Over the weekend the final act of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog dropped on DrHorrible.com, completing the three part series. It was available for free until 12:01 AM PST Monday, but now you can only get it on iTunes for a season pass of $3.99 (and later on DVD with “the finest and bravest extras in all the land). How’s it selling? Looks pretty good. Acts I, II, and III are on the top of the charts for “Top TV Episodes.”
Perhaps those crashes during the free release period were part of an ingenious marketing plan to get more fans to pay for the series. Or maybe it’s not that hard to beat out Avatar: The Last Airbender for a top slot. But it’s probably because creator Joss Whedon has a helluva lot of fans, created a ton of buzz before the release, and the short length musical superhero film that started as a Writers Strike side project is that good.
It’s been an interesting foray into independent publishing for Whedon, even if the free online viewing window was just to generate excitement for the iTunes and DVD releases. It all makes for an interesting, if not ground breaking experiment in Internet television.
The production itself was quite unique and uniquely Whedon. It does go to show what a creative talent can do when not restricted by the mainstream media formats (as well as having some cash — something around the “low six-figures”– to throw around). It was a family affair, with brothers Jed and Zack involved in writing the script and music.
Neil Patrick Harris, who Whedon brought in after learning about his musical theater chops, is fantastic as Dr. Horrible, and his recent career resurgence, including the self-mocking appearance in the Harold and Kumar movies, undoubtedly helped with the Dr. Horrible buzz. His character is a conflicted one, as an evil villain and the bearer of a puerile crush on Penny (Felicia Day), a plight I’m sure many guys can identify with.
Harris is great as a vlogger, and the vlog is well used in the series as a significant plot device in the second episode and in an emotionally evocative moment at the end. But the idea still comes off as a gimmick for a project that otherwise has little relevance to Internet media.
Dr. Horrible lacks the free form quality of video blogging that lends itself to complex characters through its haphazard construction of narrative. The series is way more plot driven and to a certain extent formulaic than any other show that uses the medium as a character device, and it shows by the end.
To me, the second two installments don’t quite live up to the first. Maybe it was the excitement surrounding the release, but the second lacked the energy and freshness, going through the plot without adding much depth to the characters. Dr. Horrible is the only one that’s compelling. Penny is a one dimensional do-gooder type who isn’t allowed to develop at all, while Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion), has a bit more of a story arc, but the obnoxious egotism is predictable and gets old fast.
The third episode has an unexpected and tragic ending with a climactic scene well done, but it all feels unresolved. Perhaps Whedon is leaving it open ended for another mini-series, but this one leaves the viewer with a fairly nihilistic view of the superhero world, where the protagonist is doomed to be evil, and the superhero good guy is a douche bag.