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August 02 2008

The New York Times has a look at Dr. Horrible. Interesting if slightly surreal analysis from the Gray Lady: ""Legally Blonde the Musical: The Search for Elle Woods" is a superior piece of craftsmanship."

If it's any consolation to Mike Hale, Joss and co. weren't trying very hard.
I like that they refer to the actors and creators as Mr. Harris, Mr. Whedon and Ms. Day. Rarely to be seen.
I haven't seen "Legally Blonde the Musical", so I cannot comment on the article. ;-)
"Slacker aesthtic"? OMG! Hasn't she noticed that we're all old now? And those who were too slack to move fast are dead?

Yeah, Ariane, it's a rule at the NYT. I remember reading a book by one of their former reporters who was nonplussed about having to refer to Elvis as "Mr. Presley."

[ edited by dreamlogic on 2008-08-02 11:47 ]
Hmm, not sure the central thrust is particularly fair, reviewers may have compared it to a TV show but i'm pretty sure Joss/Jed/Zack/Maurissa haven't. So is the NY Times reviewer reviewing Dr Horrible or its reviews ?

And I think "quick filming" is closer than "rushed". It didn't feel rushed to me, it was on a smaller scale but that makes sense for an indie production. And i'm also reasonably sure that when Joss et al talked about movies and broadway musicals they were largely tongue-in-cheek so, again, a bit under-informed.

Nice to get another, probably more mainstream perspective though.
Well, clearly the article has some points. But than, why does it reminds me of someone, buying a beetle and than complaining about the missing refrigerator.
True, it doesn't have one. What did you think dude?
This isn't really all that surprising. Mainstream media only knows how to relate to itself. Anything beyond it's scope, or *gasp* new, can only be compared to what it already knows.
That's right, dreamlogic; my favorite example was when they called Meat Loaf, "Mr. Loaf." They really did.

[ edited by toast on 2008-08-02 12:45 ]
toast, that is genius.

Anyway, this review, to me, is all kinds of wrong. First of all, it's not a TV show. It's been referred to as a "film" and a "movie" more often than it has a "TV show." (This is also evidenced by the fact that Joss said there couldn't be an "Act Four," there would have to be a sequel.)

But if you had let The New York Times know this, they'd probably like it even less. Honestly, this is better than most TV shows, and especially The Closer, which is a painful viewing experience. I don't know what to do about their Legally Blonde comparison except to back away slowly from the computer screen, trying not to run away in fright.

I also find Dr. Horrible far superior to most movies. Yes, I'm a Joss fanboy, but I'm not a Joss apologist. If this weren't as great as it truly is, I wouldn't be saying this merely because I'm a fan. That fact that I'm a fan helps a great deal, but Dr. Horrible is satisfying and moving and hilarious and bitterly satirical in its zippy 42 minutes than most hours-long productions could ever hope to be.

This doesn't worry me overmuch, though. The Times has a history of being woefully wrong on things like this; Bosley Crowther, anyone?
That article starts off good, but frankly Mr. Hale lost me with his conclusions at the end. Apparently some people have already told him he's missing the point, but it seems he hasn't quite realised why yet. I'm not sure he appreciates what an achievement it is to realise a product of this calibre, that's so polished, after spending such a small amount of money and less than a week filming. It's frankly incredible.
The Times is trying to tell us that Dr. Horrible's not as important and innovative as it thinks it is. Maybe because it's not sure what to think about a 42 minute musical that's taken the internet, and other media, by storm. It's almost as if the success of Dr. Horrible doesn't really count because it's not on traditional TV, and that it's really trying to help sell "Dollhouse" and "Buffy season 8"
Look, it's something new, and an example of how good internet entertainment can be if it's taken seriously. As for that remark at the end of how DH should be beefed up for Broadway or something like that, maybe parts four, five and more will help do that. It's a cinch someone has to write songs for the Evil League of Evil, if you want to go that far.
Well, the NYT has given me another excuse to watch it again. I totally missed the "prominent gay sub-text" spoken of.
"The Susan Silverman Show"? Really?

