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Whedon’s ‘Dollhouse’ debuts tonight on Fox

Is it grindhouse camp? Extreme inflatable-girl fantasy? Latter-day Moses narrative?

Or another case of a fickle network playing Lucy and the football with one of TV’s best-loved creators?

Whatever your take on Joss Whedon’s new series, “Dollhouse,” after you see the debut tonight on Fox (9 p.m., KAYU-28, cable channel 3 in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene), you’re not likely to say it’s short on ambition.

The year’s most anticipated new series, at least among Internet fandom, “Dollhouse” stars Eliza Dushku (“Buffy,” “Angel,” “Tru Calling”) as Echo, an eye-popping shebot who can be programmed with almost any personality her employer desires – from a gun-toting rock climber to a dressed-to-the-nines hostage negotiator fluent in Spanish.

Echo is employed by a super-secret organization – run by a queen bee with a British accent (Olivia Williams) – whose mad software genius, a dude named Topher (Fran Kranz), rewrites Echo and scores of her fellow “actives” before each of their sexy-slash-dangerous missions, for which the firm is handsomely compensated by clients.

Throw in some nefarious government investigation (or is it a cover-up?). Add a dash of intrigue in the form of Echo’s protector, Boyd (Harry Lennix), a shadowy ex-cop with a heart of gold.

And then stir in the possibility that Topher may not be completely erasing Echo’s remembrances of things past, so that eventually she may figure out what’s being done to her.

All those ingredients make for a stew that, initially anyway, needs salt. The dialogue is conspicuously missing Whedon’s trademark snappy patter – unlike, say, the memorable pilot of his series “Firefly.”

Hardcore Whedonists are well aware that this is actually the second “Dollhouse” pilot that Fox ordered, and that “Firefly” was also scheduled on Friday nights in 2002 and quickly died there as well.

On the other hand, Fox is giving “Dollhouse” a potentially potent lead-in with “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” another power-grrl show.

And the network has come up with an irresistible on-air ad campaign for the two shows in the spirit of the Quentin Tarantino-Richard Rodriguez “Grindhouse” flicks.



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