The Sound of Musicals: Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog
“There’s no happy ending, so they say. Not for me, anyway.”
Before The Avengers made its way to the silver screen, Joss Whedon set his sights on a small-scale musical about an aspiring super villain. He wanted to concoct something with a low budget that could be done quickly and with aplomb. What we got was 42-minutes of entertainment bliss. When I first saw Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog I was entranced, thrust into an intimate world that neglected spectacle in favor of character. And what begins as a light-hearted affair steadily turns into something much more sinister while never sacrificing its charm. In this bizarre little musical, Whedon found the perfect canvas for his specific brand of tongue-in-cheek world building.
This universe is visualized through the eyes of Dr. Horrible, a confident, imaginative, and perpetually thwarted villain with a longing to be respected. He’s tired of being considered a joke and a failure; so, he hosts a video blog about his exploits. He wants to show the world his true power and, of course, be enlisted into the Evil League of Evil. His attempts at villainy are so enthusiastic that, in many ways, Dr. Horrible is the antithesis to the series itself. He is so enamored by spectacle that he neglects any possible intimacy. The world is a mess and he just needs to rule it.
Underneath the costume is a dorky and confused little man, Billy. He longs for the affections of Penny, a girl you can tell he has adjusted his entire schedule for just so he can be in the laundromat at the same time as her. Yes, he is evil, but he isn’t one for killing. His plans seem to focus on controlling the world to make it “better,” rather than ending it outright. Billy just wants to stop the pain . . . well, his pain, anyway. As obstacles continue to pile around Billy, his evil persona gains ground. With no happy endings in sight, he embraces the nihilistic corridors of his identity. In the end, he says he doesn’t feel a thing, but his eyes ache with an implacable desire for something more — something good. Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog is about perception and contradiction.
Through all of this, it never loses its sense of charm. Whedon has concocted an impossibly delightful and affecting blend of theatrics and sincerity. This mixture is the perfect home for Harris’ talents as he delicately wrestles with Dr. Horrible’s insecurities and sense of greatness. He revels in the portrait of a man who is lost to his own toxic ideals of masculinity and he lends an empathetic eye into Billy’s evil little world.
At this point, I have seen Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog more times than I can count. And each viewing births a nagging in the back of my mind: “What if it doesn’t hold up?” Yet, there seems to be no end to this story’s charisma. The songs are infectious, the pacing is immaculate, and it’s filled to the brim with ideas. Most of all, it is alive and personal. The superhero genre could learn a lot from this story: Go smaller, not bigger. Now, excuse me while I fall into this wonderful world again and again.