It's good to be reminded that all viewers have exactly the same tastes, so that all entertainment can be judged on a single basis. Of course you can compare "The Closer" to "Sarah Silverman" to "24" to "The Simpsons" to "Gilligan's Island" to "The Wire" to "Friends." They're all TV shows, so therefore they all have the same tropes, the same context, and the same audience. Thank you, New York Times, for reminding us of this simple truth.

Or you could, you know, review it on its own merits or faults. Although even that may be tricky and require more than 15 minutes. "prominent gay subtext"?

[ edited by C. A. Bridges on 2008-08-02 13:58 ]
Well, of all the reviews and commentary I have read about Dr. Horrible, that was certainly the most... hrm... recent? "Prominent gay subtext?" WTF? I guess he just figured it's Joss, and Joss usually has *something* gay... right? Or, well, you know... there is a conversation between 2 male characters that actually has the word "penis" in it. That probably woke him up a little bit.

It's no real surprise here that someone from the NYT is a little clueless. They don't call it the "Gray Lady" for nothing, folks. It is old and it moves slowly... and it doesn't appreciate new art unless it comes with a $15.00 glass of white wine, a cheese plate and an artist with a fully established pedigree and a trust fund.

For them, a trend is what the rest of us have known about for years and are starting to get bored with. But, hey, that's okay. The people, like Joss and Felicia, who pioneer in this field are going to have targets painted on their backs and it's not like Joss and Co. haven't been there before. People like us will be able to reward them for the risks they are taking now. We know our geniuses in the moment.

The people like the ones at the NYT will reward them a few years from now. I can't wait to see the headline, "Newly Rediscovered Genius - Mr. Whedon Makes The 'Net Profitable Anew" or some such.

It's coming... we just have to wait for them to catch up. :)
Wow... umm... no. Pretty much what everyone already said. Legally Blonde? Are you kidding me?
In Arthur Conan Doyle's book Valley of Fear, Sherlock Holmes famously quips, "Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius."

And Jonathan Swift almost-as-famously said, "When a true genius appears in this world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him."

One thing the article doesn't mention or take into account is the low budget for the work. I mean, to produce a 42-minute movie on a tiny fraction of a tv show's budget is one thing, but to produce a musical for that much money is a real accomplishment.

When I see how much drivel and dreck and utter crap is out there, drivel, dreck, and utter crap that cost hundreds of times as much to produce, I can't imagine how someone could look at Dr. Horrible and think, Oh, well, they're going to have to make it better than that if it's going to make it in another medium. Oh, really? We all thought Dr. Horrible could translate to a Broadway musical as-is, you know, 42 minutes long, and with no-one getting paid. Gimme a break.

Okay, I'm better now.
Well it would be very easy to gasp and moan in indignation, but I'll take the high road and say each to their own.

Though how ANYONE could describe songs like 'Slipping' and 'Everything you Ever Wanted' as "tuneful, witty soft pop" is just so very beyond me.
Haven't read the article because I'm late for work (haha, I know) but Legally Blonde?! That's the ONLY musical I hate, how dare they?
Wait, gay subtext? I was LOOKING for it and didn't see any. Anyone else get the feeling that he's just seeing what he wants to see in a project which stars a *gasp* gay person?
Oh my gosh, you all are so funny, and so right about the NYT. I mean really, how is Dr. Horrible a tv show?
Yeah. You know,"Prominent Gay Subtext." Joss wrote it & NPH is gay. There must be subtext. We were just too distracted by the engaging plot and AWESOME acting to notice, ne?
I love the smell of confused review in the morning. I think the only artistic ventures that count on a good review from the Times is the opening of a Broadway show. And maybe not even then.
All I know is, I loved Dr. Horrible. I felt for the characters, got involved in the plot, memorized all the songs. The ending got me thinking, and asking questions about my life. And its, you know, hilarious (I realize I'm preaching to the choir)... whereas everytime my sister turns on that stupid legally blonde reality show, I have to back away from the TV and do something else, because that show is just so inane. This coming from a person who actually enjoyed the legally blonde musical. also: prominent gay subtext? Color me confused....
I don't object to the Legally Blonde musical, I am however puzzled about the comparison with a reality show. I'm not entirely sure why Dr. Horrible is not as good as a "search for a star" programme.
I think this reviewer has attempted to avoid embarrassing himself while reviewing work in an area he was pretty much unaware of. He was also in hot water, because he didn't seem to pay much attention to it when he watched it.

