Tag Archives: Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

Television, the Aughts & I – Part Six – “Reinventing How We See the Wheel”

“Reinventing How We See the Wheel”

December 18th, 2009

[This is Part Six in a six-part series chronicling the television shows which most influenced my relationship with television over the past decade – for more information and an index of all currently posted items, click here.]

I started Cultural Learnings in January 2007 for two main reasons. The first was that my brother Ryan had a blog, and thus its proximity to my life made it seem like a cool thing to do. The second was that I was in a “Politics of Mass Media” course and the idea of using a blog as a way of brownnosing extra credit appealed to me. So, in the early days (which, for the sake of my pride, have largely been purged), there were posts about a myriad of subjects, as whatever struck my fancy made its way under the collective banner of Cultural Learnings.

As noted throughout these pieces, a number of factors influenced the switch to a television blog, whether it was the return of Battlestar Galactica and Lost from their respective hiatuses or the false optimism engendered by Heroes’ first season. And in 2007, I wrote a piece that suggested (quite accurately, at the time) that the fan campaign surrounding Jericho was what made Cultural Learnings what it was in its first year. It made me realize that what I wrote had an audience, and that said audience could be enormously passionate about things in ways that I simply was not. It was what convinced me of the value of writing about television online in a blog format, and my experience in that community (despite my lack of affection for the show itself) was an important part of this decade.

However, if there were a single show that defined television criticism in this decade for me and quite a few others, it would have to be According to Jim

…wait, scratch that. Yes, I have to make a joke to distract you here, as I’m about to provide more praise for David Simon and Ed Burns’ The Wire, an epic tale of urban decay and personal tragedy that broke the hearts and captured the minds of critics and a relatively small number of viewers. It’s a show that will be near the top of almost every critical Top 10 list, and a show that until last summer I had never had the pleasure of watching. And that, if you look back in the archives, I’ve written about far less often than you might think, which isn’t entirely going to change here.

Rather than being the show that I’ve written the most content about, or the show that had the greatest emotional impact upon watching it, The Wire defines the past decade of television for me because it’s the show that has most made me want to be a television critic, to be able to not only analyze it more carefully but also spread the word and facilitate further discussion using the power of this blog. While I could probably get away with calling it the best television series of all time, my blind spots require me to simply say that no piece of television has had a larger impact on how I live my life than The Wire, both in terms of my choice to write television criticism and my aversion to hardware stores.

And I’m not sure there will be another show like it in the decade ahead.

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Hard-Boiled or Sunny-Side Up: The Divisive but Satisfying 2009 Primetime Emmy Awards

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Hard-Boiled or Sunny-Side Up:

The Divisive but Satisfying 2009 Primetime Emmy Awards

How do you like your Emmys?

Oh, don’t pretend as if you don’t have an opinion. Anyone who is reading this column has some sort of an opinion about the award show and its brethren, lavish ceremonies designed to recognize the very best in a specific industry. However, the Emmys are not a universally accepted success story, and while there are some who view the awards as a valuable institution for recognizing talent others see them as an antiquated and slow-minded organization hellbent on refusing to accept that which is different in favour of more traditional “awards” fare.

As such, Emmy producers really have two entirely different bodies of viewers to be concerned with (throwing out those who would never watch the show in the first place). On the one hand, they have those people who believe in the dignity of the Emmy Awards, who highly respect the work of the Academy and believe quite strongly that this is a serious occasion meant to honour the very best in television. On the other hand, you have those who are angry that Battlestar Galactica never won a major award, and that The Wire and The Shield got snubbed for their final seasons, and who are convinced that any time the Emmys do make a good decision it was by some sort of fluke.

What host Neil Patrick Harris and producer Don Mischer put together for the 61st Annual Emmy Awards was what I would considering to be the Sunny-Side Up version of the Emmy awards. With a charming and self-deprecating Harris at the helm, and a sarcastic and rarely serious John Hodgman playing the role of announcer, they staged a show which spent nearly every moment not taken up by awards being self-deprecating or dismissive of something, whether it’s the future of broadcast television or Harris’ own bitterness over his loss in his own category.

For those who have little to no faith in the Emmy institution, this was an ideal point of view which gave them an entertaining show that one almost feels joins in on their frustration, if not directly. However, for those who look for a more hard-boiled and serious awards ceremony, chances are that they viewed this year’s Emmys as an ill-conceived attempt to pander to younger audiences.

Me? I’m just happy they weren’t scrambled.

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The Cancelled and the Underrepresented: The 2009 Creative Arts Emmy Awards

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The Cancelled and the Underrepresented

The 2009 Creative Arts Emmy Awards

For those who aren’t particularly interested in the seedy underbelly of the Emmy Awards process, the Creative Arts Emmys aren’t particularly interesting. Generally, the awards tend to be a bit more scattershot than the main awards, meaning that few “favourite” shows take victories and thus there isn’t a lot of mainstream attention generated by them. However, more and more each year there’s interest in terms of smaller shows getting a chance to shine in awards not deemed worthy for network television consumption, and more importantly for us pundits there’s a chance to see if there are any trends emerging (as tenuous as any trend can be when different voting bodies determine each set of awards).

Complete Winners List – 2009 Creative Arts Emmys

This year, through the joys of Twitter, I was able to both share the news of various winners and be able to get some response (from Todd VanDerWerff, Alan Sepinwall, and in particular Jaime Weinman), which resulted in some interesting discussion. So, to kind of pick up on that, here’s a few of the key areas of interest from the awards that made me pause either out of interest, excitement or concern.

