Cyberspace Hero

Joss Whedon launches the perfect Web series with Dr. Horrible

Bad horse: Neil Patrick Harris' Dr. Horrible gets a singing telegram from a local equine villian explaining what he must do to join the Evil League of Evil.

Bad horse: Neil Patrick Harris' Dr. Horrible gets a singing telegram from a local equine villian explaining what he must do to join the Evil League of Evil.

Remember when Hollywood was going to take over the Internet?

It was announced in the late ’90s, not too long after the Web was discovered to be popular among computer users. Naturally, the entertainment establishment couldn’t allow a new format to exist for long without trying to master it. Everybody loves Hollywood movies and TV shows, right? So injecting its true professionals into this unruly arena would shape up the Internet in no time, creating new audiences and new income streams for their glossy products. Threat defused!

Only it didn’t work out like that. The biggest concerted effort to put a Hollywood leash on the Web, POP.com, flopped like Howard the Duck II. It revealed just how hopelessly old-fashioned studio executives could be in the face of a strange, new medium. Backed by Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment and Steven Spielberg’s Dreamworks studio, and bankrolled by the horribly misguided investor Paul Allen, POP.com blew millions of dollars on a massive staff and (former) A-list talent like Eddie Murphy and Steve Martin. And it never even launched.

Since those dark days in 2000 (an era in which Melanie Griffith could be credibly described as a “netrepreneur” by BusinessWeek), the Internet has indeed been transformed into a highly successful video entertainment vehicle. Only it wasn’t Hollywood that figured out the right business model; it was lunkheaded college students videotaping their buddies jumping off of roofs. Or kids exposing their Star Wars fixations. Or would-be comedians shooting unfunny skits. Or weird girls alone in their apartments supposedly confessing to the camera. Yep, it was a bunch of cheap, user-generated, amateur crap that finally took the Internet by storm.

And while the big networks and studios have valiantly fought back with webisodes for TV series in the off-season, Hollywood still doesn’t quite know what to do with the Internet. Perhaps studio executives should ask Joss Whedon how it should be done.

Whedon, the talented nerd/writer/TV producer who somehow infiltrated network TV with Buffy the Vampire Slayer a decade ago, has produced his own Web series, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, and it’s a humdinger. He’s managed to infuse just the right amount of production values into a humble, goofy project to create something that works best on the Internet. Previewed free for one week on drhorrible.com, the three-part series is now exclusively on iTunes (and it’s making money at $2 an episode).

Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser, M.D.) stars as the titular Dr. Horrible, an inept, would-be super-villain who seeks to join the Evil League of Evil via the destruction of his nemesis, Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion). He would also like to date the beautiful, sweet-natured homeless activist Penny (Felicia Day), who seems more smitten with Captain Hammer. Much silly singing ensues and plenty of superhero in-jokes. (Relating any more of the story would be unforgivable for a trilogy that totals about 40 minutes.) Dr. Horrible hits the sweet spot between kooky comedy and involving melodrama—it’s a diverting Web series that’s not stupid or hackneyed or lame, which makes it quite rare. (Yes, there are echoes of doctorsteel.com here, but that particular doctor seems more like an art project and is not nearly as entertaining.)

Written by Whedon (along with his brothers Zack and Jed and Maurissa Tancharoen) during the Writer’s Guild strike last year, his stated goal was “[t]o turn out a really thrilling, professionalish piece of entertainment specifically for the Internet. To show how much could be done with very little. To show the world there is another way.” And that other way mostly entails removing studio executives from the equation. Of course, achieving that goal is easier if you’re Joss Whedon, and can wrangle access to studio backlots and get scores of technicians to pitch in.

But imagine, if you will, your favorite filmmakers creating their own short series—whatever they can imagine—without somebody in an expensive tie and bad hair gel telling them, “I don’t get it.” If any of the results are as fun as Dr. Horrible, then I say bring on the new paradigm. It’s about time.

© 2008 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Comments » 6

daveprince writes:

I wish I liked Dr. Horrible more than I did. It's something that by all metrics I really *should* be into - a quirky piece about a hapless mad scientist with a penchant for show tunes and supervillainy, starring Neil Patrick Harris (of all people) and released to the internet (before, of course, the inevitable DVD mini-omnibus).

Problem is, A) hapless, singing mad scientists have been done before, and B) it has that Whedonian lack of an edge which causes my militant apathy to flare up. Whedon has this talent for taking premises which in any other situation would have me throwing goats and churning out product which just doesn't do it for me. Everything I've ever seen Whedon's name attached to has this bland, mediocre sheen to it, an aura of not pushing this far enough, of not doing enough with that, of getting by with what you're given when something better could have come of it.

Sure, I like what it represents. It's indicative of a more mainstream shift in the medium, which by definition I'm kinda obligated to support, but this particular piece is kinda meh, if you ask me.

And Dr. Steel is a hundred million times more entertaining and has better music and you're wrong and LALALALALA I CAN'T HEAR YOU--

tgray writes:

Man, that is so similar to how I feel too! About Dave Prince's video game reviews!

angusparvo writes:

Brilliant little piece of work, hugely entertaining, and I hate musicals. I guess I'm ok with them when they're this funny and only last 40 minutes. And "Sing-Along Blog" is right; I still can't get Nathan Fillion crooning "A maaaaaaaaaan's got to do, what a man's got do do!" out of my head. And you can still watch it for free at drhorrible.com, thanks to ads. I've even got a Capt. Hammer T-shirt. Nerd!

daveprince writes:

This from a guy whose artistic style hasn't changed since his days doodling for the Beacon.

Oh, yeah. I went there.

tgray writes:

I'm flame war-ing you! Flame war! Flame war!

daveprince writes:

Your mom's a flame war.

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