Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Dollhouse and the Metastory Trap

There's a reasonably famous experiment on perception in which people are asked to watch a short clip of a basketball game, and count the number of times that the players in white T-shirts pass the ball. After watching the video, the viewer is asked one very simple question:

"Did you notice the gorilla?"

Because a gorilla walks through the shot, about halfway through the video. It even stops and does a little dance. And you know what? Nobody does notice the gorilla. Once we've decided what we need to focus on, human beings turn out to be very good at tuning everything else out in order to pay close attention to the things they're looking for.

So what does all this have to do with 'Dollhouse'? It's very simple. The series (which I watched on DVD over the course of the last couple of weeks) quickly developed a reputation as being underwhelming, not worthy of Joss Whedon's reputation. Even among Whedon fans, 'Dollhouse' was seen as a creative misstep. "It moves too slow." "Not enough happens in each episode." Whedon and Eliza Dushku had to personally plead with the fanbase to keep watching for at least six episodes to give the metastory, the overall arc of what happens to Echo and what secrets the Dollhouse holds, time to develop. When the DVD finally came out, fans watched the unaired pilot and said that it was better because so much more of the "real story" was in it.

The thing is...the metastory? That's the three men in white shirts passing the basketball. The stories in each episode? They're the gorilla.

The central concept of the Dollhouse is something that can generate a near-infinite number of good stories without ever changing the status quo. (More on this when I get around to writing "Storytelling Engines: Dollhouse", natch.) It's a series where the lead character can turn into anyone, enter any situation, play any part with perfect accuracy. That's a hook for so many good story ideas, and the first five episodes play through some great ones; Echo goes from being a bodyguard for a singer with an obsessive fan to infiltrating a religious cult to staging a complex theft on a museum, all plots that should be engaging and interesting.

But the fans are saying, "We were promised that this was about Echo regaining her memories and personality! We were promised that this was about an FBI agent trying to crack open the secrets of the Dollhouse! We were promised Alpha, dangit!" And those stories are designed to simmer under the surface slowly over the course of the run of the entire series, not boil over in the first six weeks. (Just imagine if someone told you that Season Two of 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' was "about" Angel going bad and Buffy having to fight him. You'd be absolutely out of your mind with boredom by Episode Eleven. "...the heck? Ted Ritter as a killer robot? Boy, talk about your lame Monster of the Week series!")

Now I'm not saying that it's the fans' fault for not liking the show. Well, okay, I sort of am. Ever since 'Babylon 5' introduced the idea of an overarching metaplot that would build from one episode to the next, we've been conditioned to expect that the metaplot is more important than the individual episodes (possibly because metaplots reward diligent and loyal viewers, and sci-fi fans tend to be both of those things, so we feel kinda special when watching shows with big oomphy metaplots because it feels like they're aimed at "us".) Nothing kills the fun of watching a show faster than projecting expectations onto it that it can't meet. (Even though "Babylon 5" spent a lot of its time on stand-alone episodes, too...)

But of course, the fans didn't form their expectations in a vacuum. (Which is why I'm not actually saying that it's the fans' fault for not liking the show.) Fox, Whedon, Dushku, and everyone concerned picked their angles to promote the series, and they gave people the impressions and expectations that turned out to be, um, not so realistic. If people were expecting Echo to be on the run by Episode Five, accompanied by FBI agent Paul Ballard, that's in no small part because that's how Fox sold the series. (It also doesn't help that it's hard to wrap your head around the idea that mind-wiping pimps could be anything other than unequivocal bad guys. You expect Echo to escape or avenge herself because that's what heroes do. It's kind of difficult to accept the idea that the Dollhouse owners have their own side to the story.)

Which is, in the end, why the season finale--"Epitaph One", which didn't actually air due to weird contractual obligations and which is available on the DVD--is so clever. Without getting into any spoilers, it gives people almost more metastory than they can handle, a great big chunk of game-changing events that flow seamlessly out of the previous twelve episodes, but that alter things so much that fans will be poring obsessively over Season Two (and if we're lucky enough, Three, Four, et cetera) to figure out the details. It tells the fans, both current and potential, "Hey. Be patient. We're going places, this is the map...just sit back and enjoy the journey."

I don't think people were expecting to "enjoy the journey" when they watched 'Dollhouse'. I think they were so impatient to get to the destination that they never looked out the window to see the scenery. If they did...or, thanks to the miracle of DVD, Hulu, iTunes, Tivo and DVR, if they do...they might see some very cool gorillas.


