Dr. Horrible: A Prescription for Delight!

 

Where is evil bred?  In the heart or in the head?

Joss Whedon knows a great deal about good and evil, about pathos. He spent several years in an English boarding school after all. He also knows about struggling against tyranny (he’s received memos with the Fox logo on them).  He flourishes under trying circumstances and is probably all the stronger for it. This year, in the midst of revolution (the WGA strike), Whedon sat down at the piano and devised a master plot.

 



The evil scheme? Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, a mini-musical in three acts, self-financed and distributed on the web. You can currently grab it on iTunes for 4 clams. This is a creator owned exercise and a perfect example of what kind of pleasant surprises can come out of such freedom. A labor of love about the labors of evil if ever there was one.   


Dr. Horrible is essentially a light-hearted deconstruction of the super villain. Neil Patrick Harris plays the not-so-good Doctor, and despite his designs on world domination, his character is a bit more congenial than Harris’ role on How I Met Your Mother. He’s a hopeless romantic and his nefarious plans really aren’t so nefarious come to think of it. That hopeless heart is in the right place at least. On his sleeve, perhaps? I like that metaphor because it offers a convenient segue to the local coin wash, where Horrible launders his shirts and falls for the fabled red-haired girl (Felicia Day). So begins a star-crossed spin cycle romance, which ends up a little more triangular than Horrible would’ve wanted. You see, resident hero Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion) also has (more than) his eyes on Penny (he’s nailing her). And Horrible might stand more of a chance here if he didn’t have to divide his wooing time between her and the application for entry into the Evil League of Evil. Priorities, man.

Whedon has already impressed with his incredible musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and while this outing is only mostly successful, the better numbers will stick with you. A soundtrack and DVD release are forthcoming, and there are already rumblings of further incarnations. Hopefully sooner rather than later. For yours (mostly) truly, the announcement of this particular Whedon project garnered much more interest than even his upcoming Dollhouse series for Fox. This has a little to do with the creator-owned aspect and even more to do with the overall tone.


One thing I think worth noting is the similarity of Dr. Horrible to the Rogues of Flash and Countdown fame. Flawed heroes and sympathetic villains have been around for longer than many modern writers are willing to admit, but characters like Dr. Horrible and the Piper belong to a special brotherhood. Not just men forced into criminal situations out of weakness or misfortune, but men who actively enter into a life of crime fully lucid and aware of their status as villains. They resent the local hero and see themselves more as vigilantes or agents of chaos. Anarchists in a world where order is anything but. Where justice isn’t so just. At least in their minds. See, their whims are more than a little selfish, but with selfishness there is often self awareness. And that makes for a pretty interesting and well rounded villain. Or in this case an anti-hero. Company all this with the YouTube era video blog as virtual ladder to celebrity status, and you have an interesting commentary on both comics and web 2.0. But that’s all subtext and never really gets in the way of the capes, cowls, or crooning.

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog is a funny and thoughtful experiment, and if you have any affinity for… if you’re reading this website… check it out.

And if you have seen it, what were your impressions? What would you like to see in future installments of the Dr. Horrible saga? Or was that final note a little too perfect for any continuation to follow up on?

 


Paul Montgomery just noticed he has a spork in his thigh. Reach him at paul@ifanboy.com


 

 

Comments

  1. I really liked it Both funny and tugging-at-the-heartstrings-y. I wasn’t prepared for the ending but in retrospect I should have been. It was very Joss Whedonish.

     

    As for a continuation I vote nay. The story is over. There’s something to be said for getting to the point and getting out. Especially in today’s world of trilogies, franchises, and sequels. 

     

    What I really like to see Joss try his hand at would be a full-blown in the theaters, big budget movie musical. the most recent musical successes have all been adaptations of other work. I’d love to see Joss show us something original.

  2. Fantastic little write up, sir.

    I’m with you that is  "mostly successful". It did a lot of things right, and I hope that something more will come from this.

