When Joss Whedon announces during the WGA Writers’ Strike that he was writing a musical, you get excited. When you learn that Neil Patrick Harris and Nathan Fillion are set to star, you get hyped. And when you find out that it will be streaming live online for free, a true test of the online medium for distribution of this nature, a television blogger like myself gets even more enthused about it all.
Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog is not Whedon’s first entry into the television musical of sorts, considering that Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s “Once More…with Feeling” is considered one of the show’s best episodes. And while I don’t quite think Act One of this experiment lives up to that standard (And I’ll explain why below), it does everything you expect it to do: it carefully integrates musical numbers into a charming story featuring actors who, considering the fun nature of this story, are clearly enjoying themselves immensely.
And for a “Free” (Well, not quite) internet event of this nature? I’d say that this is damn entertaining stuff.
The reason that Dr. Horrible can’t possibly live up to the standard set by the musical Buffy episode is because there was characters and story development leading up to those events. The songs were not just manifestations of that episode’s emotions, but rather of multiple seasons of plot and character development which led into the songs themselves. It made it feel like, well, actually what it was: people who couldn’t stop singing and dancing, forced to live their lives through song.
This is a more traditional setup, in that sense: the first Act is designed to introduce the character of Dr. Horrible, and as a result the musical numbers feel less poignant and more introductory. Neil Patrick Harris is fantastic as the eponymous Doctor, an evil genius whose motivations are like Batman Begins: humanity sucks, so he should rule them instead and fix the problem through his evil villainy. The hook, a video blog of sorts, seems kind of strange to me (Wouldn’t he get caught? Or are we just going to ignore that logic?), but Neil Patrick Harris pulls it off with just the right level of sincerity.
And he can sing, too, something that I knew at least to a certain degree. The first Act really shines when it turns to song, and sometimes its dialogue gets a bit bogged down (You could say soggy) by comparison. The numbers to this point have been simply but smartly staged. Between the opening song about his crush on Penny, to the concluding introduction of his arch-nemesis Captain Hammer, the songs keep things zipping along. I almost like the Bad Horse letter song the most, though – just something about the absurdity of the singing letter hit me.
And the rest of the cast is very strong: I really enjoyed Felicia Day and in particular her interaction with NPH. They have a strong little rapport, although I’ll admit that I’ve always enjoyed Harris’ stuttery and nervous side of things that we occasionally see on How I Met Your Mother.
But seriously, in only a minute or two of screen time, Nathan Fillion literally steals the show with his hair blowing in the breeze as Captain Hammer. He puts on a total bravado, and it just plain ol’ works – his overperformance on “A Man’s Gotta Do” (I’m presuming titles) is just fantastic, and I can tell that the more we see of the interaction between these three characters the stronger the event will get.
As I’ve said, I think the dialogue is taking its time in growing on me – because there isn’t Whedon’s usual myriad of different characters to riff on one another, it feels more isolated as a result. I enjoy Simon Hedberg’s moistening super hero, but we need to see more of these characters interacting with each other before I think things will really kick into gear.
And on my last note, I have to express disappointment in the decision to use Hulu as the server of choice for the episode (Edit: At least in the beginning – seems they realized the issue and found another host before the site crashed). Perhaps it was all a diabolical scheme to convince me to spend some of that iTunes Gift Card I got at Christmas to pay for the episode, but Canadian/International folks are unable to view the episodes if they stay there – they seem to have realized this, but that they made the mistake in the first place shows that there’s still kinks to work out. I understand that for hosting purposes it makes things easier/more financially viable, but it’s a common problem; still, I’m glad to pay to support such a great initiative.