Michael Hoskin said...

I don't have much patience for television in general, which is why I haven't watched it in years.

Still, I've followed the reaction to Dollhouse online and I find it interesting that defenders of the program like you take the position that there's something wrong with the viewers, not the program.

When someone as balanced as (ex-B5 writer) Peter David is saying he doesn't really dig the show, I think the other side has something going for it.

David Gallaher said...

>> Ever since 'Babylon 5' introduced the idea of an overarching metaplot that would build from one episode to the next >>

Wait. Is that true, because it certainly doesn't SEEM correct especially when looking as some of the older televisions dramatic shows from the 50s and & 60s, Dark Shadows comes to mind first.

Fred said...

Some interesting points, but I don't know that "Epitaph One" is going to encourage much in the way of patience, if only because it does the same thing and suggests the real story, or at least the more interesting story, is still to come. It's that fascinating world we glimpse in the framing story of "Epitaph One" and everything leading up to it -- all that metastory that has yet to happen in the series proper -- that's a whole lot more interesting than the Doll of the Week adventures.

I think Dollhouse has a lot going for it, but I'm not convinced the weekly standalone stuff is the gorilla in the room, or even that that gorilla is doing anything interesting beyond dancing around a little. Maybe that's my own expectations, built on my past experience with Whedon and other metastory-building shows, and with how this one was marketed. But I don't know if that can be helped at this point. I still think the episodic stuff -- and by extension, unfortunately, Dushku -- is still the series' weakest link.

But I think you're right that metastory needs time to bubble up, and if we're expecting it, we're probably not giving it that time.

Anonymous said...

Well said.

I think most Whedon fans have very short memories. Buffy and Angel both started out in a similar manner.

sb said...

John Ritter, not Ted. Ted was the name of the episode. Interesting post.

Brice Gilbert said...

I like Dollhouse, and I agree with you to some degree, but I think that some of those first 5 episodes were pretty bad. Yes they should be interesting. This should be the show where every week we can get a new interesting story. But what happened was the stories weren't. I think Buffy had something going for it when it used comedy. Even the dumbest stories or episodes had funny scenes, dialog, and fascinating characters. The worst episode of Buffy is still entertaining.

Dollhouse had the problem of giving us characters that were not very interesting at the beginning. The one that makes jokes (Topher) is not even a likable guy. Luckily I like these characters now. It's just that it took a fair amount of episodes to get to know them.

Some people will say "Well if this was any other show you would have stopped watching". We don't live in a vacuum so not giving a show by one of the greatest writers ever a chance? Not giving a show with a really cool concept a chance? That to me would have been worse.

Buffy season 1 has plenty of people who stop watching without giving the show a chance. I feel sorry for them sometimes.

Joe said...

Huh? Is this really the perception that's floating out there? No wonder I never hang out with other Whedon fans when I go to Comic Con. Long live "Dollhouse". Long live Joss.

saalon said...

If the shows had been funny, interesting, insightful, well written or just not boring, no one would have been asking for plot.

When your writing feels like it's marking time to some more interesting event, people get cranky you're not just getting to the interesting event.

If the writing in the first half of Dollhouse was better, this point would be moot.

Becky said...

Buffy did a brilliant job of alternating between monster of the week eps, plot eps, and totally on crack eps, and making sure that the first and third category wove themselves into the plot (so that even crazy episodes like The Zeppo, Restless, and Once More With Feeling are full of plot points.)

I think Dollhouse's stand-alone episodes work almost as well; generally I enjoyed them, yet I found a couple less than brilliantly written (the pop star episode was fun but kind of melodramatic IMO.)

So while I agree that the importance of the stand-alone episode to facilitate slow plot reveal can't be overstated in a show like Dollhouse, if people don't enjoy the stand-alone episodes as much as the metaplot, then perhaps there is room for improvement.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the problem was doing stand alone episodes. The problem with the 'standalones' was the lack of thematic consistency with the core idea of the show. The purpose of the Dollhouse isn't to establish various convoluted parameters with which to plug in action oriented 'imprint of the week' plots, but fantasy and the posthuman singularity. (or anti-singularity) There's a lot of episodic stuff Whedon can do within those strictures without the unconvincing 'undercover ATF' agent "The Pretender" type of stuff we got in the first five. Like Sierra in Betty Draper drag with the scar on her head in the unaired pilot--that's the kind of story the material wants to tell.