Perhaps he thought that if he avoided enthusiasm, and compared it to tv and broadway musicals, which he believes he can talk knowledgeably about, then he wouldn't seem lost. But he does seem lost, as well as barely interested in finding out where he is.

I think it is important to have reviewers who love the medium, and know something about it.The Times wouldn't (hopefully) employ a movie reviewer who hated movies, and was always mentioning he'd rather have gone to the opera. Or vice versa.

[ edited by toast on 2008-08-02 17:13 ]
This is a standard "It's All Hype" piece. After something gets a lot of attention (especially if it got a lot of attention from one's competitor news organizations while being overlooked by one's own) it requires no effort to put together a piece that disdains the attention-getting phenomenon as all hype, there's really nothing new here, it ain't all that. It's a way to appear knowing without having to go through the trouble of learning.

The gay subtext thing is cute. I think it was literary critic Leslie Fiedler who famously found a gay subtext in Melville's "Billy Budd." In an ep of The Sopranoes, the lack of sophistication of Tony and/or Carm was illustrated by their refusal to accept the presence of a gay subtext in that (truly great) story. I'm still waiting for the world to catch onto the fact that Fiedler, in addition to finding gay subtexts between all sorts of literary characters, was equally certain that they wanted to have sex with their sisters. Brilliant critic, I've got several of his books, and he was an influence on one of Joss's professors, Richard Slotkin, but his brilliant interpretations are, as they say, open to interpretation. IOW, if you don't "get" that Penny is making a reference to a possible gay subtext in Melville's Billy Budd when she sings "Billy buddy," you're supposed to feel like an unsophisticated Bridge and Tunnel suburbanite. This is another way the knowingness game is played.

[ edited by Pointy on 2008-08-02 18:49 ]
Is is just me, or does
The Web won’t be the only, or even the most important, point of release for “Dr. Horrible.” A DVD has already been announced...

coming after everything else the article has said, seem to be implying that while it's okay for DVD to be all-important for TV show and movie profitability, it's somehow wrong or disingenuous for Dr. Horrible to possibly stake it's profitability on DVD as well?
I think the link title rather captures this review: it's as if Mr. Times peered over the top of his morning newspaper at Mr. Horrible cavorting wildly in the middle distance, and then returned to his breakfast and other affairs. I suppose we should be grateful (yup) that he took an interest at all - but it would have been nice if he'd been acquainted with Mr. Point and Mr. Context.
"the jokes, both verbal and visual, feel tossed off and scattershot."

/moral indignation on

I predict that there are line from Dr. Horrible that we'll be repeating/chuckling over 10 or (gasp) 20 years from now - as with Holy Grail, Princess Bride. Lots of them.

Here's 12 to start with: Hammer is my penis ... smells like cumin ... did you notice that he threw you in the garbage ... good day to be homeless ... buy rocketships and go to the moon and become florists ... world is a mess and I just need to rule it ... look at my wrist I gotta go ... wonderflonium - do not bounce ... the thoroughbred of sin ... I hear it's better the second time/I hear you get to do the weird stuff ... if you're not a friggin' tard you will prevail ... shiny new australia.

I can't think of even a single Buffy/Angel or Firefly show that had this many great lines in 45 minutes or so. Maybe some great movies, but that's it. I'd love to see the list of the best 12 lines from a Closer ep.

/moral indignation off
I can't take this one too seriously, from my paper-of-choice though it may be. People who are content with this fluff-movie-to-Broadway trend, with pre-teen girls as the target audience, (not to mention those who celebrate Broadway's Wicked and then are troubled/disappointed by the book's political bent) are, I suspect, the same ones who thought Buffy could learn a lesson or two from Dawson's Creek or Friends. /sigh

Or, alternately, said way better by Herb,
This isn't really all that surprising. Mainstream media only knows how to relate to itself. Anything beyond it's scope, or *gasp* new, can only be compared to what it already knows.

Oh the Times... They're so self-involved and ego-licious.

