This, my friends, is the new Greatest Quote of All Time.
As said with exquisite comic timing by Captain Hammer to his lovelorn arch nemesis Dr Horrible, it may be the crowning achievement in Nathan Fillion’s under-valued but wonderful career so far.
I don’t know why it took so long for me to see Dr Horrible’s Sing Along Blog. I mean this is a Joss Whedon musical. The last Joss Whedon musical was so good, I cried a little while watching it (and am secure enough in my masculinity to admit that). It stars Nathan Fillion who really can do no wrong at this stage. And while I have never seen How I Met Your Mother, I have always admired Neil Patrick Harris as a thoroughly modern gay celebrity. Like Ellen and Portia de Rossa, there is something refreshingly ordinary about his success and his gayness which probably does more to help kids come to terms with their sexuality than any number of earnest platitudes.
Yet I only for to see it for the first time last night. Dr Horrible isn’t perfect. I found the time constraints to be particularly irritating – each act is less than a quarter of an hour long which means that brevity is one of the show’s main characteristics. This plays very well for the comedy and musical sequences, but it’s a problem for the more dramatic and romantic elements of the story. The turn into darker territory in the end could have used some more time to develop, as could the earlier scenes between Horrible and Penny which sets up Horrible’s desire for her. Just making her sweet and nice to the homeless isn’t quite enough to sell the tragedy of the last act.
This is sort of important, but they ensure Dr Horrible is only a minor piece of brilliance in the Whedon pantheon. But minor key Whedon is still better then most of the shite out there and as a piece of short-form storytelling, Dr Horrible is certainly a weirdly perfect incapsulation of much of what makes Whedon worthwhile. It is consistently funny, likes to mess with genres to create something organic and sweet and it is a constant whirling-dervish of invention. Whedon writes great dialogue, he always has, but there is something surreally wacky about the elements of the Dr Horrible plot which display a new side to his writing. He takes the idea of a deconstructed comic hero-world and twists and enriches that vision with additions from Python, musical romance and soap opera.
And the cast… oh lordy the cast is wonderful. Felicia Day is luminous as Penny – it’s a shame that she isn’t given much to work with (this is one of the very rare instances of a Whedon show where the female role feels distinctly undercooked). Nathan Fillion looks like he is having insane amounts of fun as Captain Hammer. He gets most of the really funny lines and it helps that with his square jaw and (ahem…) rippling muscles, he looks like he stepped out of an old-fashioned comic book.
And as Dr Horrible, Neil Patrick Harris took the slightly under-written elements of the plot and characters and sells them completely. He is funny, sad, romantic – he sings, he dances, and he takes a beating with aplomb. He proves himself a natural at Whedon’s particular brand of stylised dialogue and he is spectacularly good at the pissy, dead-pan humour of Dr Horrible’s blog entries.
Harris is a rarity – one of the very few publicly out actors who has continued to have a thriving career playing very straight roles. Perhaps it is the public’s memory of him Dougie Howser and the affection they feel towards his sitcom stardom which makes this possible. But his class, and talent are hugely important in their own ways to helping breaking barriers and misconceptions about the ability of gay actors to become genuine stars.
I am still slightly unsure if this is the marker for a new way of artists working cooperatively. One of the aspects of Whedon’s creative career which I have always liked is how he seems to gather about him a large group of collaborators that follow him from project to project. With Dr Horrible, you have a some of his ex-writing staff making cameos all over the place. Both Fillion and Day have worked with Whedon before. It’s produced by James Contner. His brothers worked on the music and script. You see the same thing in Dollhouse. I don’t know why, but the idea that Whedon honours those who have helped him, and that he remains in this kind of contact with them is the sort of thing which makes me feel all the more thankful towards the end product. That he financed it himself and then shared the profits with cast and crew, just gives me warm and fuzzies..
I would be fearful for Whedon that if he started to go down this path it would further ghettoise him as a niche artist. I he has never quite been a JJ Abrams type, and his experiences with Network television haven’t been smooth, but Buffy and Angel became pop cultural phenomenons that expanded far beyond their initial viewings. I am not quite sure if the web would provide the same opportunities, particularly with the ADD way we all tend to consume media online. Dr Horrible already felt slightly constrained by the brevity of form – I want to see an expanded Dr Horrible world, not another few episodes chopped to fit into short bursts.
But that’s just me. I am greedy when it comes to Whedon’s work.
PS - SpellCheck weirdness – whenever I type Whedon in MSWord, it wants to change it to Théoden. Considering I have just finished the Helms Deep section of Two Towers, this tickled me.
PPS – If anybody wants to buy me a Captain Hammer t-shirt, I will love you long time