Unknown said...

I think the problem is that once again Fox advertised (and thus set expectations) for a Pilot that wasn't going to air. I wanted my Noiry journey into the nature of identity, because you told me about it, then said nevermind, here's Eliza on a motorcycle in a shirt skirt, cuz only boys watch sci-fi and boys don't have brains.

The original pilot would have set up the metaplot better so that we could relax for the assignment of the week, because we know the show has deeper places it will go. The impatience came from not knowing if the show would EVER go there. The original pilot would have told us, "This is how deep we're going," and then Human Target would have been, "but not every week, so try to smile once in awhile."

Brent said...

First off, I haven't seen Dollhouse, and I've seen precious little of Whedon's other series (to my detriment, I'm sure).

I'm glad to see that Dollhouse's season finale felt satisfying, and I appreciate the idea that some fans may have benefited from more patience.

However. When I think of this story structure, I think of The X-Files. That show consisted of primarily stand-alone episodes, with a very thin arc. And it worked, because the arc was interspersed within the stand-alone episodes. You'd only have to wait a couple of episodes before seeing at least a little shadowy arc material.

And that pace continued consistently throughout the show's best seasons. Even occasional stand-alone episodes would hint that the real cause of that episode's conflict tied back to the government or aliens or whatever.

That's how to do it. Sounds like Dollhouse didn't.

impleri said...

To an extent, I can agree that Dollhouse hasn't brought a 'metaplot' in the way that X-Files, Buffy, etc did. However, that critique is only available in retrospect. Sure Buffy had a 'metaplot', but it was the basis of the whole series. All of what people call Buffy's story arcs (Angel Gone Bad, Spike's Redemption, etc) were thrown in later. Let's not forget that Spike was originally a one-off character. The 'metaplot' only emerged as the writers developed the Buffyverse. X-Files had more of a direct 'metaplot' in the beginning, but the 'shadowy' elements of it weren't known until after the fact (e.g. many of Mulder's sources were actually working with the CSM). Nobody watching the first season of X-Files would have been able to say on first watch, 'Oh that's important later on'. Perhaps a better example would be the story arc in Star Trek DS9 with the Bajoran/Cardassian tensions and this whole 'Emissary' thing. While those peaked through some episodes, it wasn't until the end that viewers realised what the 'metaplot' really was.

Jacob said...

Uh no, fans didn't like the first 5 episodes because they weren't any good. Episodes 4&5 had their moments but all in all they were bad episodes.

Anonymous said...

Fans wanted the metastory because the week-to-week stories were ... crap. Maybe not crap, but certainly not all that interesting. If they *had* been interesting, maybe the criticisms of the show would have been different. The metastory, on the other hand, actually *is* interesting. Which is why they wanted more of it.

And Babylon 5 certainly was not the origin of overarching metaplots. Jeeze.

Unknown said...

B5 did not introduce the overarching plot entirely, I mean I can think of The Prisoner for one having its overall themes and story... but it was the first one to do it the way it did it, having an overall arc for a 5 season show that was intended to end in a certain amount of time, paving the way for Lost and what BSG pretended to be. Buffy and Angel do not have such arcs except from season to season, which is how it was always done if at all.

Unknown said...

Your conclusion is too simplistic. The standalone epsiode 'Haunted' (episode 10) was incredibly well received by the fandom. The difference between it and the first five episodes was the it was actually well written.

Additionally, the first five episodes told stories that didn't really have anything to do with the core science-fiction idea that makes the Dollhouse distinct. To understand 'Ghost,' 'The Target,' or 'Stage Fright' we need to know absolutely nothing about the Dollhouse's personality insertion technology. We just have to accept that Echo is like that guy in The Pretender. To understand 'Gray Hour' we just have to accept that there's technology that can produce instant amnesia. To understand 'True Believer' we just have to accept that there's technology that can put cameras in people's eyes. In all these episodes you could completely edit out any mention of the personality insertion tech and they would still make perfect sense. They were run-of-the-mill procedurals with a few tiny pieces of Dollhouse tech sprinkled on top. It wasn't until episode 6 that we actually started to see stories that really relied upon the personality insertion tech: ressurecting dead women, putting living people into entirely new bodies, putting more than one whole personality into the same body, and so on. I didn't enjoy the first five epidoes because I was promised a TV show about inserting new personalities into people. What I got may as well been a TV show about a bunch of very good liars.