  3. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    One thing I thought might be interesting would be an expanded version of Dr. Horrible, with more songs and a little refinement to some of the weaker pieces in Act 3.  I would love to see a more substantial version of this story.  Thinking of this as a proof of concept.  

  4. I really liked this. And what’s more, I got my wife to sit down and watch this with me, and even a hater of all things comics enjoyed this very-comics-inspired show. I think this was a perfect 3-act short play and I’m not particularly interested in seeing a bigger, longer version of it. But I wouldn’t mind seeing some of these characters again in more short bits, especially the Evil Masters of Evil or Bad Horse’s Chorus. Maybe a face off between the EME and the League of Henchmen, in which the Henchmen make a bid for respect.

  5. Would i like to see more?! Hells yes i like to see more! Like a full musical kind of more.

  6. Yeah, I would love to see it expanded into a full story and see it on stage. This would be great and hilarious in person a la Spamalot or Young Frankenstein.

  7. I have to say, I liked reading your description here more than the thing itself.  One thing Whedon is good at is starting conversations about his work. 

  8. I agree about seeing it expanded. I didn’t really think the third act was weak, but I would love to see more of this story, as it’s full circle and a sequel wouldn’t feel quite the same…

    Going rumor is that they’re pushing for a Broadway… we’ll see….

  9. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    @ohcaroline – Did anything in particular bother you about the piece?  I felt the opening monologue, while funny, had some timing problems.  The second act is probably the best, with some really terrific songs.  The third ends well, but the Captain Hammer song isn’t particularly strong.  As I said, I really like the piece overall, and any marks against it are just for awkwardness in specific areas.  But they’re very minor qualms.  

  10. @Paul  I’d have to rewatch it for specifics.  Overall, I had a hard time figuring out what he was going for, and by the time it ended I was just perplexed.  The first couple segments I thought were more ‘cute’ that moving or actually really funny.  It was more stuff I could theoretically see how it could be funny (and NPH is so talented, he sold some of it all on his own).  I rather liked the ending, but I thought the drastic shift in tone wasn’t really prepared for by the rest of the piece. 

  11. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    @ohcaroline – I think there are notes in NPH’s performance even in the first monologue that permit the tonal shift, even if they don’t outright hint at it.  There’s something in that moment where the first song shifts from the laundromat back to the block.  It’s sobering.  I agree that NPH really heightens what’s already there, and that a lesser performer might have offered a two dimensional performance of a sniveling ego-maniac.  NPH plays it pretty vulnerable, and that dichotomy sort of informs the complexity later on.  Is it cute?  Yeah.  But I don’t think it’s merely cute.  It’s sort of begging to be expanded I think.  And perhaps if those threads had a little more room to unspool it’d make for a much more layered, much more nuanced narrative.  

    The ending should be a little jarring, but it should feel organic too.  I was really rooting for this, so maybe I was a little more forgiving.  I have a tough time evaluating Whedon because it’s a wave length I try to tune in to fairly often.  I look at it so subjectively.  

  12. @Paul  Oh, I’m a big Whedon fan too.  And I do think if the whole thing were expanded/continued/ developed it could go in really interesting directions.  That’s why it’s fun to talk about even when it didn’t completely work for me.

  13. bad horse, the thoughbred of sin. I want one.

  14. All I can say is I wish Whedon would do everything as a musical, every time he does one its incredible.

  15. Loved it, every second of it. I think I watched it on the dr. horrible blog about 20x per episode, then got myself a copy of them onto my ipod and made everyone at work watch it

     

    Can’t wait for it to come out on DVD. I think my personal favourite songs are the first song the laundry one, the brand new day song (last one of ep2) and the song about sheeple song (2nd or 3rd song of ep3)

     

    MORE! 😀

  16. yeah this was great; whedon should do more.

     gotta say NPH still got it.

  17. It gets better every viewing and you notice and hear more and more things. It definitely stands up for repeat watchings. I would love to see more whether it’s a sequel or an extended version.