At least they mentioned it.
For Mr. Whedon the stakes are higher anyway. The Web won’t be the only, or even the most important, point of release for “Dr. Horrible.” A DVD has already been announced, and Mr. Whedon has dropped hints about the possibility of feature-film and stage-musical versions. other news, a writer for the New York Times can't recognize a joke. Film at 11.
I was just about to post about that paragraph, Shmuel. The cynicism is blatant as can be. Evidently, No One can produce something without a further agenda that involves trying to make a fortune and milking your audience of all their money. The Times in general, and the Reviewer in particular, just can't conceive of anyone doing something purely for Entertainment, Self-Expression, Art, and Love for their Fans.
Thanks, Pointy, for letting me know I didn't get the gay subtext because I'm an uncultured oaf. (I'm not saying that you called me one, I truly am grateful for the explanation).

I can't believe I got this useless degree in literature and am still not educated enough to pick up on gay subtext.

And I thought that Joss was using his Dollhouse press to bring more attention to Dr. Horrible more than the other way around.
There was gay subtext? Wow, Whedon is incredibly subtle then. Besides Captain Hammer's muscle speeches and such, I wouldn't think that "keep your head up Billy buddy" has anything to do with homosexuality. Keep your head up is a phrase basically meaning cheer up.
Isn't admiring one's own body autoeroticism, not homoeroticism?
It depends whether you're the same sex as yourself or not.
While there are a lot of problems with this review, it's not fair to paint the NYT as completely anti-Joss. They have given quite glowing reviews to his work in the past; just search them for "Joss Whedon" and you'll find some good stuff.
I can't believe I got this useless degree in literature and am still not educated enough to pick up on gay subtext.

Same here. I was teaching the very notion of subtext and recognition of it to my English students just the other day.

Gay subtext?

Joss has been down with the gay subtext...just not in Dr. Horrible.

ETA: I've been rewatching with subtitles. Found the gay subtext between 27:00 and 29:00. I meant above that I hadn't seen any gay subtext as it relates to Dr. Horrible and Captain Hammer.

Dr. Horrible gets better with each viewing.

[ edited by April on 2008-08-02 20:37 ]
Folks have pretty much mentioned all the points I was going to make, so I'll just say that I never though I'd see the day Joss Whedon was compared to R. Kelly.

That whole review was just bizarre.
I blame the Thoroughbred of Sin', Bad Horse, he's the one going around, threatening to make everyone his mare.
And Uncle Fury probably reported on it afterward.
(No wonder he was smiling at the ELE meeting!) ;-)
My favorite part? The fact that this is almost three weeks late. The NYT has deigned to notice it after it's already made a huge media splash everywhere else. Yawn.
Holy Hazerai, not to be snotty, but the first thing I thought when I read this "review" is that I was glad not to be the reviewer.

A day late and a dollar short, writing about the world o' entertainment as one big grey blur, a little offended by all the fuss, and apparently just itching to take Joss & Co. and those quivering geek culture fans down just a peg or two.

The NYT has fostered some great writing, but it is also entrenched in a lot of its positions, including a generally anti-Interwebs attitude - or at least a lot of confusion about it - which reared its head once again in this article, along with a fairly typical NYT kindof cynicism and condescension.

And let's not forget that it was the NYT - though via different writers - that derided the striking WGA writers some months earlier as scarf-and-arty-glasses-wearing whiny effete un-workers, and remember also that Joss was pretty vocal about some of that coverage.

Joss & Co., you Internet Upstarts, you.
Found the gay subtext between 27:00 and 29:00.
Oh, right, the fanboy. Forgot about him.
A minor gay character does not a subtext make. Nor does a mention of the phrase "Billy Buddy" or two major male characters.

There is a bit of triangulation via Penny. Billy does choose his rivalry with Capt. Hammer over a relationship with Penny, repeatedly.
Thanks for linking, QG. That article brought tears to my eyes.

And, I know as a whole we're taking the high-road on this... this... THING, but let me tell you- I'm holding my core intact, taking one for the team, so I don't leap on over to NYT and give this guy some "Faith".
Yeah, what's up with the "Billy ... buddy" thing? How's that gay subtext? I don't get it....

