Dr. Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris) is a supervillain auditioning to join the Evil League of Evil, a team of baddies led by Bad Horse, the Thoroughbred of Sin. At the beginning of each of three fifteen minute episodes, Horrible updates us in videoblog format. He explains that cheesy hero Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion) is his arch-nemesis, and he has a crush on a girl he sees at the laundrymat named Penny (web-series maven, Felicia Day). And he tells us in verse. When a heist goes wrong, Horrible inadvertently introduces Hammer and Penny, and they hit it off, increasing his alienation and anger, and leading him to raise the stakes of his audition villainy.
The music and singing probably aren’t going to win any Tonys, but they’re strong enough, and Whedon can be quite clever with the lyrics, as he showed in his excellent musical episode of Buffy. In fact, I’m rather fond of the naturalistic, strong-but-not-quite-professional vocal performances that Whedon gets from his actors in these two musical projects, and I almost expect it to be a trend in musicals to come. It’d be preferable to the over-polished generic pop that you get out of most of the cast of Glee, at least. Its Whedon, so of course the dialog is funny, and we quickly see depth out of the main characters. The best thing about the series is Dr. Horrible’s villainous motivation – he’s clearly a confused, disenchanted person lashing out rather than a maniac (telling lyrics: Horrible boasts that he’ll have “all the cash all the fame and social change” and calls for “anarchy that I run”). A lot of mixed-up kids share his weird utopian/dystopian politics, and I think almost every American can sympathize with his odd efforts to justify his work financially and socially. Even though this is a brief comic piece, Dr. Horrible is one of the most fully realized villains I can think of.
So, it’s great fun. If you’re a Whedon fan, you’ve already seen it a million times. If you don’t like Whedon, I doubt this will win you over. If you’re on the fence though, I’d give it a shot. Also, Commentary: The Musical takes DVD-commentary tracks to a new level and probably deserves some kind of award itself.