If you’re an Internet nerd, this is old news. Joss Whedon, king of the geeks, found himself with some time on his hands during the writers’ strike. So what did he do? What any other person would’ve done in his place: create a self-contained three-act musical about the trials and tribulations of an aspiring supervillain.
Yes, the main character is the eponymous Dr. Horrible. And yeah, he does have a blog. It’s up to you if you want to sing along, however. Dr. Horrible (aka Billy) has been honing his villainous superscience for a while and is almost ready for the big leagues. All he needs to do is pull off a big crime to impress the Evil League of Evil and obtain the parts needed to finish his time-stopping ray. (If his nemesis Capt. Hammer would stop foiling him, at any rate.) But alas, professional concerns are not all that Dr. Horrible has to conted with. He’s also formed a big crush on Penny, a cute young thing that goes to the same laundromat as him. He hasn’t even gotten the courage to speak to her yet. But during his courier van heist, fate conspires to put him in a position to fulfill both his personal and career goals… with a few musical numbers along the way.
Really, I feel like I should’ve liked this more. The concept is high, the charm is definitely there and the acting is pretty solid from all the actors involved. But I just don’t think this was Joss in full form. I understand he was pressed to get this all produced in a manner of weeks during the strike, but it really shows. The musical aspect of it is severely lacking. Joss already made a musical (Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s “Once More, With Feeling”), which was a bit mediocre in the songwriting department. But this feels even a step or two lower than that. There isn’t a single memorable tune and I’m hard-pressed to come up with a clever lyric. The closest these acts can come to something worth remembering in the musical department are the little singing telegrams Dr. Horrible receives from Bad Horse, the Thoroughbred of Sin, head of the Evil League of Evil.
But even then the slipshod writing pokes through. Evil League of Evil? It’s a cute stab at villainous organizations like the Legion of Doom, but a bit simplistic in approach. The Venture Bros. went for a similar joke and invented the Guild of Calamitous Intent, a much better joke, in my own humble opinion. Dr. Horrible is sprinkled with some of Whedon’s trademark wit and whimsy, and though I was often smiling or thinking to myself, “Oh, that’s neat,” I can only think of one part that was really a zinger. I’ll give you a hint: his fists aren’t the hammer. |:3 And before I forget, like a Tourette’s sufferer that can’t get rid of a tic, Whedon again goes for the maudlin in the final act. Some people have a real gift for eliciting sincere emotions in their writing, Joss isn’t one of them. It usually feels like he’s pressing a big red “YOU SHOULD BE FEELING SOMETHING!” button. It just seems like a crutch he keeps falling on in order to make his works feel weightier.
So was Dr. Horrible worth the time it took for them to make it? Yeah, overall. I kinda wish I could see it extended into long series form and drop the musical aspect, but with Whedon’s Dollhouse hitting the airwaves this Fall, and protagonist Neil Patrick Harris starring in his own sitcom, it’s not in the cards. If you got to see Dr. Horrible for free on its website as it was released, good for you. That was probably the best way to see it. I don’t feel like I wasted the $4 I spent downloading it on iTunes. But is it gonna be worth the forthcoming CD/DVD treatment? Only if you have every Buffy/Angel/Firefly companion book, comic book, screenplay, soundtrack, DVD and autographs from every major cast member.