It's a science fiction retelling of MTV's The Real World, and it works about as well as you would expect.
Not only that, Tycho has pretty much nailed me as a viewer of Dollhouse: I keep watching in the hope that Whedon knows exactly what he's doing and that the show will begin to engage me in the same way Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly did. After all, Firefly didn't hook me until a second and third viewing, and that was unfortunately long after it had been canceled and released on DVD.
I'd hate for Dollhouse to meet the same fate, to be tossed in the dustbin too early by FOX, only to discover later that it was much more than the sum of its parts. But the first two episodes have provided no inkling—zip-zilch-nada—that it will ever rise above its first impressions.
It's flat-out terrible. I can even see the justification, as at least one of my friends have, for labeling it misogynistic. As a vehicle for Eliza Dushku, Tru Calling held far greater promise; for one, it didn't expect her to perfect her Vacant-Eyed Pretty Thing stare (admittedly, it's a look she wears very well). In Dollhouse, that's her default look, until her mind is imprinted with a new personality—or rather, an amalgamation of personalities, all with specific skills and memories. Then she's sent out on whatever "assignments" the Dollhouse's clients request: hostage negotiator, say, or an outdoors enthusiast. As for the latter, she really played little more than a rock-climbing prostitute. As for character: how can we care about someone whose character changes every week? She's never the same person. It's not like The Pretender, where Jarod was his own person who was just very, very good at role-playing. Echo (the code name for Dushku's "active") is just a cipher until some computer geek reprograms her. Supposedly she becomes self-aware as the series progresses, and I can see how searching for her own identity could make an engaging story, but so far it's just not there.
In the meantime, I keep watching. And hoping against hope.