Sunday, 19 September 2010

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

"I've got a Ph.D in horribleness."

Who'd have thought it? A three-act online mini-series chronicling the life of an ineffectual super-villain as he attempts to get into the Evil League of Evil, led by the elusive Bad Horse, and win the girl of his dreams. And it's a musical. And it works.

Dr. Horrible was created by Joss Whedon, best known for such TV series as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, during the American Writer's Strike of a couple of years ago on a low budget and broadcast online. It is a parody or deconstruction of the superhero genre of films. When he's not plotting crimes that will satisfy the Evil League of Evil, Dr. Horrible is a rather awkward but sweet young man called Billy, who is too shy to speak to his "laundry buddy," the beautiful and kind-hearted Penny (Felicia Day). His aspirations seem to be more about gaining respect and status as a supervillain than an actual villainous nature, and changing the world, because "the status is not quo." He has a vocal coach to help him work on his evil laugh, and has no problem stealing "wonderflonium" to power his freeze-ray, but he is reluctant to harm anyone: "There's kids in that park!" he says to a wannabe nemesis after refusing to fight him. He has been beaten up many, many times by his real archnemesis, Captain Hammer.

Hammer, the Superhero to Dr. Horrible's Supervillain, is on the other hand an egotistical, callous slimeball. When Captain Hammer decides to make Penny his girlfriend, just because Horrible likes her, Dr Horrible is pushed out of his comfort zone. He vows to get his ultimate revenge and satisfy Bad Horse's tough criteria for entry into the League at the same time.

For me, the musical highlights are the duet between Dr. Horrible and Penny in the beginning of Act II, where Horrible's bitterness and Penny's hope and idealism meet in catchy, beautiful harmony, and on the flip side, the rocky, angry, guitary Act II finale, "Brand New Day," where Dr. Horrible swears revenge on the sleazy jerk Captain Hammer.

Short and sweet, only the length of a single episode of Doctor Who in its entirety, nevertheless Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is memorable and well on its way to becoming a classic alternative media film. Its story is concise, simple yet radical, making you cheer on the villain and boo the hero. And in the end, Horrible succeeds in getting "the world I wanted at my feet/ my victory's complete/so hail to the king," but at such a cost! Up to that point a comedy, the story turns to tragedy in the last few minutes, in a classic case of "be careful what you wish for." The ending is abrupt, with its victory dirge "Everything You Ever" cut short at the end, showing the smallest glimpse of Dr. Horrible in Billy mode, looking completely lost and forlorn and out of his uniform, looking nothing if not in need of a hug.

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