Monday, May 18, 2009

Seasonal News

Right on the heels of this weekend's announcement that Dollhouse has been renewed for a second season comes the sadder but slightly less surprising news that The Sarah Connor Chronicles has been canceled. (Also, Chuck gets a third season, but, you know: formula + the geek equivalent of frat humor + half-naked ladies = not a terrifically long shot.)

This is, of course, very upsetting, but unlike Niall I'm not convinced that, if the decision actually did come down to only one of these two shows, the wrong choice was made. It's true, Sarah Connor is the better show (though this says more about Dollhouse's problems than Sarah Connor's strengths), and you don't need to work very hard to read an uncomfortable statement into the fact that the show about scantily clad, brainwashed sex slaves has been renewed while the one about the difficult warrior woman who only takes off her clothes to treat one of her frequent bullet or stab wounds has been axed. But it seems to me that after two seasons, Sarah Connor has had the chance that Dollhouse has now been given to find both its footing and its audience, and has, for the most part, squandered it. Yes, the second season finale was excellent, and raised the possibility of several very interesting future plotlines--John making his way in a future in which his destiny no longer hangs over him, Sarah and Ellison on the run in the present, Savannah Weaver as an intermediary between the two periods--but it did so by razing the structure of the second season to the ground, and in so doing acknowledged how problematic and, frankly, how boring and listless that season was.

Both Dollhouse and Sarah Connor are shows with interesting concepts and deeply flawed executions, but the creative team in charge of Dollhouse has a proven track record of not only producing excellent shows but of producing excellent shows with deeply flawed first seasons. Whereas when the Sarah Connor writers were given the chance to take their show to the next level, they buried it in the mud, getting mired in navel-gazing and drawn-out, poorly plotted storylines that didn't do nearly enough in terms of character development to justify their running time. If you're going to gamble on either one of these shows making the transition into excellence, it seems to me that Dollhouse is clearly the one to go with.

Of course, in an ideal world I'd have liked to see both shows get the chance to improve, as even deeply flawed SF has become a rare commodity on our screens. And really, the true shame isn't that one of these shows was chosen over the other, but that they both have to scramble to survive while Heroes, whose vaunted return to form fizzled into something only slightly less disappointing than its previous two volumes, has got a seemingly endless lease on life.

9 comments:

Raz Greenberg said...

I'll admit giving up on "The Sarah Connor Chronicles" early this season, so maybe things have improved drastically while I was gone, but... better than "Dollhouse"? Really? From everything I saw when I was still following the show, it never managed to overcome its initial problems, being handled by people who can't write believable dialogue, can't create compelling characters, and above all - can't tell a story from start to finish. Seriously, in each episode of the show, the writers' utter lack of knowledge about basic story structure (not to mention basic pacing) often made me physically ill.
"Dollhouse" has its share of problems, I agree, mostly because it didn't always know what to do with its concept. In its defence, however, at least it had a concept - one that wasn't already done to death in three high-profile movies - and the people behind it got better at hadnling it as the show progressed. And when it comes to craftmanship alone, everything I mentioned above - dialogue, characters, plotting - "Dollhouse" leaves SCC far, far behind.
And I'd say that in this respect, "Chuck" is actually better than both.

Anonymous said...

Sad to say, but I'm not too upset that Terminator: TSCC is not coming back. I think the problems with it stemmed from something the producers said, that they didn't want to do a "terminator of the week" show. And I thought, too, that was a good idea. The problem was that they didn't seem to know what to do instead. The overarching storyline seemed to be Sarah & Co. trying to prevent the apocalypse by preventing the technology that would lead to it, primarily AI but also the specific machinery that would be used in the terminators, hunter/killers, etc. But that doesn't lend itself very well to episodic television, and serialized television is hard to pull off and even harder to get people to watch. As you point out, the second season meandered a LOT, and I think this was the reason.

Dollhouse certainly has its problems, too, but even after (what I thought was) a pretty weak season finale, the writers have clearly put more thought into what they're doing than was done for T: TSCC.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Raz:

I don't think that Dollhouse is significantly more accomplished than Sarah Connor. Its superiority on the technical level is counteracted by the near-total predictability and mediocrity of its plots, whereas Sarah Connor's writing, though often weak on the level of plot, at least tried to do something different (which was also very different from the films). And though Chuck may succeed at reaching its goals more often than either of these shows, those goals are a great deal more modest - the same plot, the same jokes from the same comic relief characters, and a lot of unexamined misogyny.

