As someone who is not a member of the cult of Joss Whedon, for me the sense of excitement and anticipation greeting a new series from the mastermind of stylistic method drama falls more under the category of curiosity. I appreciated the artistic ambition of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel" and the metaphorical depth of "Firefly," but they never hooked me.

Now arrives "Dollhouse." In the early episodes of this much-hyped Fox drama, it's easy to see its high aspiration and grand potential but far more difficult to develop any sort of attachment to either the conceit or its enchanting star and co-producer, Eliza Dushku. The show has an antiseptic quality that keeps our heroine sealed in an emotional bubble as she takes on new personas every week by dint of the premise. It's good for helping Dushku exercise her acting chops, but not so good for forming a tight audience connection since we never really know who she is.

Dushku heads the high-concept "Dollhouse" as a woman who has had her personality wiped clean as a consequence of taking a job with an underground organization that imprints new personas on its fetching "Actives" to serve the needs of its wealthy clientele. Her character, Echo, has her head regularly cleansed of persona and memory by the Dollhouse's resident wisecracking brainiac, Topher (Fran Kranz), and gets led from assignment to assignment by handler Boyd (Harry Lennix).

Although Whedon infuses "Dollhouse" with an impressively detailed story line and social structure as well as nifty production values, the show lacks something for viewers to grab onto. On the other hand, he knows how to build a story like few others, and Dushku is an uncommonly talented performer who breathes vibrant life into the ever-evolving blank-canvas scheme. So this definitely could turn into something special over time, if the Friday night ratings can justify the patience. (partialdiff)