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Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

"Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog" Web Series - Newteevee.com Review

Friday 11 July 2008, by Webmaster

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, Joss Whedon’s web series, is a bold experiment in online distribution — the series will be available for free for just one week before becoming available on DVD and possibly download — but it’s also damn entertaining. The tale of an aspiring supervillain told mostly in song, this WGA strike-spurred project treads an odd line between the professional and the amateur, making full use of Whedon’s considerable resources while still carrying a whiff of we-don’t-need-no-stinking-permits filmmaking. The end result is kinetic and inspired, while still bearing the trademark wit and pathos of a Whedon project.

The first “act,” premiering Tuesday, July 15, revolves around Dr. Horrible’s (Doogie Howser and How I Met Your Mother’s Neil Patrick Harris) efforts to acquire the missing ingredient for his Freeze Ray, while struggling to make a connection with dream girl Penny (Internet favorite Felicia Day) and dodging thuggish superhero Captain Hammer (Firefly’s Nathan Fillion). It’s also this installment that makes the most use of the titular “blog,” introducing Dr. Horrible as a somewhat timid mad scientist who’s working on his evil laugh with a vocal coach, and takes time out of his vlogging to respond to fan (and nemesis) correspondence.

If I had to pinpoint one element of Dr. Horrible that falls a little flat, it would be these vlog portions, which, while beautifully played by Harris, are a little bit slow-paced in comparison to the rest of the series. But over the course of the narrative, Dr. Horrible drifts away from direct address, instead using another method for revealing the inner thoughts of its characters: song.

Despite its new media trappings, Dr. Horrible is a musical in the most traditional sense, with an onslaught of numbers that are all equal to the songs of Whedon’s last all-singing effort, the sixth-season Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode, Once More With Feeling. Catchy and clever, each tune gets its chance to pop: It’s a Brand New Day stands out, as does On the Rise (titles approximated due to lack of track list).

It’s impossible to compare Dr. Horrible to other independent web productions, because while it emulates the style of low-budget amateur, it’s doing so with professional resources: When a project is shooting on studio backlots and has VFX house Zoic Studios (Firefly, Battlestar Galactica) creating its effects, it’s hard to embrace it as guerrilla. But at its core, Dr. Horrible is a story of transformation, beginning with a hero who isn’t quite yet heroic, and a villain who hasn’t yet achieved true villainy. Perhaps there’s a metaphor there in the constantly evolving state of online video: A place that’s fun to play, but eventually demands real commitment.

There’s plenty here for the legions of Whedonverse fans to love. Nathan Fillion is as heroic and self-effacing as ever, totally unafraid to venture into self-parodying territory, and there are cameos from former Buffy producers David Fury and Marti Noxon (who had bit parts in Whedon’s first all-singing effort), as well as frequent Whedon collaborator Drew Goddard as Fake Thomas Jefferson. But, and this is definitely to Whedon’s credit, Dr. Horrible stands on its own as an engaging and hilarious bit of story, no matter how you watch it.