing himself as Alpha and going all slash-happy. At which point, holy fuck—from there on out, Dollhouse once again found its footing and got really interesting and creepy and cool. And now there's one episode left (if you don't count the 13th episode, which, as of now, will only be available on DVD), and then, that'll likely be it. And the whole time, if ratings are to be believed, pretty much nobody watched it at all unless they were named "Erik," "Kiala," "Courtney," or whoever it is on whedonesque.com who calls themselves "WhedonIsMyMasterNow292."

Terminator, on the other hand: Launched with an intriguing concept and strong numbers, and basically continued as a pretty-decent-but-not-great sci-fi-drama for the first season, even as ratings diminished. Ended with a hell of a first-season finale before coming back strong with a great second-season premiere, though still with less-than-great ratings. Paired with Dollhouse on Friday nights, ratings nosedived for the entirety of season two, which meandered into boring-ness for the first half. But then season two ended with a string of five or six killer episodes that were easily the best of the series—they cashed in on a lot of great ideas, killed off some key characters, seriously changed the motivations of a few others, and spat John Connor into an uncertain future (literally). And all of this felt organic and fun and smart, to the point that when those final episodes were airing, I heard a few people say that Terminator had equaled (or eclipsed) Battlestar Galactica in terms of quality. I won't go that far, but for the last half of its second season, Terminator just kicked ass. And the whole time, if ratings are to be believed, pretty much nobody watched it unless they were named "Erik," "Kiala," or whoever it is on terminatorchronicles.com who calls themselves "CameronsMan69."

So now both shows are "on the bubble," as they say, awaiting word from FOX on whether or not they'll get picked up for another season. Even though both shows are looking to be at their strongest points, it's not looking good for either one.

Dollhouse fans have tried to get the word out as much as possible about the show during a single week with Watch Dollhouse Week, plus drives to pre-order the DVD set. It's been a pretty full-time endeavor for some fans—Portlander and occasional Blogtown resident The One True b!X told me he's been maintaining the Watch Dollhouse Week site, and working on other things to keep Dollhouse going, too:

Mainly I've been too busy with my nose to the grindstone of trying to do three things at once: Keep "dollhouse" moving on Twitter, get DVD sales up (up dramatically this week now), and get people to tell FOX to renew and to air the lost child episode 1x13.

And Dollhouse is currently one of the top-trending topics on Twitter, for whatever that's worth:

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Meanwhile, Terminator fans have grouped behind Save the Sarah Connor Chronicles, which advocates traditional ways of campaigning like sending letters and postcards, and also io9's more unconventional Sarah Connor Made Me Do It campaign, which encourages fans to take pictures of themselves alongside items purchased from Terminator's advertisers. (That's where Brian Jr.'s from!) As for whether or not any of these fan-driven campaigns will have any impact, who knows.

But anyway, I'm really hoping Terminator pulls through, here. Dollhouse has been so goddamn hit-or-miss that it's actually felt like work to like the show, at least for me: There are elements I really dig about it, but I've had to sit through enough lousy stuff to get to them that, frankly, I'd have been driven away long ago if Whedon's name wasn't attached. It feels weird to note this, considering one of the show's major themes is the malleability of identity, but Dollhouse has yet to find a consistent one.

I mention this 'cause that's one of the things I like about Terminator: It's built up a strong and pervasive story arc that borrows a bit from Battlestar and a bit from Lost, pushing its characters in one direction, but allowing for a good number of surprising digressions along the way. Towards the end of this last season, the creators really started taking advantage of the time travel aspect, too, telling a story that spanned decades, with stuff we first saw happening in the future also playing a key role in the present. And as cheesy as the show can be (like that stupid fucking part when what's-her-name-from-Garbage turned into a liquid-metal shield to protect the Connors and then started talking, or that time that what's-her-name-from-Garbage pretended to be a urinal for some stupid reason), it can also hit a level of both action-y fun and creepiness that's pretty impressive—John having to reach inside the chest cavity of a half-naked Cameron in order to check her internal flux capacitor or whatever for damage was a scene that cashed in on all of the weird, kinda creepy sexual tension between a boy and his hot robot bodyguard, but amped it all up to a level that was outright disturbing... and yet weirdly touching, too.

Maybe it's because these two very different shows are packaged together by FOX—and I've ended up watching them together—that I can't help but compare them. But I think doing so brings out the fact why I think Terminator should really come back, and why I'm less passionate about Dollhouse's possible renewal: Sure, Dollhouse might find its identity, and who knows, if given a second season, it could really take off, offering more episodes like the two outstanding ones it's had so far. But Terminator is already at that point: It knows what it's doing, it's plowing forward with consistently solid episodes, and it's pushing its story in continually surprising directions. Unlike Dollhouse—and actually, unlike most TV—Terminator, especially after its excellent, infuriatingly cliffhanger-y finale, seems to know exactly where it would go next if given the chance.

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