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Joss Whedon returns to TV with 'Dollhouse'

He may be the best TV producer you've barely heard of. • But Joss Whedon — the quirkily creative, comic book-writing geek genius behind pop culture landmarks such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog — is taking another stab at network TV success (at 9 p.m. Friday on WTVT-Ch. 13) with his new series, Dollhouse. • Like most Whedon TV projects, it has begun in fits, with a second pilot episode created and a fall 2008 debut pushed back to February as producers rethought their approach. Hanging in the air is the concern that television won't warm to a complex series about a woman regularly implanted with fake personalities by an illegal organization that rents her out for assignments serving the wealthy and powerful. • Who wouldn't understand that? • Here are three reasons each for why Dollhouse will and won't succeed:

It will succeed because:

It's Joss. Whedon is a brilliant writer whose resume includes the third Alien movie and the first Toy Story film. His taste for pop culture and witty dialogue is legend. And he's working with an actor he's dubbed his muse, Buffy alum Eliza Dushku.

Its cast. Besides a sultry, appealing Dushku as the "active" or "doll" whose memories are re-created, ace character actor Harry Lennix plays the ex-cop who watches after her, Homicide alum Reed Diamond is the Dollhouse's ruthless second in command and Battlestar Galactica co-star Tahmoh Penikett is the federal agent who won't rest until the Dollhouse is exposed.

It's kinda cool. Dushku plays Echo, a woman who volunteers, reluctantly, to be a doll — sent out to be everything from the perfect weekend girlfriend to the perfect ransom negotiator, unaware of her previous lives.

It will fail because:

It's on Fridays. No network but CBS succeeds with expensive hourlong shows on Fridays, anymore. Whedon's last TV series, the confusing 2002 sci-fi drama Firefly, died an ugly death on Fridays, mostly because its young target audience wasn't home to watch.

It's confusing. The dolls have their memories wiped and are implanted with new memories by mystery handlers who have a shadowy boss while an earnest FBI agent tracks them and Echo struggles with retained shards of wiped memories. Just writing that down exhausted me; will viewers fare any better?

It's a baldly male fantasy. Whedon specializes in writing for the behind-kicking action babe. But it's hard to see Dollhouse as anything but a high-tech brothel; a tough sell on female-skewing Friday nights.

TiVo

Survivor Tocantins: The Brazilian Highlands, debuts at 8 p.m. Thursday on WTSP-Ch. 10: Yes, I was one of those critics who scoffed at a TV game show following people stranded on an island. But now that the series is about to start its 18th cycle, CBS is the only one left laughing, as fans have kept the show in network TV's Top 20 for years. And this season, Tampa Bay area fans can cheer the exploits of Lakeland native Spencer Duhm, 19, a serious Survivor fan who will debut Thursday as the youngest person ever to play the game. Let's hope he doesn't live down to the sound of his name. (Say it pronouncing the "u" as in "rug" Get it?)

Ti-Maybe

Important Things With Demetri Martin, 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, Comedy Central: Like an OK Go video redone as a comedy series, this former Daily Show intern tries satirizing modern life with a series of stunts, bursts of stand-up comedy and filmed sketches built around a different "important thing" every week. As you might expect, the stand-up stuff is the best part of this series, which seems a little too taken with its own alternative attitude — Martin presses buttons on a hand-drawn remote control to transition between segments and plays a little too much guitar. And too many sketches — like the one with Amanda Peet about an actor who gets upset off camera but can't play anger on screen — just go on too long.

the list

In a bald-faced move to spark Sunday ratings, ABC will release the name of its latest hoofers on Dancing With the Stars tonight during its prime time lineup, announced by host Tom Bergeron. But readers on TV.com already chose the boldfaced name they most wanted to see twirling beneath the mirror ball: ex-con/ ex-heavyweight champ Mike Tyson.

Which got us thinking: Who else would make for an exciting season on TV's hokiest dance contest? Peruse our humble suggestions below:

Dick Cheney: The drama of having a team of cardiac specialists on standby will make Misty May-Treanor's tendon rupture look like small potatoes.

Christian Bale: Imagine the quotes Bergeron will get when Bruno hands the volcanic Batman star his first 6 score.

Tom Daschle: Now that his tax problems have forced him out of the Obama cabinet, he has time on his hands. And we know he has a few IRS bills to pay.

American Idol's bikini girl: Consider it an experiment to see just how many minutes of fame a skimpy swimsuit and pathologically self-centered personality can earn.

the site

Created by Clearwater native Lauren Bergen — nicknamed "the Intern Queen" for scoring 15 internships during four years at the University of Central Florida — the internship space on Quarterlife.com (quarterlife.com/internships) offers a list of internships and a blog with tips from Bergen. (My fave: controlling your Facebook and MySpace pages to avoid losing jobs/internships/scholarships.) Developed as part of TV producer Marshall Herskovitz's online and NBC series Quarterlife, the internship site is still going nearly one year after NBC canceled the series.

Joss Whedon returns to TV with 'Dollhouse' 02/07/09 [Last modified: Saturday, February 7, 2009 3:30am]
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