Director: Joss Whedon
Writers: Maurissa Tancharoen, Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon, Zack Whedon
Starring: Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion, Felicia Day
Cinematographer: Jed Whedon
Studio: Mutant Enemy Productions
The perfect Rx for a true comeback
On a regular basis, Neil Patrick Harris is required to wink and smile for the camera. It’s the least he can do to play Barney Stinson, resident womanizer of How I Met Your Mother, though for his sake, the show’s writers also serve up a few costly props—namely, drinks and female guest stars galore. (This season, he’s flirted with Jennifer Lopez and former wrestler Stacy Keibler.)
But in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, Harris set himself apart from the rest of the cast not with a wink, but a twitch in his left eye. In his basement he’s Dr. Horrible, pending applicant for the Evil League of Evil. But at that moment in Dr. Horrible’s second act—his chance encounter with arch-nemesis Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion)—he’s just Billy, a bumbling Average Joe. To Captain Hammer, that twitch is a sign of weakness. But to us, the viewers, that brief second in Dr. Horrible’s 42 minutes is a sign of greatness.
In 2008, when the Writers Guild of America strike was in full force and major video sites (namely YouTube and Hulu) were still-burgeoning, Dr. Horrible debuted on iTunes as the most-downloaded series, and retained that No. 1 spot for two more weeks. With this DVD and Blu-ray release, Joss Whedon’s audacious experiment with online media is still every bit as entertaining.
Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dollhouse) and his siblings, plus sibling-in-law Maurissa Tancharoen, fills this story of an anti-hero in a lab coat, Billy in a brown hoodie (Harris), with twist after twist on the typical superhero plot—the biggest being Fillion’s Captain Hammer. Captain Hammer, though bearing the broad physique and industrial gloves of a live-action Mr. Incredible, is a ditzy dipshit of an Upstanding Citizen. Unlike Superman or Spiderman, Captain Hammer never changes out of costume or, despite his job title, displays much compassion toward others. In his speech celebrating the opening of a new homeless shelter, he begins by saying, “I hate the homeless.” Pause, as he flips a notecard. ”…ness.”
While the homeless jokes still have some bite to them, the musical numbers are still pleasant to even the most musical-hating of ears (this reviewer included). Dr. Horrible only shows off his Broadway-worthy bravado to his webcam, not to every person on the street. His duet with the chanteuse of his life Penny (“My Eyes”) utilizes modest instrumentation of little more than polite flutes and acoustic guitar, perhaps not to overpower Felicia Day’s peach-fuzz singing voice. These numbers are not slickly-produced reveries a la Glee—rather, they’re more approachable and somehow more believable breaks to song. (Never mind the singing cowboys—those are just hilarious.)
But the most subtle, delicate flourishes in Dr. Horrible come from Harris himself. Harris’s arching, raising and sinking of his right eyebrow alone conveys a wider range of emotion than Jim Halpert’s entire face. And, with just as much ease as he delivers his How I Met Your Mother catchphrases (“Legen—wait for—dary!”; “Suit up!”; the list goes on) and winks, Harris fumbles and mumbles through every chance encounter with Penny, and even emits what can only be described as the painfully awkward, startled version of the evil laugh that introduces Dr. Horrible.
Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle and How I Met Your Mother may have catapulted Harris back into the spotlight. But as we’re now reminded, it was Dr. Horrible that first showcased his range, acting and singing-wise. He has since sung for animated series Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Sesame Street and Glee, in an episode directed by Whedon himself. Thanks to Dr. Horrible, and even that single twitch, it’s easy to see why.