Now that it's been nominated for an Emmy, I feel justified in writing a post about Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog.
A brief history:
During the 2007 Writers' Strike, Joss Whedon (the god of a television writer/director/producer/creator behind "Firefly" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") and various other awesome folks (and siblings) with whom he associates were bored and frustrated. And so they concocted a plan to create original content without the often-stifling input or restrictions of the studios and networks (see: "Firefly"). Once the product existed, it would be released in three parts, on the web for free, on a Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday of a week in mid- July. On Sunday, the videos would be taken down. From there, viewers could watch and re-watch it on Hulu, buy it from iTunes, or hold off until Christmas 2008, when an extras-loaded DVD would be released. In the process, they'd prove to the bigwigs that quality work could happen and turn a profit without them. (It probably helped that Joss Whedon has a uniquely dedicated fanbase that actually listened at his request not to bootleg it.)
"Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" went live July 15, 2008--and it broke the Internet.
The creators essentially spent that day fixing their servers and such: they hadn't anticipated such heavy traffic. The problems were fixed by the time Act II arrived two days later, but the traffic continued to stream in. The DVD was a best-seller on Amazon.com, and it's been nominated for a number of web- and scifi-related awards (and won several). And now it's got an Emmy nod.
So what's the fuss about?
"Dr. Horrible" follows the exploits of the eponymous Dr. Horrible in his quest to become a member of the Evil League of Evil. He has a sidekick, Moist; a love interest, Penny; and a nemesis, Captain Hammer. He's got a Freeze Ray (still a work in progress), a video blog detailing said exploits, and the drive to show Bad Horse (the ELE's leader) just how bad he can be.
What about the "Sing-Along" bit of the title, you ask? That's pretty self explanatory. While the words don't scroll across the bottom of the screen, the three acts feature about dozen incredibly catchy songs that after a listen or two you will be singing along with. These range from "My Freeze Ray," my personal favorite, which is bouncy and chipper, to the haunting finale, to rousing "Bad Horse Chorus," to others that draw on a range of inspirations and styles. As a fan of almost every musical thing out there (excluding "Oklahoma" but including the musical episodes of "Buffy," "Scrubs," and even "Even Stevens"), I'm primed to like this kind of thing no matter what, I admit. But Joss (who is also a big musical fan!) weaves the songs in wisely and well. That is to say, the songs are all key parts in the progression of the story and serve to move it forward--people don't break into song for no reason.
What else makes this stand out from the endless stream of online content? Well, for one, it's written by Whedon. Several Whedons, actually--Joss is the name but siblings Jed and Zack are in on this, too, as is Maurissa Tancheron, who's married to one of them (Jed?). For the uninitiated, this means a few things. Witty dialogue is a must--I won't spoiler the one-liner to end all one-liners at the end of Act II, but the trademark humor ("It's curtains for you, Dr. Horrible. Lacy, gently wafting curtains." "Bwah?") is there from start to finish. You also get a recognizable but utterly compelling world built for you--this one is basically like ours, but involves more song, and, apparently, the odd hero or supervillain. And you get a story that pulls you in from the get-go, makes you laugh, wrenches your heart a bit, and then demands to be experienced again. The finale is unforgettable; I've lost count of how many times I've seen this, and it still makes me gasp. (Fortunately, there's a sequel in the works.)
There's also a cast that rocks my socks so hard I can only wear sandals now. Dr. Horrible himself is played by the inimitable Neil Patrick Harris, and if you've ever seen an episode of "How I Met Your Mother," you know that's a recipe for, well, something legendary. He brings out Dr. Horrible's geeky bravado right alongside his alter ego's vulnerability. He also has a voice that is quite literally Broadway quality (see: recent revivals of "Assassins" and "Cabaret," for instance).
Captain Hammer is the equally inimitable Nathan Fillion, who sends up his "Big Damn Hero" character from Firefly (more on that in a later post) in the best way humanly possible. He also delivers some of the best lines of the piece with a mostly-straight face (including the one above and the aforementioned one to end them all).
The girl in question, Penny, comes to us courtesy of Felicia Day, of whom you've probably only heard if you watch her Internet series "The Guild" (and inspiration for this, both in concept and in marketing) or that one episode of "House." Or that Sears commercial. Anyway, Felicia does a lot with what could easily be a one-dimensional character, has a lovely singing voice, and a cute not-traditional-Hollywood look that fits well. Captain Hammer refers to it as a "cute nerdy thing--not my usual, but nice." I call it untapped talent; at least her costars have popular network shows to call their very own.
The supporting cast is fun as well--I won't get into detail, but Captain Hammer has groupies, with costumes. There's a newscaster with a frothy red beard. Moist (Simon Helberg from "The Big Bang Theory") has some unique superpowers. And more.
One last selling point: the DVD extras, most of which you can hunt down online if you don't want to spend the $10. These include "Commentary! The Musical"--exactly what it sounds like, but about seven times funnier than you'd expect. I hum those songs as much as the ones from the actual soundtrack. The ten winners of the Evil League of Evil application video contest are included, too--hold out for Tur-Mohel, the Calamitous Orphan, and L'Enfant Terrible (those are all available on YouTube).
There's also the more run-of-the-mill making-of featurettes and a regular commentary track, both of which are funny and enlightening even if you're decently versed on the backstory. (For the record, I've seen Joss speak in person, and he is actually that clever and funny off the cuff.)
Stay tuned for the sequel. All we know right now is that it exists, and Nathan Fillion says he knows the title and expects awesomeness. In the meantime, you can watch the original on Hulu--and you should.