Unknown said...

First, Michael Hoskins declaration that he hasn't watched TV in years is a declaration of illiteracy. Not all TV is great, but the best TV is better than virtually all feature films, foreign, independent, or studio. When I hear someone brag about not watching TV, I translate it instantly into a manifesto of willful ignorance.

However, for many, many years I didn't watch TV, precisely because it was unchallenging and uninteresting. What changed for me was a series of shows that presented long story arcs, TWIN PEAKS being the first (nevermind that after Season One it became absurd), THE X-FILES being the next, and BUFFY the next, as well as the one that finally drove home to me how truly great television could be.

I can enjoy the occasional standalone episode, but the sole reason I watch TV is for the long narrative. I loved that BATTLESTAR GALACTICA told a story that had a beginning, middle and end. I love that LOST is doing the same thing. My love for MAD MEN is largely connected with its continuation each week of what has happened before. The same with FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHT and PUSHING DAISIES.

If a show doesn't tell a large scale story, I quit it. I've loved FRINGE when it veers to the Big Story, but have been bored by it when it has pursued standalone episodes, which it does all too often. I continue watching it only because the big story is so very, very good.

Unknown said...

I agree mostly with this. Mostly. It wasn't misrepresented by FOX or Joss, the "Gorilla" was not the episodic stories but the slow burning realisation in the Echo character. I trusted Joss and knew that the metastory was coming and I was watching the real gorilla, the threads which would be woven. The shoulder to the wheel, the face in the mirror and the "I see" aimed at Mr Dominic, were all strands which made me think how I would weave them and left me sated safe in the knowledge that Joss would weave. MUCH BETTER PACE THAN THE ORIGINAL PILOT. All metaplot, no build up, no suspense, no edge of the seat stuff. Joss is a script Doctor by trade, HE pulled the pilot because it needed surgery. Overzealous in having Eliza carry the show, other than that, it was great. Seems that the fans were watching the wrong gorilla.

wytchcroft said...

Grr Arrgh!
Blaming the fans is a neat twist - did i fall asleep?
No, actually it's old - the only twist here is in the how.

Well, as to that, i think you're confusing fans with audience... Dollhouse failed to attract and retain a large audience. It DID cllect fans, many quite new to Whedon (et al), as a quick trip round the forums will show. Some of these were quite vocal in iking the stand-a-lones but even they changed their minds from (roughly) ep 6 on.

We all know the best of both worlds is a balance of season arc and episode narratives - too many stand-alones and you got an empty season, too much arc and you get padding and episodes that go nowhere. But either way, and whatever the subjective preference, the episodes have to be GOOD. And really, in the final analysis, some of Dollhouse's standalones just weren't.

Once the production felt confident, that confidence leapt off the screen - better stories, writing, acting and direction - everything gelled. Now, they could have been single episodes but it just happened that the Dollhouse team seemed more invested in the unified episodes, unsurprising given the characters they had to play with and (it should be forcefully stated) the talents of the ensemble cast. Leaving that cast to mope aroud the edges of a lightweight procedural Alias knock off was never going to be a viable option.

And can we stop throwing the word Meta around now please???

john marzan said...

I got impatient because the 50% of the standalones aren't doing it for me. And with the internet and downloading, fans are impatient.

i'd rather have a shorter dollhouse with 2 seasons (w/ right pacing) than 5 seasons of it filled with standalone filler episodes.

Unknown said...

I agree with this post. Rewatching season 1 on DVD gave me new appreciation for the earlier episodes, because I could see the small details that served to setup later twists. Also, knowing the show was going somewhere settled my doubts so I could focus on the way the characters were being developed.

The Target has great flashbacks and Boyd/Echo stuff, Grey Hour had several really interesting twists, and True Believer was very well-done with several twists of its own. Since Ghost was necessary to set up the story, the only episode that was truly skippable was Stage Fright.

John Seavey said...

Which is interesting, because I liked 'Stage Fright' a lot. :) Seriously, to the people who said, "The problem with the stand-alones is that they weren't good," I think we'll just have to agree to disagree, because I thought they were. They grabbed my attention, and they held my interest straight up through the end. I thought they were a nice range of episodes that showed different ways the Dolls could be used (negotiator, bodyguard, infiltrator, expert in an extra-legal profession, "companion"), and had clever twists (kidnappers plan a double-cross, body being guarded is suicidal, feds are setting up a frame, surprise wipe, guy is a psycho). If you really didn't feel that way, um...sorry. I wish you could have gotten as much enjoyment out of the show as I did.

