Your guide to what’s worth watching on the Internet returns and TV critic Rob Trump comes bearing good news for fans of Neil Patrick Harris and Joss Whedon alike.
I feel like I’ve started the last three or four of these with some variant on “Well, I’m not sure that this really belongs in the category ‘web series,’ but…” Add another to that category, because Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog is perhaps too short — it’s exactly three episodes, or “acts” — and perhaps too professional — it’s directed by Joss Whedon, he of Firefly and Buffy fame, and on an actual budget — to be comparable to most of the other shows I’ve reviewed. But it debuted on the Internet, and that’s enough for me. Dr. Horrible is a web series, and it’s an absolutely great one.
If you watch the most underrated show on TV right now — How I Met Your Mother— you’re already aware that Neil Patrick Harris has grown up from Doogie Howser to become one of the best comedic actors working today. And if you’re a Whedon fan, you’re already aware from the musical episode of Buffy that the man can write a solid pop/musical theater-style number. So a combination of the two should be gold — and yup, it is.
Harris stars as the titular doctor, an emotionally fragile man who aspires to join the Evil League of Evil (headed by “Bad Horse, the thoroughbred of sin”), but has yet to pull off a criminal caper that would earn his place. Nathon Fillion from Firefly— another standout actor from another under-appreciated show — plays Horrible’s nemesis, Captain Hammer. Fillion’s Hammer has a wonderfully smirking aplomb, which is both hilarious and contrasts nicely with Horrible’s vulnerability. The third central character, Penny, is the weakest of the bunch, existing mostly to be an object of romantic pursuit for the two men.
Speaking musically, Horrible has about as many infectious melodies and memorable lyrics per song as you’re likely to find anywhere. If you’re particularly grated by the arguably cheesy “musical theater style” that Whedon goes for here (as he did in Buffy), Horrible won’t make you a believer in it, but if you’re like me, you think that one of the most desirable qualities in this type of music is cheesiness. Harris, with a musical theater background (he starred in Assassins on Broadway), sounds fantastic, and Fillion’s range is small, but he sounds good in everything he sings, as does Felicia Day, playing Penny.
Horrible’s only serious weaknesses are in its third act, when the people involved seem not to know exactly how to wrap up all the threads they’ve created. I’d watch Harris and Fillion spar for seasons if this was a television show, so the relatively large amount of closure at the end seems forced to me. Regardless, it’s easily the most slickly-produced thing I’ve reviewed and one of the funniest and most entertaining. Dr. Horrible is a “must” to keep on a tab for a study break sometime during midterms. If you aren’t entertained in the first five minutes or so, which contains a fantastic opening monologue by Harris and a catchy-as-hell first song, you can give up both on Horrible and on liking things that I like.