     

  18. It could have used some finer tuning in the final act like people have mentioned, but overall, fun and enjoyable. I like the talk of broadway, or an extended version, not so much a sequel.

  19. Loved it!  More is a requirement.

    Moist will rule someday. Him or the Pink Pummeler.

  20. I loved it! And I was able to get my wife, who only begrudgingly likes anything comic book related to watch it and she loved it too. The first time I watched the final act it was pretty shocking, and I didn’t see it taking such a dark turn, but the more I watched the first two acts there were little hits of the last act’s tone. I love Joss Whedon, and I hope this gets expanded however they chose to do it, I need more.

  21. I am so over Joss Whedon’s playbook. The end of Act III is Whedon Move #2a.The whole reason I fell in love with him in the first place was that he was doing the unexpected.

    Yes, Mr. Whedon! We’re all having a happy moment; time to senselessly kill the cutest or funniest member of the cast in the most tonally jarring way possible. That way, we know there are STAKES. We remember from Wash, and Tara, and Fred, and every goddamn thing you have done for the last ten years. It’s a miracle Kitty Pryde escaped with her life. Ugh! SO tired of it.

  22. @Jimski  I kind of agree that the ending of this didn’t work with the rest of it (though I didn’t love the rest of it, so I don’t care that much).  And I have trouble with the Fred thing (though I don’t think her death is really tonally jarring for the show; only the fact that she and Wesley are sort of happy for the first part of that one episode makes it so.  Otherwise, "everything sucks all the time" is pretty much the consistent tone of ‘Angel’).  But I’ll argue all day that the Wash moment is what makes Serenity a great movie.  If they gang had done what they did without losing anybody, it would have been a cheat.  It had to cost something; and of course it’s Wash because he’s (a) the one who has challenged Mal the most throughout the movie and (b) he’s the genius pilot, so he’s the one they can’t do it without.  

    This has very little to do with Dr. Horrible, sorry :).

  23. And, err, I think we just made the comments ‘spoilery for Joss Whedon’s whole ouevre. ‘  Hope that’s okay.

  24. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    The death needed to happen for Horrible’s character revelation at the end.  I’m weary of Whedon’s bloody pen too, but the problem is that each of these moments work for me within the context of the individual stories.  The Fred thing is tough to gauge because I don’t think we got to see the whole thing play out.  We saw part one, but we didn’t get parts 2 and 3 and maybe even up to 17 of that character arc.  

  25. @ohcaroline, it was the exact opposite for me; in that moment of Serenity, I instantly went from "this is the best movie I have seen in years" to "f*** you; let’s go home." I literally couldn’t remember what happened after that part of the movie because I was so pissed off at the author. A moment before, he was the bellowing giant green head; a moment later, he was just the little old humbug behind the curtain. I began to see that he was just working those same beats time after time after time. And I can almost hear him blathering on about the STAKES, ohhh the STAKES, all hail Joss, he doesn’t give us what we want, he gives us what we NEED. BAHHHH.

  26. Not that I have a strong opinion about it or anything.

  27. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    I understand the frustration, but people do die unexpectedly in real life, so why shouldn’t fictional characters?  

  28. That’s just it! It’s not unexpected! He does it the exact same way every time. I called this one in the first act but was giving him the benefit of the doubt.

  29. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    …People die in expected ways in real life too.  

    Just this morning.  I knew those ropes weren’t going to hold up that piano.  That guy in the cargo shorts didn’t stand a chance.  

    Should we really blame the moving company?  

    Well, probably…

    But that’s just the symptom.  The disease is gravity. And the weight of a piano.  The inescapable weight… 

  30. @Jimski  Re: Wash — is it the fact that someone died, or the way it played out?  Because, like I said, I think it’s crucial for the moral stakes of the movie that we lose somebody we care about.  It’s the only thing that gives the risk Mal takes any reality.  Which is in the vein of what Paul is saying about how the deaths work in the context of the stories (Dr. H being the exception for me because I don’t think there’s enough context).  It’s no more of a cliche than "the whole team bands together and fights evil and wins!" — and it’s a helluva lot more honest.  

