Wednesday, January 7, 2009

I've Just Met Dr. Horrible

Ok, this isn't going to be for everyone. I liked it, and I can see why it's selling well on DVD, but unless you:
  1. Have a touch of nihilism in your personal makeup,
  2. Have a really dark sense of humor, and
  3. Don't get too uptight about the occasional "adult" joke, but
  4. Like watching musicals, and
  5. Have about 43 minutes to kill and a high-speed Internet connection,
...then you might not want to click on this.

"This" refers to a very strange three-act musical show created by Josh Whedon and his brothers. For those of you who sort of remember that name, he was the guy who brought to the world Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Serenity/Firefly Sci-Fi series.

The title of the show is Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog.

And yes, it's a comedy, although the comedy turns very black at the end. It follows a wannabe supervillain with an inferiority complex, Dr. Horrible, as he goes about trying to establish himself as bad enough so that he can join the Evil League of Evil. A fair amount of the show is just excerpts from Dr. Horrible's video blog, as he's explaining what it is he's up to. (Trouble is, both his nemesis, Captain Hammer, and the entire LAPD read his blog....)

And yes, the thing is a musical. During its 43 minutes it has something like 14 songs. Now, I'm the kind of guy that goes for operatic and symphonic scores, and Dr. Horrible's music is too close to all that ethereal, moody stuff sung by skinny, depressed Euro-trash arteests during the '90's. Nevertheless, I give all that a pass, because at least it's a freaking musical. I'm bummed that there are so few of those made anymore, so the fact that anyone is making one has to be seen as a positive sign.

(And yes, I loved O, Brother Where Art Thou when it came out. That one counts as a musical in my book...)


Now, I have to give a little warning here, and a bit of a confession. One of the reasons that I liked Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, is that I identify a wee bit too much with Dr. Horrible himself.

You know how every time there's a school shooting in this country, all the forensic psychologists come out of the woodwork to figure out what was wrong with the kid who did it? And how every time, there's the same list of personality traits? All these guys are:
  1. Smart. In some cases, very smart.
  2. Quiet, introverted. They don't open up much to others, but there's a lot going on in their brains that they don't let on about.
  3. Rock bottom on the social totem pole, long before they blow their stacks. Many of these guys are bullying victims, and they deal with their anger by withdrawing from the world and engaging in revenge fantasies.
  4. Idealistic, in an odd sort of way. Many of these guys have a strong sense of outrage at injustice--primarily that directed toward them, of course, but not always exclusively. They often feel that there is something terribly wrong with the whole world, that it's morally off its axis. By the time they become violent, they've often given up on fixing it, believing that it's no longer worth saving anymore.
  5. Fascinated by technology, especially (but not always exclusively) military technology. To these guys, machines and weapons are a whole lot easier to understand--and a whole lot more useful--than people.
You'll see some variant of this list pretty much any time someone blows his stack and takes it out on his schoolmates.

And I look down this list, and think to myself: Yup. I got that one. Check. Check. Check....

While I've mellowed out a bit in my old age, I think back on the way I was in high school, and I think: There but for the grace of God... And I don't mean that as an exaggeration; I know from first-hand experience the pleasures that come from revenge fantasies toward the obnoxious jocks who are popular precisely because they take the time to humiliate you on a regular basis. It's just that, because of my upbringing, every time I started engaging in such revenge fantasies, I'd hear a little voice telling me, You know, I don't think God wants you thinking this way.

Oh, yeah--I missed one. We all hear little voices, too.


(Actually, my wife reminds me that she was once pegged by one of her supervisors as the "blow up the post-office" types. And this was one of her friends!)


So from my vantage point, Dr. Horrible nails it. Yes, it is (mostly) a comedy. And yet everything that happens to Dr. Horrible felt somehow familiar--the lack of respect from anyone, despite the fact that he's actually a very intelligent (and not very evil) person; the losing of the woman he really does love to a big, narcissistic jerk who doesn't actually care about her; the feeling that he could be so much more if the world would just give him a chance.

And at the end (I'll try to avoid spoilers here) the feeling of absolute emptiness, even when his plans start to succeed. By that point, he's given up too much of himself, and he just doesn't care anymore. He used to be charming and even considerate, despite a generalized ennui; by the end, the nihilism has completely taken over and he just doesn't care anymore--except in unguarded, unscripted moments, like the very last scene. (Which was undoubtedly in the script, of course, because it was part of a song. And it rhymed. Which means they planned it that way. But I mean unscripted from Dr. Horrible's perspective. The person, not the play. Oh, forget it. You know what I mean....)

In all, I'm not sure how often I'll be watching this show again--the ending was a bit dark for my taste, in the way that the original version of Little Shop of Horrors (the stage play--not the Steve Martin/Rick Moranis movie version) has a dark ending. And yet, it gave some good laughs along the way, and made me think. Hopefully you're not the kind of person who will see too much of yourself in the main character (like I am), but if you are, try not to sympathize too closely, m'kay?


Anyway, a very strange show, this was. And I understand the DVD is even stranger--I hear it has, in addition to the regular studio commentary track, a musical commentary track, where everything is sung. And after initial online release of the show, the Whedons put out a challenge to their audience: make 3-minute videos explaining why you should be in the Evil League of Evil. They then put the best 10 of these on the DVD. That's something I wouldn't mind seeing sometime.


Oh, and Chris--if you're reading this--you were actually quite safe when you came and visited us. Tonya and I are nearly completely over the maladaptive tendencies of our youth, at least so long as we're getting enough vitamin D.


Wendy Power said...

We've only watched the first episode, and by the first song I knew 1) we needed to buy the DVD and 2) you two needed to come over to watch it. If we help with sitter locating and compensation, will you consider it? :)

B. Durbin said...

I love Dr. Horrible. And how about Bad Horse's trio?

Whedon says he plans another. I think this time it's going to be about Fake Thomas Jefferson.

Timothy Power said...

B. Durbin,
I loved the Bad Horse Trio. And I understand that those three guys were none other than the three Whedon brothers themselves: Jed, Joss, and Zack. How cool is that?

I also read something over at Wikipedia that made me laugh: Dark Horse Comics just debuted a comic tie in about the origin of Horrible's henchman, Moist (entitled "Humidity Rising".)

I'd love to watch it over at you guys' place sometime--especially the commentaries and the fan-made Evil League of Evil audition videos. I don't think that Tonya particularly wants to see it again, though. It does have a rather dark ending. It's an appropriate ending, and a good one, but it's very dark.