'Horrible' belts out wonderful fun

July 24, 2008 

Poster from Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

Look! Up on the Web! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a singalong blog!

Wait, a singalong what?

Yes, blog. As in those things everyone has where you can read what they had for lunch or how much they hate their boss or why their cat is a genius (p.s. read mine at thehive.modbee.com/sceneit).

But, oh, a blog can be so much more. It can be ... wait for it, wait for it ... the future!

Last week, famed TV writer/producer Joss Whedon (the man behind "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") launched his first-ever Web series, "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog."

The "blog" is essentially a stand-alone TV episode created exclusively for the Internet.

Instead of featuring a cast of nobodies (I say that with love, nobodies, don't send me angry e-mails), this show features a cast of noticeable somebodies.

Neil Patrick Harris of "How I Met Your Mother" and "Doogie Howser, M.D." fame stars as the title's Dr. Horrible. But he isn't really horrible at all. He's more like dorky and shy with evil aspirations.

His nemesis is Captain Hammer, played by "Desperate Housewives" and "Firefly" star Nathan Fillion. Captain Hammer is a hero only by name. In real life, he is smug, self-involved and arrogant.

All Dr. Horrible wants to do is gain acceptance to the Evil League of Evil and cultivate an evil laugh. All Captain Hammer wants to do is brag and flex his muscles.

They both happen to like a girl-next-door named Penny ("Buffy" guest star Felicia Day) who wants to help the homeless and eat frozen yogurt.

Did I mention the singing?

What makes Whedon's venture so interesting is that besides being quite good, it also was quite popular. Released in three approximately 15-minute acts over a five-day span, the Web series crashed the site's servers when it premièred, due to worldwide demand.

Free the first week on its site (www.drhorrible.com), the series is now available only for purchase on iTunes ($3.99 for all three parts). Whedon will release it on DVD with special features and commentary.

Whedon and two of his brothers and one of their fiancée's dreamed up the idea during the writers' strike. Unable to write for TV, they sought a creative outlet elsewhere. What resulted was both bold and familiar.

The Web series has the feel and production values of mainstream TV. But both its subject matter and, let's face it, all that singing make it a tad too subversive for regular TV.

In a way, "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" is a perfect example of what the writers' strike was all about. With more and more viewers going online for content, the demand for high-quality Web-only material will only continue to rise.

The major networks will have to adjust to both fill that need and be creative enough to compete with independent projects like Whedon's that suddenly have access to the same worldwide platform.

In short, expect more and more projects like "Dr. Horrible" (albeit perhaps not with the singing) in the future.

All this is great news for media consumers like you and me. The more choices we have, the more chance there is that some of it actually will be good.

Which means that maybe one day in the not-so-distant future, we can retire the phrase: "There's nothing on, I'm bored."

P.S. Dude, Neil Patrick Harris can really freaking sing.

Elsewhere around the Scene:

Check out if Modesto-area musician Rick Barnes can get the lyrics right on national TV.

The singer and guitarist, who plays regularly at restaurants and bars in Modesto, will appear on the Fox reality show "Don't Forget the Lyrics" on Thursday. The game show challenges contestants to sing the lyrics to song for a top prize of $1 million. Barnes' show includes a special appearance by and singalong with pop superstar Kenny Loggins. "Don't Forget the Lyrics" airs at 8 p.m. on Fox. ...

Feel the rhythm at the newest club in town. The DoubleTree Hotel and Olé Productions recently opened the live Latin club, the Rumba Room.

The Friday-night-only spot inside the hotel, formerly Club Max, will have a grand opening party Aug. 29.

Playing tonight will be the salsa group Orquesta Timbalero. Shows will include free dance lessons. Doors open at 9 p.m., live music at 10 p.m. Tickets are $20 before midnight, $10 after. Call 573-1710 or 526-600. Visit oleproductions.com. ...

Mark your calendars for the return of jazz man Slim Man. The smooth-jazz vocalist and bassist will play back-to-back shows Aug. 1-2 at Jacob's Fine Dining in Modesto. Tickets are $35 general, $45 reserved, $95 VIP. Call 491.7185. ...

And finally, you'll have two chances to catch Oakdale High School grad Brett Dennen in big concerts this weekend.

The up-and-coming singer/songwriter is on tour with John Mayer and Colbie Caillat. See all three tonight at Sleep Train Amphitheatre in Wheatland. Then see them Saturday at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View. More at brettdennen.net.

Bee entertainment writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at mrowland@modbee.com or 578-2284. Read her blog SceneIt at thehive.modbee.com/sceneit.

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