Although it’s not strictly a TV show (more on that in a mo), with Joss Whedon’s Marvel team-up movie Avengers Assemble flying high in the charts it seemed a perfect time to go back and have a look at his first foray into the world of superheroes, the sublime Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.
In 2007, frustrated by the seemingly never-ending writers strike and intrigued by the studio circumnavigating potential of the internet, Buffy The Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon (along with his brothers, Zack and Jed and Dollhouse writer – and Jed’s wife – Maurissa Tancharoen) created Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Featuring How I Met Your Mother star Neil Patrick Harris as Dr Horrible, Firefly (and now Castle) star Nathan Fillion as Captain Hammer and Buffy’s Felicia Day as Penny, the set-up is a simple one.
Dr Horrible hosts an online video blog in which he answers queries from fans and mocking peers alike. We then follow him in his attempts to impress The Evil League of Evil’s fearsome leader Bad Horse (literally an evil horse), join the team and along the way – hopefully – tell Penny, the object of his most secret desires, how he feels about her, all while staying one step ahead of his nemesis Captain Hammer. Oh, and did I mention that it’s a musical? Clearly not having exorcised all of his song-writing demons in the much celebrated musical episode of Buffy, Once More With Feeling, Joss still had a songwriting itch to scratch. And thank God he did, because Dr. Horrible… is a unique joy from start to finish. Hilarious, touching and featuring some insanely catchy songs (and I hate – hate – musicals…) it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
Neil Patrick Harris, in the title role, is brilliant, devising plans to join The Evil League of Evil one minute and blinking nervously as Dr. Horrible’s shy-around-girls alter-ego Billy the next. As you would expect from a seasoned Broadway star, he handles the songs with gusto (not least the ninety-words-a-minute Brand New Day) and engenders sympathy from the off, especially when – mid-heist – he accidentally drives his secret crush Penny into the muscled arms of his nemesis, Captain Hammer. With his larger-than-life plans doomed to failure (due, in no small part, to the fact that he announces them on his blog, tipping the authorities off to his next big move), Dr. Horrible is a classic Whedon putz, relatable, well-meaning (for a villain) and lovable (he also bears more than a passing resemblance to DreamWorks Animation’s own 2010 super-villain Megamind. Coincidence? Hmmm…)
Felicia Day, whose own internet show The Guild was partially responsible for Whedon’s enthusiasm for the medium, is adorable; gawky and sweet as charity worker Penny and unaware that her laundry day buddy Billy is really her new boyfriend’s arch enemy. The real star of the show though is Fillion.
Ladling on gargantuan portions of cheese as self-satisfied hero Captain Hammer, he preens his way through the proceedings like a deluded peacock, never shy of congratulating himself for his general all-round awesomeness. Whether he’s dangling Dr. Horrible from his underwear elastic in the mother of all wedgies or inspiring his fellow citizens – via song – to improve themselves (“…especially that guy, he smells like poo”) he’s clearly having a blast and gives a hefty insight into why people who work with Joss tend to line up around the block to do so again.
Beautifully realised, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog is pure Whedon; goofy, geeky, funny and smart. New episodes have been promised for a while and, although they would be very welcome, the ending (and oh my God, what a classic Joss Whedon, gut-punch of an ending it is!) certainly seems a little final.
The whole thing only comes to about 45 minutes (three episodes of 12 minutes or so each) and is available online but, I’m here to tell you, there’s a better way. Although it’s yet to have been released in the UK, the US Blu Ray is region free and will play on UK players. With featurettes, bloopers, fan-made Evil League of Evil application videos and two fantastic commentaries (including one featuring all new songs – Commentary! The Musical) it’s an awesome package and well worth ordering. I got mine for about £7 so you really have no excuse whatsoever to get your mouse finger working and dive right in.