Anonymous:

David Hines has an interesting article about Sarah Connor at SH. I don't agree with all of it - in fact it's a great deal more positive about the series than I am - but he does make the point that the biggest problem the series faced was not finding an alternative to the terminator of the week story but finding a way to uncouple Sarah from John. That's something the writers only figured out how to do in the second season finale, when to my mind, and especially given how aimless and padded the season was, it should have happened at the latest in the mid-season.

Martin said...

I really liked the second season of TSCC, sure it still had it's flaws, maybe even a lot of them, but in it's heart I thought it had found it's rhythm and style. And in no way it was just "like the movies" in it's second season. I found the whole storyline about (maybe) finding something like a truce or even peace with the machines interesting and in my opinion it deserved to be developed further, since it had just started to unravel. And the last couple of episodes were indeed great, I in no way expected the dereks death or how it was handled. Perfect.
So just keeping the promise of the last episodes for me would have been enough for making it a nice and surely above average science fiction series.

Dollhouse... I don't know. There were some really bad episodes, I mean bad enough to really make you cringe. But that doesn't matter when thinking about what the series MIGHT become, true! BUT - I think one of the main problems can't possibly be overcome: Dushku just can not act good enough to carry this series. And her role is too complicated and important for that.

So in the end I don't agree, I would have preferred The Sarah Connor Chronicles to go on.

Nic said...

you don't need to work very hard to read an uncomfortable statement into the fact that the show about scantily clad, brainwashed sex slaves has been renewed while the one about the difficult warrior woman who only takes off her clothes to treat one of her frequent bullet or stab wounds has been axed.Too true. For me, the inherent and not-nearly-examined-enough creepiness of Dollhouse (or, as I saw someone elsewhere call it today, Rapehouse) had become too much by the end of the season, and the dreadful writing does nothing to offset the ridiculous outfits of Exploitation Hour. I won't be back unless I hear *really* good things about s2.

Ouranosaurus said...

Re: "Rapehouse" and the idea that the misogyny in Dollhouse is unexamined.

The second half of Dollhouse's first season – the good half – was all about dragging everyone into being complicit in the enslavement of the dolls. Ballard finds out that Mellie/November is a doll and still sleeps with her. The Dollhouse employees, with the exception of Boyd, are routinely exploiting their position, and all of them benefit from going along. We continually get blatant hints that some parts of the US government (and presumably other goverments) know about and shelter the Dollhouse from scrutiny. The NSA wants the Dollhouse technology for its own uses. And most of the dolls really have volunteered - Echo, an artificial personality, confronts her original personality and accuses her of giving up in the season finale. Everyone, even some victims, are complicit to different degrees.

Of course every episode isn't about how evil and horrible and vile and nasty everyone is. That would be a staggeringly bad show. It would be like listening to a lecture for 52 minutes. A show about a cruel and exploitative system that morally compromises everyone who touches it, regardless of whether they're likeable and good in other ways? That's a pretty interesting show, and it was just starting to emerge after episode six.

I'm looking forward to season two quite a bit.

ianras said...

Is that the same David Hines who wrote the occassionally bonkers Buffy reviews from way back when? If it is, I'm delighted to see him resurface.

Niall said...

Ian: Yep. :-)

Anonymous said...

I read Hines' article, and while he makes a lot of interesting observations, I had wildly different reactions to the things he discussed (such as the many two-character scenes, which he lauded and I found almost universally tedious and rarely plot-advancing). And I think I disagree with him on the whole basis for the show. He seems to think that it was about preparing John for the future. But since the middle of the second movie, when Sarah makes the decision to go after Miles Dyson, the franchise has been about changing that future. This was reinforced (I think in the show's first season) when John told Sarah he didn't think he could be the leader humanity required and that the best thing she could do for him would be to prevent the apocalypse. That has been the goal (and I can't imagine a worthier goal in this setting), and I don't know that it's necessary to separate John and Sarah for that to happen. If they're successful, he doesn't need to become that leader and thus never needs to step out of her shadow. Sarah could have covertly developed him into the soldier he might have to be by using him in her missions (hedging her bets, so to speak), but if that possibility was examined I don't recall it.

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