(Hulu) Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog isn't strictly a television show, but it is the kind of goofy, charming serial that makes you happy just to watch it. It originally aired as a three-part miniseries on its own website hosted by Hulu. It's the brainchild of 75th-level wizard Joss Whedon, his brothers Zack and Jed, and his sister-in-law Maurissa Tancharoen. They wrote it during the Writers Guild of America strike in 2007-2008, wanting to find a way to produce an inexpensive show that wouldn't conflict with the problems being addressed by the strike.
The avenue they found to accomplish this plan involves a smartly plotted story that uses real-life locations around Los Angeles, perfectly cast comedic actors, and the then-new medium of video blogging combined with good old-fashioned musical theater. It's a winsome tale of an aspiring supervillain named Dr. Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris) who uses his video blog to communicate with his fans. He has the uneasy manufactured confidence of a man who knows his schemes are neither as devious nor as successful as he'd like them to be.
Nathan Fillion from Whedon's cult series Firefly plays Captain Hammer, the oh-so-dashing hero who always gets the girl. The problem is that, in this case, Dr. Horrible is in love with the girl, too. He's got a schoolboy crush on Penny (Felicia Day) whom he purposely runs into at the laundromat. No, it's more than just a crush – he's romantically obsessed with her. She represents all that he's never been able to achieve in life: normality, acceptance, and love.
Whedon understands geek culture better than almost anyone, which means he understands the geek psyche. He knows what it's like to feel outcast and awkward, and he consistently uses that knowledge to create engaging, likeable characters. We're meant to root for Dr. Horrible – who isn't nearly so bad as he wishes he was – and against Captain Hammer, who's frankly a little too good at what he does. No one likes a show-off.
What's interesting about Dr. Horrible is that turns the traditional superhero/supervillain formula inside-out; thus, we're really not sure what to expect from the story. Our instincts tell us that Dr. Horrible is fundamentally a good guy who deserves love, but we really don't know if things are going to work out between he and Penny. Whedon and company are too adventurous as writers to fall into even an inverted trope. They're not necessarily going to have the geek get the girl, despite their core audience wanting it to happen. Joss Whedon is someone who enjoys frustrating people as much as he does pleasing them.
You'll just have to watch Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog to find out how events unfold. Be prepared to get a little bit obsessed with it. It's not your usual love story, and it's all the more exciting for it. The characters are ridiculous, the songs are great, and the little details are so odd and clever that they can't be fully described in words. We'll just say “the Bad Horse theme song” and leave it at that.
The good news is that the creators of Dr. Horrible are hard at work on a sequel, which is set to film in summer of 2012. This has been a year of Whedonmania, with The Cabin in the Woods turning theaters into a glorious genre-smashing bloodbath, and The Avengers proving that Whedon is the man you want to helm an ensemble comic-book blockbuster. We also have Much Ado About Nothing and In Your Eyes in post-production. Joss Whedon is finally getting the respect he deserves from more than just his devoted following, so it's fun to go back and see what he was doing in the years when he was still proving himself to the world at large.
For Fans Of: South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut; Megamind; The Incredibles; Mystery Men
Why We Like It: perfect casting, playful spirit, twists genre conventions