I recently watched Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog for the first time. Now I’m wondering why I waited so long! Here are ten reasons to love this surprisingly good, wildly popular, web original. It is in the running for the Hulu Award for Best Web Original, so if you agree with my assessment of Dr. Horrible, go to The Hulu Review and vote for it! I’ve done my best to write a spoiler-free analysis, so it should be safe for Dr. Horrible newcomers to proceed.
- The Title – I would have loved to be in the brainstorming session in which Whedon and his team tried to come up with an appropriate name for this odd, genre-defying show. They could have gone with something standard like “Dr. Horrible vs. Captain Hammer.” Or something epic sounding like Dr. Horrible: Evil Mastermind. I think their ultimate choice was brilliant! When you first hear the name “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” you’re not sure what to make of it. In fact, after watching it, I’m still not sure what to make of it, but it certainly has a nice ring to it. This title is befitting of a show that is both offbeat and epic in scope.
- Joss Whedon as writer, director, and producer – Has he ever gone wrong? I’ve loved just about everything he’s ever worked on (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly… even the 1992 Buffy movie with Kristy Swanson!). I know some people don’t like his writing style, particularly the clever, fast-paced, often sarcastic dialogue, but that is one of my favorite things about his shows. There’s certainly a lot of sarcasm and low key humor in Dr. Horrible. Thanks for another little gem to hold us over until Dollhouse premieres, Joss!
- Neil Patrick Harris – He has come so far since Doogie! I love him as Barney on How I Met Your Mother, and now he has won me over once again, this time as a lovesick, self-doubting, evil genius wannabe. He plays the dual role of Billy/Dr. Horrible with gusto! I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing it as well as he does. Some of my favorite moments are these: when he “just so happens” to have two ice creams at the laundromat (“what a crazy, random happenstance!”) and proceeds to have a shy and awkward conversation with Penny, when he appears very haggard and explains to viewers on his video blog that his heist didn’t go exactly as planned, and when he finally has enough of Captain Hammer and angrily plots his revenge during the song “Brand New Day.”
- Nathan Fillion – Fillion was perfect for the role of the completely self-centered, grand-standing, not-so-golden-hearted super hero. He is quite the go-to for Whedon, now having appeared in three very different roles in the Whedonverse: loyal captain Mal on Firefly, evil preacher Caleb on Buffy, and now, the arrogant and comical hero. I loved his grandiose entrance with the song “A Man’s Gotta Do,” along with every Captain Hammer moment after that. Captain Hammer standing on top of a moving van, his hair blowing in the wind. Captain Hammer saying egotistical things to the media. Captain Hammer stating the obvious to Dr. Horrible.
- The Supporting Cast – Felicia Day deserves a mention here for her turn as Penny. She plays the idealistic, soft spoken, and often clueless optimist very well. I must say, though, that I was slightly annoyed by her sing-song, airy vocals on her songs. But, I suppose that was in keeping with the character. My favorite supporting character was Moist, played by Simon Helberg of “The Big Bang Theory.” What a hilarious character! An evil henchman whose only “superpower” is the ability to produce lots of sweat. “Do you need anything moistened?” I loved how Helberg plays Moist as a very low key guy. Also worth mentioning are the Bad Horse Chorus and the members of the Evil League of Evil. Neither of these groups had much dialogue or screen time, but they are further proof of the unending creative juices in Whedon’s mind.
- Dr. Horrible’s lair and gadgets – These aspects of the show are very reminiscent of Buffy’s evil trio – Jonathan, Andrew, and Warren. Those guys were much more geeky and wimpy than the typical super villains, but they had a pretty impressive basement lair, and lots of interesting gadgets and gizmos. Same here, as Dr. Horrible, a.k.a. Billy, is more lovable than loathesome, so we find ourselves wanting him to succeed in his dastardly deeds, which involve a freeze ray and other mad scientist type gadgets. The scenes in his “evil” den/lab give us a different perspective on Dr. Horrible. Plus, they are just really fun.
- Captain Hammer’s speech – “Home is where the heart is, so your real home’s in your chest.” That’s just one of the absurd lines delivered by Captain Hammer during his speech at the dedication of the new homeless shelter. The song is called “Everyone’s a Hero,” and includes some other memorable lines: “Everyone’s a hero in their own way, you and you and mostly me and you,” “Don’t worry if it’s hard, If you’re not a friggin’ ‘tard you will prevail,” etc…
- Penny and Billy’s duet – One of the earliest songs is also one of my favorites. In “My Eyes,” Penny and Billy (Dr. Horrible) sing a surprisingly beautiful duet, and the editing is well done to show the contrast and commonalities in their respective, overlapping lyrics. While Billy sings “I cannot believe my eyes / How the world’s filled with filth and lies / But it’s plain to see / Evil inside of me is on the rise,” Penny sings quite the opposite about the same situations: “I cannot believe my eyes / Is the world finally growing wise / ‘Cause it seems to me / Some kind of harmony / Is on the rise.” The music, the lyrics, and the performances come together to make this one of the most memorable moments of Dr. Horrible.
- The Mix – Like every other Joss Whedon show, Dr. Horrible is an odd mix of comedy, tragedy, the mundane, and the grandiose. In this case, we have a guy falling in love with a girl at a laundromat while at the same time trying to prove himself worthy to join the Evil League of Evil. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the show) was, in my opinion, Whedon’s finest achievement. It dealt with serious themes while also entertaining us with action, suspense, horror, and comedy. Dr. Horrible gives us a small dose of the same thing. While on its surface this web original is more about quirky characters and silly songs, it also deals with love, loss, and ambition. I love this about it.
- The Songs – The music, the lyrics, and the performances are all top notch. If you are looking for trained voices, you’ll be disappointed. Like the Buffy episode “Once More, with Feeling,” most of the performers here lack impressive voices (Neil Patrick Harris is the best). That doesn’t matter, though, because part of the point is for these characters to seem pretty average, in the case of Penny and Billy, and buffoonish, in the case of Captain Hammer. Their singing voices match their characters well. The witty lyrics are perhaps the best thing about the whole show, but the music isn’t too shabby either. From the upbeat piano chords in “My Freeze Ray,” to the edgy sound of “Brand New Day,” to the mockingly regal trumpets of “Everyone’s a Hero,” the music constantly readjusts the tone and keeps viewers wondering what will happen next.
If you haven’t seen Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, I encourage you to take 45 minutes of your time to do so. You won’t regret it!
- Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog – View the entire 45 minute extravaganza on Hulu.
- The Hulu Review: Best Web Original – Vote for Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog in the Hulu Awards!
- Dr. Horrible Liner Notes – A good place to go to read the song lyrics