The Austin Chronicle

TV on the Internet: Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

By Belinda Acosta, July 23, 2008, 2:52pm, Picture in Picture

If you’re a Joss Whedon fan (Firefly, Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and countless comic books), you’ve come to appreciate the stable of actors he’s worked with over the years. You recognize them and can’t wait to see what he’ll have them doing next. Such is the case with his fun little jaunt known as Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.

Nathan Fillion (Firefly) and Felicia Day (who played small, but memorable roles in several of Whedon’s series) are two of the featured players in this three-part tragicomedy. The surprise in the mix is Neil Patrick Harris, who stars as the titular Dr. Horrible, a bumbling, D-grade villain with ambitions to break into the big leagues. He’s infatuated with gadgets and believes if he can get his freeze ray gun working, that will be his ticket to A-list status. He’s trying, he’s really trying, viewers learn from reports on his sad little video blog postings. It’s just that he has so many distractions: Penny (Day), the comely woman he sees weekly at the neighborhood laundrymat but can’t make himself talk to; his own ineptness; and worst of all, his foil, the cocky Captain Hammer (Fillion), who decides he has a thing for Penny as well.

Mortal enemies fighting over the love of a woman sounds like the stuff of grand opera, doesn’t it? The only thing that sets Dr. Horrible apart from a traditional opera are its 45-minute length, the sci-fi milieu, the contemporary tunes, and the singing as clear and refreshing as water. It’s also hilarious. When was the last time you laughed out loud at an opera? When was the last time you went to an opera?

There is so much to admire about this little piece of Internet lightning. The story is deliciously silly, yet when we get to the end, we are reminded just how skillful Whedon is at exploring our human foibles, which makes the story explode into something larger than it at first seems. Love, jealousy, shame, longing — it’s all there, hiding under the veneer of a superhero/villain origin tale. And everyone seems to be having a really good time. NPH as Dr. Horrible is as adorable and geeky as a teenage boy who just had a growth spurt. And Fillion plays the subject of that old Carly Simon song, “You’re So Vain,” with unbridled glee. Some web posters have complained that Day's Penny is too passive, especially coming from a writer known for his strong women and feminist slant. But I find Penny charming. And come on now — it’s not Penny’s Sing-Along Blog. No, it’s Dr. Horrible’s story, and she brings the necessary, petal-soft touches to the piece.

Dr. Horrible was conceived and created by Whedon, his brothers Zach and Jed, and his future sister-in-law during the writer’s strike earlier this year. Using their own resources, they shot it in six days. Whedon first started talking about it on his personal blog. When he told visitors that it would be available for free viewing over a few days in mid-July, the response was so large that the server where Dr. Horrible was hosted crashed, forcing Whedon to scramble to find more server space. Now Dr. Horrible is available on iTunes where each episode can be downloaded for $1.99. It currently holds the first three slots in the top ten hits list among iTunes’ TV shows. So, go! Watch! Laugh! Gasp! It’s that much fun.

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