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Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

"Dr. Horrible Sing Along Blog" Web Series - Cinematictitanic.com Review

Saturday 9 August 2008, by Webmaster

Last week, in my San Diego Comic Con post-mortem, I talked about the tendency of modern Superhero movies to be dark and serious, and how I think the silly and campy approach to the genre is also worthwhile. A couple of posters pointed out that the recently released “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog” is a great example of a funny and goofy Superhero story and to this point I wholeheartedly agree. But I’d just like to add that in addition to the funny and goofy approach, “Dr. Horrible” is also an example of the dark and serious approach. How can it be both things at the same time? Because above all it is an example of Joss Whedon’s genius.

As you can already tell, this isn’t going to be one of my typical blogs where I share my enthusiasm for some obscure form of show business. I’m guessing that the most common reaction among the people who visit this site to my “Joss Whedon is great” spiel is going to be, “Duh!”

Like many others, my admiration for Whedon started with his “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” TV series. In my opinion, most big-budget genre movies that are released, whether superhero or horror or sci-fi or action/adventure, are rarely as good as the average “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” episode. The show is funnier, more exciting, and more emotionally involving than just about anything else in any medium that I can think of. With the exception of “The Sopranos,” “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” is my favorite hour-long dramatic series of the last twenty or thirty years. The only reason that a lot of the people who revere “The Sopranos” don’t also watch “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” is because, well, it’s called “Buffy The Vampire Slayer.” Yes, it’s a goofy title for a show, but this goes back to my original point that silliness and goofiness can coexist with a seriousness of purpose, and that brings me right back to “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog.”

I have a feeling that “Dr. Horrible” is a landmark moment in the history of content produced exclusively for the web. We here at Cinematic Titanic have been very gratified by the support we’ve gotten for the artist-owned and artist-controlled product that we are producing and we are heartened to see – admittedly on a much larger scale – the overwhelming success that Joss Whedon has achieved with “Dr. Horrible,” also an artist-owned and artist-controlled endeavor. The idea of working with complete creative freedom outside the grid of a major corporation has long been a cherished dream of writers, producers, directors and performers, and now, thanks to the Internets, it’s starting to happen, albeit incrementally and with some growing pains (but not with the TV show “Growing Pains”; I guess I didn’t need to point that out, but I did, because, well, I’m a douchebag.)

But more importantly, because of the creative freedom Whedon is wielding, I think that “Dr. Horrible” could also end up being a landmark in the realm of storytelling. In “Dr. Horrible” Whedon was able to tell this story in exactly the way he wanted to tell it; he ended up with a show that is funny but also sad and completely surprising, something you don’t often see in the formulaic world of movies and TV, where the cliché is wined and dined and treated like a Head of State.

And speaking of which, it is now time for one of the most ubiquitous clichés of the World Wide Web, circa 2008: the beloved SPOILER WARNING.

(Seriously, if you haven’t seen “Dr. Horrible,” please don’t read the next few paragraphs. And if you value cohesive writing that doesn’t wander off on tangents, please don’t read the previous paragraphs, especially the part about “Growing Pains”; oh, crap, too late, I guess this was a dyslexic spoiler warning).

Anyway, had Whedon tried to develop “Dr. Horrible” though the usual development process at a major network, I can just imagine what an Executive would have said:

“Hold it, let me get this straight, this is an almost operetta-like musical, but it’s also a Superhero story, and it’s also a broad comedy, but it’s also a tender tale of romantic longing that ultimately turns dark and tragic, all in the space of forty-five minutes, and it also… Oh, I see the Security Guard has responded to the hidden button under my desk that I’ve been pushing for the last few minutes. Please escort Mr. Whedon off the lot. Thank you.”

In “Dr. Horrible” Whedon broke several rules and then created a few rules of his own just so he could break them again. It is my hope that this type of thing happens on the Internets more and more in the coming years, and yes, I am aware that I am making a plea for originality while also using the now-hacky term “Internets” twice (now three times) in this post.

Of course, “Dr. Horrible” was not just a financial gamble for Whedon, but a creative one as well. And creative gambles have been known to go wrong. We’ve all seen movies or plays or watched TV shows or read books or listened to songs by artists we’ve admired that just didn’t jell and left us scratching our heads and wondering, “What the hell were they thinking with that one?” In this case, Whedon’s gamble paid off brilliantly, but even if it hadn’t, and if for whatever reason it had fallen short, I would still want to celebrate this project. I would rather see a self-indulgent mess from an original creative talent than a slick, proficient piece of gloss from a hack. The prospect of the Internet giving terrific writers like Whedon the chance to let their subconscious run wild and free is something worth getting very excited about.

Joss Whedon works in a collaborate medium, and part of what makes him so good is his ability to chose collaborators. In the case of “Dr. Horrible,” he worked on the script and the songs with his brothers Jed and Zack and Maurissa Tancharoen, and let’s not forget the great cast: Nathan Fillion, it can now be safely said, does the funny square-jawed hero thing better than just about anybody; Felicia Day is beautiful and touching in her role; and Neil Patrick Harris (a Rifftrax-er and an MST3K fan from way back, God bless him) is absolutely brilliant as Dr. Horrible.

And Whedon has worked with many other talented writers on his various shows, and those of you who aspire to write for television should really check out former “Buffy” writer Jane Espenson’s blog, JaneEspenson.com. Jane’s blog is devoted to giving helpful instruction to aspiring writers on the art of the TV spec script. She treats this very specific skill with the respect it deserves (unlike yours truly, who has always been a prima donna about writing specs), and she gives great advice on the pitfalls and pratfalls of writing for series TV (like avoiding irritating alliterative phrases like “pitfalls and pratfalls”). Most folks that teach scriptwriting are people with no professional experience who charge money for their instruction. Jane, on the other hand, has had nothing but professional experience, and continues to excel at her craft (she currently writes for the highly regarded new version of “Battlestar Galactica”), and she imparts her advice for free. It might seem weird at first to get Hollywood scriptwriting tips from a person who actually knows what she’s doing, but I think you’ll dig her blog anyway.

Oh, one more thing: I can’t friggin’ wait for “Dollhouse.”