But I really do think a lot of it came down to the marketing and promotion of the show. I kept hearing people who expected the show to have Echo on the run from the Dollhouse by Episode Five, tops, and I include myself in that. I think I'd probably have been a lot more disappointed in the show if a friend hadn't spoiled enough of the season to let me know that wasn't what happened.

(And yes, you can point to long-running soap operas and shows like "Dark Shadows" and "The Prisoner" as an example of shows that had long-running plots, but B5 was the series that originated the idea of a show with a Master Plan for its whole run, a beginning-middle-end sequence that would build over the course of its five seasons to an actual planned climax. That kind of heavy-duty, planning-in-advance arc plotting was new, and changed the game for subsequent series like "Battlestar Galactica" and "Lost". But that's probably a whole other post. :) )

Ultimately, though, I did mean it when I said fan expectation is a red herring. The viewers might have formed false expectations of the show, but there's a long way between that and "It's the audience's fault," and if that's what people got out of this, then I failed to explain it well enough. To clarify: Any false expectations fans had of the show were formed by the marketing and promotion of the series, so if you want to lay blame, it's at Fox for selling the show so badly that what they sold wasn't the product on the package. I do think that if people can divest themselves of that false impression and watch the series as it is, instead of as Fox sold it, they might find that there's a lot more to like there than they first thought, but that doesn't mean you're a bad person for not enjoying it.

And, um, I was...quoting. Yeah. I was quoting a very stupid fan, who got the character's name and the actor's name mixed up and thought it was actually "Ted Ritter". So blame him, not me. He's over there. :)

Anonymous said...

Hmmm....I hate to comment on a show that I haven't watched yet, but in this case I haven't watched it for a particular reason, and I think it may be something you've overlooked so far in your analysis. You see, I haven't had the slightest urge to watch Dollhouse because of the premise--which not only asks you to accept that mind-wiping pimps might not be complete villains, but asks you to accept the mind-wiping pimps' victim as your hero. While she's still completely under said pimps' control. I don't know about you, but I'm gonna have a pretty hard time kicking back and enjoying a show, however fun, if thinking for even 5 seconds about what's actually happening makes me go "eurgh." That is probably another big reason that fans expected Echo to break out real damn soon--they didn't want to watch a show where she didn't.

john marzan said...

Which is interesting, because I liked 'Stage Fright' a lot. :) Seriously, to the people who said, "The problem with the stand-alones is that they weren't good," I think we'll just have to agree to disagree, because I thought they were.

joss whedon disagrees with you:

Meanwhile, Joss Whedon emphasizes that his Fox show, " Dollhouse," is not a procedural -- though he admits it may have seemed that way early on. When asked if he was encouraged by the network to make his show a procedural, he offers a different situation than Abrams': "We were encouraged . . . if you can call shutting us down encouragement. The mission statement is 'do stand-alone, do stand-alone, do stand-alone' and 'as much as possible, make it easy on the audience; don't get involved.' But doing a straight procedural -- that's not something that occurs to my brain."

Unknown said...

@John Marzan:

"joss whedon disagrees with you:"

I just read that whole article looking for the point at which this occurs. I didn't realize you intended the part you quoted to be the "disagreement." Sorry, but your assertion is a bit fallacious.

Whedon says that doing procedurals isn't something that occurs to him. He says he was strong-armed into making stand-alones. He never says that his standalones were bad - just that he didn't necessarily want to make them. You can argue that the lack of passion for the standalones might mean they're below his usual standards, or not "as good as they could be" - that doesn't mean they can't be good in their own right, however. Plenty of creative people hold their own work to a much higher standard than their audience.

I think John (Seavey this time) has a good point. A lot of people were dissatisfied with the standalones, not because they were bad, but because those episodes were not what they had been led to expect from Joss, and from Dollhouse. It was a game of expectations: since the psychological angles were played up in the hype, a lot of procedural fans were probably turned off and didn't bother tuning in. Meanwhile, the folks who were attracted wanted to explore the ramifications of the central premise they were promised - and weren't satisfied when episodes failed to do that.

