Joss Whedon: “Dollhouse” Takes It Up A Notch With Tonight’s Episode

OK, this is the big one. “Man on the Street,” in which Echo (Eliza Dushku) plays the perfect wife for a lonely Internet entrepreneur played by Patton Oswalt, is the fabled sixth episode of Dollhouse — the one creator Joss Whedon and star Eliza Dushku have pointed to as where the show’s mythology and crescendo really start to build. It also features Echo’s first face-to-face meeting with Agent Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett).

Whedon spoke to reporters this week about the direction of the show, whether it will ever take on the familiar pop-culture-laden wit and humor that drew so many fans to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and how despite focusing on Episode Six, he really does think the first five episodes were pretty good, too.

Dollhouse airs Fridays at 9pm ET on FOX.

On hyping the sixth episode, at the possible expense of the first five: “You know, there may have been a negative side to it because we may have said, ‘The first five episodes are crap,’ which I don’t believe. But … we did our best to try and figure out how to put the show over with a new paradigm under the gun while we were in production or occasionally out of production. And then what happened with ‘Man on the Street’ was really, it just came to me as a concept really quickly. I pitched it to the network and for the first time, there was a real simpatico. They went, ‘Oh, yes, we get that,’ and it was a very simple thing. And then I wrote it faster than anything I’d every written. It just poured out of me. It was like all of that brewing that we’ve been doing became the soup of that episode, and so it really was a game changer for us on set and in production. The staff and the cast read it and a lot of tumblers fell into place. That’s how we felt about the episode. There may be a negativity associated with hyping it, but for all of us episodes like episode eight and a lot of the following episodes really work on the model on ‘Man on the Street’ more than anything else. So it was a big moment for us. It was a moment that we felt like we found a level and we were really proud of it.”

On how the premise of the show — wiping people’s memories and implanting them with new ones — may have turned people off: “It makes me uncomfortable. I’m not going to lie. But for me, it’s part of what we’re dealing with. We’re dealing with people who have power and are abusing it and people who don’t and are trying to regain it. And in some instances, we want to show the Dollhouse and in the instance of November, I think he is providing a service or in the instance of as we’ll find out, Victor might be providing a service that somebody is looking for. And then in other instances, that is going to be abused and the ick factor gets very high. It seems to get high with Sierra (Dichen Lachman) quite a bit, I’m sorry to say, poor girl. She really gets put through it. But it’s not something we feel that we can shy away from without being a little hypocritical.”

On whether Dollhouse will ever have the same kind of humor as Buffy, Angel or Firefly: “There is humor in the show. There’s a lot in the episode after ‘Man on the Street.’ But the fact of the matter is this is not a comedy. This is not the typical, well, if there is a typical Whedon show, this is not it. It’s not the lighthearted romp that the other shows were. The fact of the matter is there’s definitely funny stuff coming up. There’s always moments of funny, but it doesn’t build like a comedy. It wasn’t designed to be a comedy. It’s not going to play that instrument. You have to do different things at different times. If people are feeling like it’s too serious, then either their expectation has to be changed, or we need to lighten up a little. But, yes, I don’t think they’re ever going to see the same sort of long, six page runs of just pure humor. This is not that show.”

On whether we will see any of the other Dollhouses or Actives: We do get to see one of the higher ups and we talk about the other dollhouses. We didn’t want to do a Italian Wolfram and Hart gag, where we just use the same set and fill it with Italians. No, it’s one of my favorite things he ever did, but that’s because Angel was a lot sillier. So as the economy started to take a toll on our budget, that and the fact that we’ve thrown out our pilot, we hunkered down. So, no, you will not see Dollhouse Tokyo in this season, but, boy, I’d like to.

On the future of Dr. Claire Saunders, played by Amy Acker: “I love that character, not just because it’s Amy Acker, but because she wears misery and torture on her face literally. We will definitely learn how she came to this fabulous career. In the last few episodes, we get to turn the Acker up pretty hot and it’s very exciting.”

For more with Whedon, check out our chat with him from February, when Dollhouse was set to premiere.

Photos: ©2009 Fox Broadcasting Co. Credit: Isabella Vosmikova/FOX