     

     

  31. Adding new comment to get that spoiler off the front page. 

    Unfortunately am out of substantive things to say 🙂 

  32. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Jimski is bitter because Wash reminded him of himself.  That’s why that scene is so hard for a lot of us.  😉

  33. Besides Felicia is busy working on season two of The Guild.  She had to be killed, she has no time!

  34. @Paul — Oh, yeah.  I know.  This isn’t the first time I’ve had this conversation.  My theory is that Wash reminds Joss of himself, too, so he tried to make it up to all the people who were mad at him for killing women and minorities by throwing his ego on the altar, so to speak.  Din’t work, obviously.  So he went back to killing girls.

    BTW, this whole conversation reminded me to look up a quote from ‘Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead’:  We’re more of the love, blood, and rhetoric school. Well, we can do you blood and love without the rhetoric, and we can do you blood and rhetoric without the love, and we can do you all three concurrent or consecutive. But we can’t give you love and rhetoric without the blood. Blood is compulsory.

    The real answer is that Whedon secretly thinks he’s writing Jacobean revenge tragedies and that the company owner is going to come in any second and yell, "Not enough bodies in the final act, Whedon!  Have you gone SOFT on me???’

  35. I absolutely loved this little gem. It hit all the right notes (pun) for me. I would say that trying to continue the story could be good, but why do it unless it is part of the original concept? I think this story is perfect as is.

  36. Needs to be the next Rocky Horror: on Broadway and then the next midnight-show-dress-up-sing-along feature film. 

  37. Yes, "Wash reminds you of yourself" is what every Browncoat says when they are dismissing my complaint. Buy a coupla loud shirts, and you lose all credibility.

    I will agree that killing somebody is *a* way to make the danger seem real, specifically the easiest possible way, especially after all that practice from doing it in every other project. Through the chest. Every time.

    The Serenity impaling was just the time when I finally went, "My God, that’s shocking! Wait, no it’s not. He always does this. He’s reading from the playbook," and just had enough of it.

    This is not to be confused with its cousin, Joss Whedon Move 1a, "introduce a character as if he’s going to be the main character, only to kill him a few hours in. That way, people will know the STAKES. The STAKES, people! They’re real!" (Angel’s Doyle, Buffy’s Eric Balfour, someone-in-the-Dollhouse-pilot-I-guarantee-it)

    Amazingly, I have actually gotten emotionally invested in shows without the comic relief/sweetest character getting impaled right at the moment of happiness. Don’t ask me how.

    I know everyone thinks I’m crazy when I say this stuff; all the people who came with me to that midnight Serenity preview looked at me like I’d gone off my meds. This is just gonna always be one of those things where everyone raves about how gorgeous the emperor’s clothes are while I pull my hair out by the fistful. We all have these things, I think. I say all this as one of the staunchest defenders Buffy season 6 ever had, by the way. 

  38. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    I see where you’re coming from.  I really and truly do.  Just try not to get so worked up about it, man.  There are worse offenders out there.  

    Doyle doesn’t really count because the actor (may he R.I.P.) was essentially fired because he was not taking active steps to curb his dangerous drug problem.  So that was a creative solution to a casting change.  

    I’m sticking with my opinion that each of these instances of character death work on their own and it’s only ever annoying because it’s a tool he repeatedly uses.  I guess I’m just choosing to look at it on a case by case basis and not just as a catalog thing.  I don’t disagree with you, but it doesn’t bother me nearly so much.   

  39. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    I liked Buffy season 6 too.  

