The Horribleness of Dr. Horrible

WARNING: The following post has spoilers with regard to both Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog and the Firefly movie Serenity. They’re slightly nebulous spoilers, but spoilers nonetheless. You ought to watch both of those things before reading this post, unless you haven’t seen the Firefly series, which makes you a loser. GO WATCH FIREFLY NOW! It’s only the best TV series ever made, that’s all. And you really think it’s a good idea to watch Serenity before you see the series? It can be done, but the series is better anyway, and it gives you all the background you need to appreciate the continuation movie. If you’re wasting time reading this blog without having wasted sufficient time watching Firefly, I pity you. No, I mock you. You don’t deserve to be able to read.

There. I got that out of the way.

I got a Facebook message recommending this Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog thing, and I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. It seemed like an odd idea – a superhero musical on the Internet? – but it was my kind of odd idea. Joss Whedon was involved, which is a good thing, as Firefly, as mentioned above, is perhaps the best TV show in history, and Nathan Fillion, Firefly’s star, has a prominent role in this dealie. So I settled in and watched – and I was startled and amazed.

Let’s start with startled. I was startled because this thing actually existed, and I legally got to see it for free. (It’s no longer free, but it will only cost about six bucks to download it from iTunes if you want to catch up.) It’s a wacky concept all the way around – a budding supervillain is trying to impress the Evil League of Evil with his membership application, yet he finds himself falling for a sweet homeless advocate – only to have his arch nemesis, Captain Hammer, muscle in on his action.

I was amazed by how good it was, at least at first. It’s essentially a three-character piece, and it’s well played on all sides. Neil Patrick Harris is perfect as the titular Dr. Horrible, as is Felicity Day as the object of his affection. And Nathan Fillion makes a great stuffed shirt. The thing is funny and goofy in all the right places, and the songs are eminently hummable. I’ve been singing “A Man’s Gotta Do What a Man’s Gotta Do” for days. As I watched it, the whole thing felt like a revelation, and I was thrilled to have a new Joss Whedon masterpiece to add to my Firefly collection.

And then we get to Act III.

I wouldn’t have minded so much if you didn’t really care about these goofy characters. You really shouldn’t care about them – they live in a silly world with freeze rays and superheroes who frequent laundromats. But it’s so well written that you ache for Dr. Horrible’s unrequited love and look forward to seeing Captain Hammer deflated. Which is why the thing’s total betrayal in the end just sucks out loud.

As is Whedon’s custom, tragedy gets inserted into this piece entirely needlessly. Indeed, they couldn’t have made this more tragic if they’d tried. It reminds me – spoiler alert again – of Serenity, when a beloved character gets killed for absolutely no reason at all. Why? This thing was so much fun! From whence cometh the compulsion to sink the whole enterprise with a lead weight?

Yes, I know tragic things happen in the real world. Whedon is very fond of killing of characters unexpectedly, because it keeps the audience on their toes and approximates reality more closely. But that’s such a miserable excuse. It reminds me of the actors back at USC who always chose foul, profane, depressing material to perform because it was “real.” Well, what’s so great about being real? I take a dump or two every day, yet nobody wants to pay money to see that. Why is it entertaining to bask in gloom and doom? I watch television and movies and, uh, sing-along blogs to escape reality. I don’t need to be reminded that life is capable of sucking.

In addition, Dr. Horrible is decidedly NOT the real world. People burst into song. Superheroes and villains abound. Horses lead fraternal organizations of supervillains. This is a terrible, terrible vehicle for tragedy, and yet that’s exactly where Whedon takes it. I’m not saying musicals should only be light and fluffy, but tonally, this isn’t Sweeney Todd or even West Side Story. It’s fun and goofy and silly – and then Whedon suddenly paints the whole thing dark black.

If you’re a musical theatre buff, though, you probably ought to see it. Maybe stop watching after Act II. But go see Firefly, dammit! See it now!

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