During the 2007-2008 Writers Guild of America strike, Joss Whedon collaborated with his brothers (Jed and Zach) and writer/actress Maurissa Tancharoen to create something of quality on a limited budget that would not conflict with the issues at the heart of the strike. The series three episodes were released through Hulu for free and was later available through iTunes, Amazon Video on Demand, and Netflix as well as being released on DVD with a variety of extras including Commentary the Musicals, where cast and crew sang songs related to the DVD commentary. Starring Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion, and Felicia Day the series was a hit with fans and critics and won multiple awards including a Creative Arts Emmy Outstanding Special Class – Short-format Live-Action Entertainment Programs, a first for Whedon despite his many years in television.
Through his video blog Dr. Horrible (as known as Billy) updates followers on his quest to become a member of the Evil League of Evil, his rivalry with local hero Captain Hammer, and his crush on Penny, a girl he often sees at the laundromat but is too shy to talk to. While enacting a plan to steal a case of wonderflonium for his freeze ray, he runs into Penny who is trying to get enough signatures to convert a condemned building into a homeless shelter. Distracted by the heist, Dr. Horrible appears uninterested in Penny’s cause. Suddenly Captain Hammer appears to stop the heist and save the day. He destroys Dr. Horrible’s remote which controls the getaway car, causing it to veer out of control and almost hitting Penny. Captain Hammer saves her by pushing her into a pile of garbage and she is completely enamored. Hammer continues to foil Dr. Horrible’s plans and gloats about his budding romance with Penny. Disappointed by Horrible’s performance as a villain so far, the Evil League of Evil says he must assassinate someone in order to join their ranks. Hammer is of course his target. During their showdown, Dr. Horrible succeeds in humiliating Captain Hammer, but, unfortunately, his Death Ray accidentally kills Penny. While, he has achieved his goal of entering the Evil League of Evil, he lost the only thing he cared about and the whole thing ends on a bit of a downer, damn you, Whedon!!!
Bummer ending aside, Dr. Horrible is a lot of fun. The music is great, makes one wonder if Whedon would ever want to stage a full-on Broadway musical one day. Neil Patrick Harris shines as the leading man. Fillion is a lot of fun as the obnoxious Captain Hammer. While Felicia Day is great in other roles, her character is under developed. There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on in terms of who is a good guy and who is a bad guy. We’re supposed to root for Dr. Horrible despite his quest of destruction, and the traditional hero figure is a shallow jerk. We want Billy to get the girl, but his alter-ego was doomed to spoil things with sweet, innocent Penny. A really great take on the sometimes predictable world of superheros.