  40. @Jimski — It’s okay, I completely get it.  I think all writers have patterns but for whatever reason, some of them are going to strike us in a certain way.  Like, I literally can’t watch anything Aaron Sorkin does, ever since he used ‘man inadvertently falls for sex worker, must wrestle with social and moral implications storylines on different shows in the same calendar year.  Admittedly, that’s a little more idiosyncratic (both on Sorkin’s part and on mine), but I totally understand that a pattern can bug you.  Like Paul, I see the patterns in Whedon’s writing, I just don’t see it as a weakness or something that bothers me.

  41. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    No, not Aaron Sorkin too!  You people have learned my sacred cows and you’re readying the sesame seed buns!

     😉

    If you start on Roald Dahl and Wes Anderson I’m going to have to start deleting comments! 

  42. Even as the words were leaving my fingers, I was amazed to discover how hot a button this still is for me years later. I saw the end of Doc Horrible surreptitiously at the office to day, and I almost pulled a Wrath-of-Khan "Wheeee-dooooon!" fist shake.

    I think I’m harder on him than say, the creator of Two and a Half Men *because* he has been so good.

    And I love West Wing with all my bits, even though all the characters use the word "thing" the way Smurfs use the word "smurf." 

  43. Also, "the fact that you still get this worked up about it shows what effective writing it is" would be exactly the right thing to say right now to get me to have a stroke.

  44. @Jimski  — I promise, I would never say that.   I think it’s evidence that reading/viewing is intensely subjective and personal.  Just like the fact that you and Paul and a bunch of my closest friends can tell me (and have told me) that Aaron Sorkin writes the kind of compelling sociopolitical drama that, for every reason, I ought to like, and I’ll say, "The fact that he thinks all literate  people are intimately familiar with the works of Gilbert & Sullivan makes me want to hit him with a hammer".  (A metaphor hammer; but not Captain Hammer’s metaphor hammer, for obvious reasons).

  45. I agree that he does use the "killing off of the most likable character" a little to much but if you view each one on its own merits I think each holds up and has a very distinctly different meaning to the story. This one is unique in that otherwise he wouldn’t become a villain, well at least not the one in the red jacket. He might even of became a true superhero.

    I would love to see more of Dr. Horrible, but I don’t really see how you would move on from here.

  46. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    @jimski – I’d never say that.  

    I seriously think I need to call Josh for backup in the defense of Sorkin.  I’m sure, even now, he’s feeling a sudden twinge as if a great evil has been set loose upon the wordverse.  

     

  47. The way Sorkin left the series blew me away. As his last episode began unspooling, it became clear that he had been setting up pieces on the chess board for weeks and weeks without drawing attention to it, and then it all came together in that immaculate, jaw-dropping cliffhanger. I watched the last twenty minutes on the balls of my feet.

  48. All I’m saying about Sorkin is that I don’t enjoy his shows!  It’s not even a critical judgment, it’s just an example I’m using to say that I understand people have different tastes.

    Okay, I also said I want to hit him with a hammer.  But, only as a metaphor.  And I wouldn’t, actually, do that.  Not even metaphorically.

    Really, I’m a very nice person.  🙂 

    I could have used a better example of somebody whose work sets me on edge for subjective personal reasons, but it would be a name that can’t actually be uttered on comics discussion boards without food fights breaking out, and God knows I don’t want to drag HIM into this.  

  49. Dr. Horrible > Dark Knight

  50. Pure meh. Certainly not the best I’ve read/seen of Whedon, who’s mostly over-rated in my opinion. Had a few half-hearted chuckles but most of the story elements have been done better on "Venture Bros."

    And singing doesn’t equal funny. 

  51. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Jokes and singing together equal funny however…

    To each their own, of course.   

  52. It’s important to note that none of the actors were paid and are only going to make money on the back-end through DVD sales and stuff.  I’d encourage people to not just rent but buy this when it comes out on DVD.  Nathan Fillion deserves to get paid, people!

  53. Fianally watched it. Twas brilliant.

  54. thebouv++

  55. This is great!! It turns out that everything Joss Whedon is associated with is awesome!! Yes….EVERYTHING!!