Tuesday, October 9, 2012

REPOST: A Bit of Horrible Goodness

My favorite work by Joss Whedon, "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog," is airing tonight on the CW at 9:00 PM. It's the first time the little 45-minute internet musical that could has aired on television, so this is kind of a big deal. In honor of the milestone, here's some analysis I wrote on the piece way back in September, 2009. This was only the second month of MTVP's existence, so be kind!


“The world is a mess, and I just need to . . . rule it!”
-Billy/Dr. Horrible

In celebration of the big Emmy win this past Saturday, I’m departing from the usual scope of coverage of this blog for a bit. Instead of writing about something that is broadcast on TV, I’m writing about something that was originally “broadcast” on the Internet. If you’ve been reading some of my past blog entries closely, this probably won’t come as much of a surprise, considering how often I name check the lovely work of Internet musical art that is Joss Whedon’s “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.” While the name may sound silly, “Dr. Horrible” actually digs deep and explores some interesting issues while developing complex, morally ambiguous characters. If you haven't ever checked it out before, watch it below, then continue reading for my analysis- it's really not something that should be missed!

[The video is no longer available on Hulu, but watch it on the CW at 9:00 PM tonight!]

Billy’s approach to life and his decision to become “Dr. Horrible” says a lot about our society. It is difficult to pin down Billy’s political philosophy, but because I have a degree in political science and I’m a Constitutional Law nerd, I’m going to try to anyway. I’m strange, and I like this sort of thing. The line that most succinctly describes Billy’s goals comes from the song “Slipping,” when Billy, in Dr. Horrible mode, is terrorizing the crowd that has gathered for the dedication of the new Caring Hands Homeless Shelter. He describes his ideal government as “Anarchy!/ That I run!” He’s clearly not happy with the current power structure. In his opening monologue to his video blog, Billy says “The status is not quo.” This is reinforced in the opening lines to my favorite song of the piece, “My Eyes,” where Billy sings “Any dolt with half a brain/ can see that humankind has gone insane/ to the point where I don’t know if I’ll upset the status quo/ if I throw poison in the water main.” When Penny first approaches Billy about signing her petition for the new homeless shelter, Billy explains that while he is in favor of helping the homeless, the homeless are just a symptom and “the disease rages on.” Even though he phrases it in an unfortunate way (he wants to “cut off the head” of humanity), it’s clear that Billy thinks that he, as Dr. Horrible, can do a better job of running things than the people currently in charge. It seems like, despite what he sings in “Slipping,” Billy does not actually want Anarchy. The “That I run!” part is certainly true, though. It seems like Billy wants anarchy for himself. He wants to be able to do whatever he wants. But he wants everyone else (except maybe Penny) to live in a dictatorship- his dictatorship.

One of the great things about “Dr. Horrible” is the fact that neither the protagonist (Billy/Dr. Horrible) nor the antagonist (Captain Hammer) are completely good or completely evil. Billy may be a wanna-be supervillain, and he may hatch an ill-conceived plot to kill Captain Hammer, but he is not completely evil. For one thing, he has a limit to how far he’ll go to implement his schemes. Billy is definitely against putting kids in danger. In his opening monologue, he dismisses Johnny Snow’s challenge by saying “there are kids in that park” where Johnny Snow wants to fight. Later, when his sidekick Moist suggests Dr. Horrible can get in the good graces of the Evil League of Evil by killing a kid who is going to be President some day, Billy dismisses that idea, too. Billy’s desire to truly become Dr. Horrible comes from two places. The first is that he feels like Billy as Billy is a loser, but Billy as Dr. Horrible can actually be noticed. He wants for “Penny to see the evil me, not a joke, not a dork, not a failure.” The second is the typical supervillain motivation, with a little (kind of an afterthought) twist. That would be “All the cash!/ All the fame!/ And social change.” So, you see, Billy and his alter-ego Dr. Horrible aren’t just pure evil. He has layers!

Captain Hammer, Dr. Horrible’s arch nemesis, is also not entirely good or evil. In theory, as a superhero, he saves the day on a regular basis, but the one example of that we see in “Dr. Horrible” isn’t exactly heroic. He pushes Penny into a trash heap as the van being controlled by Dr. Horrible’s faulty remote control is approaching. It wasn’t Captain Hammer’s (kind of degrading) action that saved Penny, however. Dr. Horrible’s remote just happened to kick back in at just the right time. Captain Hammer also convinces the Mayor to donate a building to the new Caring Hands Homeless Shelter. It’s not clear whether he did this out of goodness or just to get in Penny’s pants. I’d say it was probably some of both. Captain Hammer’s shining moment comes at the beginning of the homeless shelter dedication. He acknowledges that everyone can be a hero, even if the villains they overcome “aren’t as cool as [his].” The fact that he’s acknowledging that anyone other than himself matters is great progress. Unfortunately, that progress doesn’t last long. After suffering minor injuries when Dr. Horrible’s death ray explodes, the fact that he actually felt pain completely incapacitates him. He runs out of the auditorium screaming and is later seen blubbering to his therapist.

Overall, “Dr. Horrible” is most notable for what it accomplished in its medium. Before “Dr. Horrible,” web content wasn’t really know for its quality, even if there was actually some quality content out there (“Dr. Horrible” star Felicia Day’s web show, The Guild, is very entertaining, for instance). Even though its creation required everyone involved to call in many favors, “Dr Horrible” showed that it is possible to make web content with good production values and name actors for the Internet, and that fans will find that content and flock to it in droves. The Emmy win this past weekend is just the industry recognition of all that.

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