Whedon, Dushku re-team

Some may actually consider plugging in the TV again on news that 1987 Wesleyan film grad Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer; Firefly, Serenity) has returned from comicbookland to produce 10 episodes of "Doll House," starring Eliza Dushku, for Fox.

Technically, Ms. Dushku’s first major film role was in the 1983 Juliette Lewis vehicle "That Night." But since most of those who went to see "That Night" showed up disguised as empty seats, I’ll continue contending Ms. Dushku first came to public attention as the kidnapped daughter of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis in the following year’s "True Lies."

Having performed admirably the two things required of her in that satisfying if slightly odd action comedy (hanging on for dear life and screaming "Daddy, help me!") it was perhaps predictable that Ms. Dushku would emerge on this aside of adolescence to cut her teeth in supporting roles in some variable "B" efforts. (Skip 2001’s dark, tedious and predictable "Soul Survivors," nor is her black leather jumpsuit in "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" really worth the effort, but anyone anxious to see where Ms. Dushku came from should really check out the Year 2000 Kirsten Dunst vehicle "Bring It On." Yes. it’s a cheerleader movie, and yes, it’s awful — or is that redundant, given that we already mentioned Ms. Dunst? But given the number of times producers have weirdly cast Ms. Dunst in leading roles in preference to her, it’s quite gratifying to watch the talented Ms. Dushku, in the "backup" role, steal this film lock stock and barrel from its insufferably perky "star," lock it up in her steamer trunk, and drive the thing away. The closing title sequence is also fun.)

Mr. Whedon found Eliza, cast her as the really-not-very-nice competing slayer "Faith" in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," and the rest, I suspect, will be history.

Eliza Dushku was arguably the most promising young talent turned up by the talented Mr. Whedon in the multiple seasons of "Buffy" (second and third places going to Alyson Hannigan and Michelle Trachtenberg, and yes I realize bearing the weight of a multi-year series on shoulders as slender as those of the cast-against-type Sarah Michelle Gellar is not for the faint of heart; fans may write in and condemn me when Ms. Gellar finally produces something above the level of "Scooby Doo" and "The Robot Chicken.") 

Ms. Dushku reportedly turned down a "Faith" spinoff — probably a wise move, if Mr. Whedon’s perfect pitch was to be absent — in favor of Jon Harmon Feldman’s short-lived 2004 Fox series "Tru Calling," a "Groundhog-Day" styled confection in which our heroine played a coroner’s apprentice whose corpses keep waking up and saying "Help Me," at which point the day would wind back to morning alarm-clock time, and "Tru Davies" would have something short of 24 hours to prevent said stiff’s untimely demise. (Great theme song, called — appropriately — "Won’t Somebody Help Me?" by Full Blown Rose. Whatever happened to Full Blown Rose?)

Critics were less than kind — given how often Ms. Dushku was portrayed literally running around town trying to catch people before they met their doom, one actually auggested the producers "Buy this girl a subway pass" — but the real kiss of doom was Fox’s apparent obliviousness to that stodgy old tradition of AIRING THE DAMNED SHOW AT THE SAME TIME EVERY WEEK.

OK, I realize that paradigm will soon pass away, with folks able to dial up the show of their choice Online at any day or time. But in 2004 Americans still had a tendency to say they needed to "get home by 8:30 because my favorite show is on" ..  making it more than disconcerting when it WASN’T. AGAIN. AS USUAL.

This example of scheduling meltdown ranks right up there with Fox’s decision to sacrifice Mr. Whedon’s fine science fiction followup "Firefly" not only by apparently airing the thing every 13th day except on full moons, but then also deciding to RUN THE EPISODES OUT OF ORDER.

People get PAID to work this stuff out?

"Tru Calling" did feel a bit like a one-trick pony — it would have helped if Mr. Feldman had grasped the notion that in addition to being weird and quirky, a supporting cast has to be LIKEABLE. At any rate, it quickly passed away to disc, where it will someday constitute a worthwhile collectible.

Now Eliza Dushku has made the big time, if we define "The Big Time" as meaning she’s showed up as this month’s girl-in-the-frilly-underwear on the cover of Maxim magazine.

I suppose we could lament the fact that a performer with real talents (of a kind different from, albeit in addition to, those featured in full color in this month’s Maxim, you understand) is still required to promote her latest dramatic effort by crawling around on all fours in her undies in some softcore magazine, but it’s gone with the territory since show biz began; if a gal is going to skip dessert every day for a decade or two I suppose there’s nothing wrong with her showing off the results.

New series is "The Dollhouse"; Ms. Dushku plays "a blank" who’s programmed with a new personality for each episode’s secret mission. Meaning she kind of gets to play a new character every week, only not really, see? And would anyone like to bet that Mr. Whedon hasn’t been watching some old re-runs of Aussie Peta Wilson and Alberta Watson in USA’s evocative "La Femme Nikita"?

Airing Friday nights on Fox. Maybe.

Vin Suprynowicz, the assistant editorial page editor of the Review-Journal, graduated from Wesleyan University with a concentration in filmmaking in 1972. He reviewed movies in daily and weekly newspapers for 20 years, turning over the reins to Les Daniels during the four years he published "The Providence Eagle," where Mr. Daniels’ reviews of "the worst kind of stuff we could find" ran under the column header "Mind-Rot."

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