"Dr. Horrible" seems to me to be a rather remarkable piece of craftsmanship. I can't address the "Legally Blonde" issue fairly, but ... really? Really? I don't see the lack to craftsmanship anywhere in "Dr. Horrible." It's rather lovely, how well-put-together it is. There's mundanity, if that's a word, which is probably a result of low budget, but I like mundanity in fantasy. So dismissing it as lacking craft seems, to me, like unvarnished kray-zee and googly eyes. You don't see the low budget unless you're looking for it, the story gets told ... what am I missing?
Septimus, there are at least two gay minor characters, and the "Who's gay?" from the anchorman seemed a little jab at FOX News, but I could be wrong.

That said, Dr. Horrible is not all about homosexuality. Those gay instances were like icing. No, sprinkles on icing.
That said, Dr. Horrible is not all about homosexuality

Unless it was all in Penny's mind and she was a slash fan.
I don't think that it was a jab at FOX news, I think it was a general jab at the newstertainment that we get in lieu of actual news these days. No one will watch the economic and political crap unless we gossip about sex/sexuality!
I don't want to nitpick this too much, but I think Zeitgeist called it back, what two weeks ago? People can read in whatever they want to any dialogue ever written and call it homoerotic or gay subtext, but I also heard a definite separation between Billy and buddy. I thought Penny was saying he was her friend. It seems a big stretch if it was intended to be a Billy Budd reference, that absolutely everyone was going to get that in the moment she said it or even when Billy repeats it, that was an inside reference to Melville's novella. I heard it, immediately dismissed it and took what I heard at face value. I don't care if it was meant but I think to cling on to that as fact and the only interpretation it could be, for me only makes the waters of enjoying Dr. H too murky.
I took the "who's gay?" thing as a reference to NPH's involuntary outing by Perez "Famewhore" Hilton. Which I would note, fully backfired on PFWH with NPH's awesome and classy response -- "I am happy to dispel any rumors or misconceptions and am quite proud to say that I am a very content gay man living my life to the fullest and feel most fortunate to be working with wonderful people in the business I love."-- and the way that the public appears to have shrugged the whole thing off.

NPH-1, PFWH-0.
Ok, I would rather watch my dog play with a chew toy for 45 minutes than to sit through an episode of "The Search for Elle Woods". And they said it was BETTER than Dr. Horrible? Really?
I need a drink.
there are at least two gay minor characters
Granting the male fan for the sake of the argument, who's the second? Evil Bowie?

(I'm just curious. Totally agreed that "A minor gay character does not a subtext make.")
I find it particularly crappy that Mr. Hale wrote, " 'Legally Blonde the Musical: The Search for Elle Woods' is a superior piece of craftsmanship" - given that he had earlier written about that show and though he said he'd watch it, he managed to be sufficiently snotty about it, too.

The Guardian managed to get it a lot better, I thought.
I'd rather chew the dog toy myself than sit through pretty much any reality show. OTOH, I like "The Closer". But what I can't figure out is what either "The Closer" or "The Search for Elle Woods" is supposed to have in common with "Dr. Horrible", other than the fact that we would view all three of them on a screen. What was the point of the comparison? I don't get that any more than I get the "gay subtext". Did the reviewer just close his eyes and point his finger at a current TV schedule?
Shmuel, I think the second gay character referred to was the Pink Pummeler.
Or Moist, seeing as he was the one in the Pink Pummeler's ever-so-tastefully decorated bedroom.
While I stand by my belief that there is not really a "prominent gay subtext," and I really don't think the "Billy buddy" quote was a reference to Billy Budd (much less to that particular aspect of the novella), there is obviously some pretty significant homosociality going on in Dr. H. It's about the relationship between Capt. H and Dr. H., not either of their relationships with Penny.
The Times, as a "newspaper of record," tries to cover stuff it doesn't understand from a news or business rather than an aesthetic point of view. They usually miss, but not by a mile. Their on/off comments on Buffy were I thought pretty good back in the day. They got "My So-Called Life." But to Times reporters, TV has always been more about numbers and habits than about art, so they're happiest with cop shows and Masterpiece Theater.

Saje, that's a really funny line.
About time the NYT realized this had happened. Sheesh.
I can just see Joss going... OH CRAP I put a TV show on the web? Oh geez. I meant that to go on TV.

Dumb Joss dumb!


He made an internet show that would work on the internet... not TV. Someone get a 5 year old child to explain it to the bigwigs at the NY Times.

[ edited by BrownCoat_Tabz on 2008-08-03 17:04 ]

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