An ode to an awesome internet musical
By Caroline Ho, Assistant Editor
For fans of Joss Whedon, clever musicals, and ludicrous yet sentimental superhero/supervillain stories, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog has everything you could want.
If you’ve never heard of this musical web series and cult classic—now is the perfect time to check it out. This year is the 10th anniversary of Dr. Horrible, which first aired online in July 2008 and was released on DVD in December of that year. Or perhaps the musical will pique your interest now because one of its stars, Felicia Day, was at the recent Fan Expo Vancouver. Or perhaps you’re in need of a Halloween costume, in which case the getups of these characters are simple yet distinctive and effective. Or you should watch it simply because it’s a hilarious, poignant, and excellently written piece of media.
Dr. Horrible was born out the Writers Guild of America strike between 2007 and 2008. The miniseries was created and self-funded by Joss Whedon and his family to demonstrate that a low-budget yet high-quality production could be made while much of the entertainment world was on hiatus.
As Whedon wrote in a comment on fansite Whedonesque shortly before the series’ release, “The idea was to make it on the fly, on the cheap, but to make it. To turn out a really thrilling, professionalish piece of entertainment specifically for the internet. To show how much could be done with very little.” The result: This three-act, 42-minute-long work with a budget of about $200,000 and an excess of hilarious, emotional, musical awesomeness.
Dr. Horrible stars Neil Patrick Harris as mad scientist supervillain wannabe Dr. Horrible, AKA hapless loser Billy. Nathan Fillion stars as his archenemy, the absurdly machismo Captain Hammer, and Felicia Day plays Penny, their shared love interest. When not vlogging about his evil schemes, Billy tries his awkward best to win over Penny’s heart of gold. Meanwhile, as Dr. Horrible he strives to commit an act nefarious enough to gain acceptance into the prestigious Evil League of Evil, led by Bad Horse (who is a literal horse). Musical numbers and other scenes are also interspersed with Horrible’s video blog entries, where he details to his online followers his supervillain schemes and his rivalry with Captain Hammer.
If the cast and premise don’t have you sold already, the songs should win you over. Every one of the tracks, written by Whedon and family, is super catchy and sing-along-able. They’re all superbly written, balancing over-the-top silliness with genuine emotional depth. My favourite song is probably “My Eyes,” a soulful and beautifully harmonized duet from Horrible and Penny. However, from the almost-sappy and cheerfully homicidal “Freeze Ray,” to the exuberant mariachi tune “Bad Horse,” to the chillingly melodramatic “Slipping,” the whole soundtrack abounds with wittiness and musical excellence.
The entire musical manages to be unexpectedly profound and character-driven, topped with the perfect amount of self-aware superhero cheesiness. Horrible’s motives for villainy are compellingly utilitarian—he seeks power to change and overthrow what he views as an irreparably corrupt, apathetic societal system. His internal struggles between trying to woo Penny and trying to prove his badness to the Evil League of Evil are frustratingly sympathetic. Horrible’s rival Captain Hammer is an arrogant tool whose fanbase is almost as large as his fragile ego—yet he’s also admittedly charismatic in an insufferable, charming way. The characters are all strengthened by top-notch acting and singing.
Relatively short as it is, I highly recommend Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog for a watch and semi-regular re-watch. Rumours of a sequel have surfaced here and there over the years, with Whedon and the actors stating that they’d like to revisit the story. Sadly, since they’re all pretty big names in Hollywood, reuniting for another light-budget, made-for-internet show might be unfeasible. However, in a Dr. Horrible 10th anniversary panel at San Diego Comic-Con this July Whedon did announce an upcoming one-shot comic from Dark Horse Comics. The comic, titled Dr. Horrible, Best Friends Forever, is about the friendship between Horrible and Hammer and will be released on November 14.