Pushing Daisies wins Big, Still Cancelled

The Emmys were never Pushing Daisies’ problem: although the show wasn’t able to garner a nomination as a series in its first season, it did grab nominations for Lee Pace and Kristin Chenoweth, as well as some attention in the creative arts categories. This year, though, the show received a really fitting swan song as it picked up three awards (art direction, costumes and makeup), showing that even in an ill-fated and shortened season the show was noticed by voters in terms of its craftsmanship. The show has now won six Emmys total (picking up trophies for Directing, Music Composition and Editing last year), which helps cement the show’s legacy as a wonderful if tragic moment in television history.

Battlestar Galactica finds Mixed Bag in Final Year

After two back to back wins in Visual Effects, and a hugely effects-driven finale, one would have expected the show to dominate in that category. However, to my shock at least, Heroes picked up the Special Visual Effects award for the first time, although BSG didn’t go home empty handed. Spreading the love around, the show picked up the award for sound editing, which is well deserved if not quite the award one would have expected them to be contending as closely for. Either way, it’s great to see another part of the show’s great team behind the scenes pick up an award, and its unfortunate that areas where the show should have contended (See: Bear McCreary’s amazing scoring work) were uncontested.

Changes Wreak Havoc on Comedy Guest Acting

Of the changes made to the Emmys this year, the one that sort of slipped under the radar (and didn’t face a lot of pressure from any particular group) is the elimination of the individual performance in a variety/comedy/music special/series. This was the category that Stephen Colbert infamously lost to Barry Manilow, and in which musical performers, talk show hosts, and (most interesting for our purposes) Saturday Night Live hosts contended.

This year, both Tina Fey and Justin Timberlake won awards for their appearances on Saturday Night Live, and in both instances it raises some really interesting questions. Now, in Fey’s case, this actually was a guest performance: she wasn’t the host in that episode, and her stint as Sarah Palin really was a guest spot (albeit in the really strange variety show format, which would have put her in the old category especially since they submitted a clip show of ALL of her appearances). However, Timberlake’s win is an example of something that would certainly have remained in the Variety Performance award, which makes for an interesting test case. Considering how much of each individual episode an SNL host is in, I think it’s a strange comparison with other guest stars, and I can see why voters would lean towards Timberlake in comparison with the other contenders.

It just raises the question of whether the loss of that category has now opened the door for the more showy SNL roles to elbow out some more complex supporting work on the comedy side of things…although, realistically, they probably would have given it to the oldest possible nominee if not to them, so I’d still be complaining. Although, what else is new?

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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

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Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

“Airdate”: July 2008

When my power went out the weekend before Christmas (and, coincidentally, the night I conceived of this project), I was stuck with an about to die laptop and my iPod Touch. While the laptop battery survived two episodes of Gilmore Girls, I was left with only my iPod to last until I was tired enough to fall asleep: thank Bad Horse for Dr. Horrible.

Bound to be an internet sensation thanks to the plethora of Whedonverse fans, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog is about as good a TV story as you’ll get this year. Joss Whedon and his brother (along with a crew of darn creative people) conceive of an internet musical while off work, and after the strike is over bring on Whedon favourite Nathan Fillion (as the hilarious Captain Hammer) and downright awesome Neil Patrick Harris (as the titular heroic anti-herp), along with Felicia Day (already familiar to internet content thanks to her work in The Guild, as leading lady Penny), to bring life to their creation.

What emerged was successful on two fronts. From an industry perspective, the three-part series demonstrated the power of new forms of distribution: released to the internet through various methods, Dr. Horrible was free to stream, cheap to buy on ITunes, and eventually made its way to DVD late in 2008. Recently named as one of the American Film Institutes Top TV moments due to its potential as a new business model, I think it’s important to note that Whedon’s involvement perhaps created a more viable platform than would other producers.

But that doesn’t really matter in the end, because Dr. Horrible is just damn entertaining. Yes, it’s a monumental achievement, paves the way, blah blah blah – what matter is that the story of a hapless villain struggling to make his way into the Evil League of Evil and win the love of the woman he does laundry next to is filled with witty dialogue, catchy songs, and some great performances (both comic and dramatic) from Harris, Fillion and Day.

I remain convinced, as I was when it aired, that the conclusion feels somewhat dour even acknowledging Whedon’s penchant for such endings, but this doesn’t change the fact that I await impatiently for all parties involved to have enough free time to give us a worthy sequel. In the meantime, living in a world where there is a musical commentary to an internet-distributed musical is reason enough to celebrate.

Related Posts at Cultural Learnings

[For more details on the Cultural Learnings 2008 Television Time Capsule, click here!]

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Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog – “Act II”

Admittedly, I’ll have less to say about part two of this little experiment (since I got most of my general comments out of the way for the first part), but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t some really positive things to say about it.

Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along-Blog – Act II

What Act II does that Act I didn’t is embrace and engage with all of these characters. It’s still clear that Felicia Day’s Penny is the most underwritten of the characters, but it works because of how fantatic Neil Patrick Harris is on the other side of the equation. Day has a nice ease to her that allows the dialogue to flow and the songs to pop just right, so it’s not an issue of performance: it’s just a really simple character who’s trapped between two really awesome ones.

And no, enough things cannot be said about Neil Patrick Harris: his delivery during his exchange with Penny at the laundromat (In particular, the awesome “Sometimes there’s a third layer that’s the same as the first layer” line). I just love this character, and am glad that they broke my clear issue with the first part about the blog’s feasibility. It seems like before this point he would have run into the obvious problem of announcing a fiendish scheme on his blog and then having Captain Hammer/LAPD on his case, but at least it’s addressed here.

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Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog – “Act One”

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.

Link: Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog Act One

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.

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