So, in a way, I disagree with John. I think that there was a disconnect over individual episodes that could have had their own audience, but the disconnect wasn't as much over the metaplot as the central focus. If the show was sold as focusing on an exploration of identity, individual episodes that fail to do that are also failing their audience, whether they serve the metaplot or not. I imagine standalones could have done fine, had they focused on that, and ignored the metaplot, perhaps by using some of the other Dolls as central characters for a change, or simply by telling stories that actually hinged on the thing that made the dolls different from normal spies and thieves and liars - that they were chameleons to the core, people who didn't "assume" identities, but actually became new people, and not of their own volition.

Otherwise, the Dollhouse itself becomes just a frame story for procedurals from any genre you feel like. That may seem like a really open storytelling engine, but I get the feeling it's not going to attract a dedicated audience, because there's no real story continuity - if the only connection between this week's bank caper and last week's romance is that the two main characters are played by the same actress, and there's some handwaving that these completely different people are identities shoved in the same "doll"... sorry, that's not episodes of a show; it's random skits, like "The Outer Limits" or "The Twilight Zone", but without even the loose unifying theme of "science fiction anthology."

Mory said...

I didn't see any of the marketing, so I took the show on its own terms. My favorite episode is the fifth one, with the cult. But I have friends who similarly weren't exposed to the marketing, and I think they liked the later episodes much more. It's not that it was what they were expecting, it's that they provided a lot more fuel for theorizing. Now, we found out that this really isn't a show like Lost, and the theories we'd come up with were a bit more interesting (and much more complicated) than what actually happened. But still, that theorizing is fun. It means that you're not just getting enjoyment out of the show while watching it, you're also enjoying talking about it and thinking about it. That's not something you get with a stand-alone episode. So I don't think it has anything to do with marketing that people prefer episodes with lots of hints.

Unknown said...

I watched the first few episodes of Dollhouse knowing nothing about it (beyond the fact that it was Joss and "the girl who played Faith and Tru" was the lead).

I wasn't looking for anything in particular; I certainly didn't expect a "metaplot". I loved Serenity which was basically just a bunch of random things happening to people in space.

I didn't like Dollhouse because the episodes were bad. They're bad TV. It doesn't have anything to do with the meta-plot or whatever. The -ideas- for the episodes were great; but the shows were weakly executed.

It sounds to me like this is an argument between people who liked the slow buildup of meta plot and people who liked it fast.
If you liked the first few episodes because there were little Easter Eggs that came out later then that's liking the meta plot; it's just liking a metaplot that "unrolls" slowly.

I agree that the "premise" of the show is a fantastic story engine (and I give you mad props for introducing the concept to me); but the show was really marred by weak acting and silly/wildly improbably plot twists.

They should have taken a great story engine and "sat" on it; really immersed themselves in it. Just told a season or two of great procedural type stories with a fantastic set of character actors, well written episodes and coherent near-modern sci-fi. Then you can have the FBI agent, and the "fall of the Dollhouse" and all that in later Seasons.
Stuffing the show with weak-but-attractive female actors and grinding out filler episodes was a shame.

Buffy was uneven for the first two seasons; but I'm past the stage in my life where I have time to watch bad TV shows hoping they will eventually improve. I suppose after Serenity they're trying to write like the whole thing will be over in a Season or two?

Michael Hoskin said...

>First, Michael Hoskins declaration that he hasn't watched TV in years is a declaration of illiteracy. Not all TV is great, but the best TV is better than virtually all feature films, foreign, independent, or studio. When I hear someone brag about not watching TV, I translate it instantly into a manifesto of willful ignorance.

Illiteracy? Pejorative much?

My reasons for not bothering with television have nothing to do with ignorance. It's an involved story, has nothing to do with Dollhouse or Whedon and is also none of your business.

I do occasionally wind up with DVDs loaned by friends, however. I agree with you that Mad Men is an okay program.

wytchcroft said...

game of expectations? eh??? what???

Buffy - standalones. Angel - Standalones. Firefly - standalones. No matter how much love for a season's uber-plot, people come back to the episodes. Hush, Restless, The Body, Once More With Feeling, Objects in Space, Out of Gas, Destiny, The Hole in the World.
All may have had aspects of their various shows plot and character arcs but they also stand on their own, they have qualities beyond simply being revelatory and so they can be enjoyed years after transmission.

The Whedonverse is well acquainted with this. The only expectation an audience had was for quality, quality based on track record. That's where the disappointment was - for many of us - the lack of quality.
Attempting to argue definitively that those familiar with Whedon's prior work were blind, self deluded or just didn't get it, whatever - is ridiculous, just ridiculous.