I Cannot Believe My Eyes: A Retrospective of the Quest to Dr. Horrible


The 2007-2008 television year was a dark time. Well, for some people. For fans it meant that there weren’t going to be new episodes, but for the writers it meant that the future of contracts would yield so much more. That being said, the 2007-2008 Writers Guild of America strike hit like a storm that we, as fans, didn’t really predict. Or at least I didn’t because I was fourteen and I didn’t pay attention to the industry the way I do now.

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Had Joss Whedon had a show on television at the time, though, he would have had the same problem that 120 other “hyphenates” had. Joss is a showrunner – meaning he’s both head writer and executive producer. He, quite literally, runs his shows. The WGA strike causes a lot of conflicts because head writers were striking as writers, but they were still contractually obligated to work as executive producers. Whedon, however, wasn’t running a show.

While it’s always sad when Joss Whedon doesn’t have a show on air, we probably wouldn’t have Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog if there had been something on television. But let it never be said that Joss Whedon isn’t inspired, because he is and he delivers on those fantastic ideas.

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Inspired by star Felicia Day’s equally fantastic webseries The GuildDr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog was written during the WGA strike. It was pitched within the creative team as a way to do something low-budget but with a high production value that circumvented all the issues that the WGA was striking about. Joss Whedon directed the series, but it was a collaborative effort between all three Whedon brothers, (Joss, Jed, and Zack) and Jed’s wife Maurissa Tancharoen Whedon. 

Dr-Horrible-s-Sing-Along-Blog-dr-horribles-sing-a-long-blog-2001487-500-331Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog stars Neil Patrick Harris as the title character, an aspiring supervillain trying to gain membership in Bad Horse’s Evil League of Evil. He’s also trying to make a romantic connection with Penny (Felicia Day), a idealist homeless shelter volunteer who becomes enraptured with Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion), Dr. Horrible’s archenemy.

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog is interesting in that it works on two main levels of media. Each fifteen minute episode works as a webseries episode. They each had a clear beginning, middle, and end that completed the story of that episode. The series also works as a short film, however, being just as amazing as a one-shot story. Dr. Horrible also did something amazing, although it’s not really discussed because of how webseries are changing the face of online video. Dr. Horrible did exactly what it set out to do, and did it beautifully. It’s a webseries that was low-budget, but professional as all get out. But it proved that creators can do both and not have to deal with the issues that the WGA was striking about – it proved that there really is a future in web video. Robert Moore said it best, though, in Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion, “Many regarded it as the first great thing produced directly for the Internet, and the way the participants self-funded the project could provide a template for other producers of scripted content who want to work outside of the studio system” (13). Dr. Horrible is important for the future, and it was just the first step in the future of video.

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Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog is fantastic and it stands as one of the great post-Firefly works of Joss Whedon. It has the campy charm of Buffy, the sarcasm in the face the fantastic of Firefly, and the great music that only Joss Whedon and company can deliver. If you loved “Once More with Feeling” as much as I did, it stands as my most watched episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, then you’ll love the musical soundtrack to Dr. Horrible.

With characters like Simon Helberg as Moist, a sidekick who just makes things wet, and the references to Bad Horse, you’re sure to have a fun time with even the minor characters and details. All in all, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog is an important chapter in Joss Whedon’s career and it’s worth multiple re-watches and keeping the soundtrack on repeat – even if you don’t really like musicals as a whole.

Emily Frances Maesar

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