Tag Archives: Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

Arrested Protagonists

Pain and Gain is a movie with villain protagonists. Not like Dr. Horrible, more if a couple of the thugs from Taken had a movie about them. This creates a whole host of problems for the film. We shouldn’t like the three main characters, they’re based on real life people guilty of torture, theft, and murder who wind up in jail. The paradox is that we shouldn’t like them but we still need to be invested in the show. For better or worse (mostly worse), Pain and Gain wound up humanizing the protagonists far more than the lawful/good antagonists. Their first victim is such a jerk that you find yourself just waiting for him to be killed. Which is kinda messed up when you realize that it all really happened. In short: Pain and Gain simply couldn’t commit with the direction to take its three protagonists. Compare this to Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog where they embrace the idea of a villain protagonist and run with it.


Pain and Gain has it particularly hard, given that the events happened barely twenty years ago and the inherently dark nature of it all. That said, the Austrian SS officer Hans Landa from Inglorious Basterds is an example of a villain antagonist-sorta-protagonist who we embrace. Why? Because he’s charming, intelligent, and all-around devious enough that we want to see what he does, but it’s also exciting to wait for the good guys to figure out how to outsmart him. There’s a tension there that’s incredibly engrossing. Daniel, Paul, and Adrian from Pain and Gain were no Hans. Hans oozes charm and is such a magnificent human being we’re invested in him by default. Pain and Gain humanizes its characters through moments of comedy and stupidity, which yes, invests us, but it winds up being more sympathetic than the awe we have of Hans.


Arrested Development, on the other hand, shines with its unlucky, bumbling, and sometimes out-and-out dumb protagonists. It takes the show a couple episodes to really find its groove, but once it does it doesn’t stop. The Bluth family is nowhere near as magnificent as Hans Landa and they lack the villainy of the three from Pain and Gain. Rather, Arrested Development channels what can best be described as situational slapstick.


We don’t really want them to succeed all that much because watching them fail is simply so much fun. We want GOB to screw up his trick — sorry, illusion — because watching him make that huge mistake and the ensuing consequences drive the show. It’s the Bluths’ misfortune that attract us to the show, be it Buster’s inability to leave his mother or Tobias’ acting delusions. So the characters in Arrested Development are terrible people and we enjoy watching them fail. Easy?


It’s more than that, though. As much as we may enjoy watching them fail, the characters still wind up being likable. They aren’t quite so terrible that we wind up hating them. If we did, then why would we watch the show? The Bluths manage to walk that line between being terrible and likable. We don’t care much for them, but we like them well enough. It’s a paradox similar to the one that Pain and Gain tackled, but one that’s pulled off much better.The members of the Bluth family are far too flawed to ever get what they really want, but we love them all the same. This garners our investment and the show itself rewards viewer investment by setting up jokes or gags that either pop up consistently or won’t pay off for a few episodes. We don’t get dragged along watching the same thing over and over nor do we suffer the frustrating sympathy-confusion of Pain and Gain. It’s wonderful mix that makes the show so entertaining.


In less than twelve hours the fourth season of Arrested Development will finally be premiering on Netflix. It’s not quite enough time to watch the show in its entirety, but it’s something I really suggest you do.

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Villain Protagonists

I’m gonna preface this essay (that’s not a rant) by outright saying that I love Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. One of the many things that makes it so wonderful, though, is its deconstruction of its villain protagonist.

But I’ll get to that in a bit.

Villain protagonists are fun. Whether it’s light like someone with his Freeze Ray trying to impress Bad Horse or as dark as trying to pull off a successful suicide bombing, there’s something to be said for when we find ourselves cheering for the bad guy.

Roald Dahl did it in one of his short stories. “Genesis and Catastrophe” is about a child’s birth. The child’s sickly, pretty much immediately derided by his father and so on. He’s the underdog, basically. You want that kid to live. And succeed, and win. And then you find out that kid was Hitler.

That’s right you were cheering on everyone’s favorite personification of evil. Roald Dahl set up his story so you’d want him to win until you realize you were rooting for Hitler to be delivered into caring hands. You monster.

Equally horribly fun is Four Lions and the titular four wannabe jihadists. The protagonists are four English Muslims who want to, well, do the jihad thing. So we’re watching four men who figure a man’s gotta do what and man’s gotta do as they attempt to blow themselves up (and several others with them). Ordinarily, it wouldn’t be a laughing manner, but Four Lions is a comedy and as such it’s hilarious. It never slows down quite enough for us to really think about the repercussions of the actions and does take a somewhat tragic tone towards the end. Point is, though, we’re cheering for, well, terrorists. There’s a hint of tragedy, but it gets buried in the humor.

So villain protagonists are a fun twist. How exactly does Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog deconstruct that?

Dr. Horrible (or Billy as he’s also known) isn’t actually evil. Sorta. The first time we see him he’s practicing his evil laugh. He wants to impress Bad Horse. But there’s this girl too, Penny, who he also wants to impress and woo. He’s layered, torn between being Dr. Horrible and Billy. His nemesis, the superhero Captain Hammer, thwarts both plans. Dr. Horrible wants a brand new day where he can both be accepted into the Evil League of Evil and win Penny.

Now, in a normal story this is the part where the villain would reform and save the day and get the girl (see Megamind). But not in this deconstruction.

So they say everyone’s a hero, but Billy isn’t. He’s the villain of the story, that’s the hand he was dealt. He just happens to be the main character. As Captain Hammer continues to interfere with Billy’s hopes of being evil and winning Penny, he finds himself slipping further and further towards being an actual villainous villain. At first he never wanted to hurt anyone but as the musical enters its third act, he’s both ready and willing.

And well, without spoiling it (seriously, it’s on Netflix. Go watch it now), Billy gets inducted into the Evil League of Evil. But it comes at the cost of his other dream. He commits to one side but, as the end of the final song “Everything You Ever” suggests, he might not be completely sold.

What makes Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog so darn compelling is that we’re watching a good guy play the bad guy’s role. He’s nice, he’s caring; it’s the ‘hero’ that’s the jerky douche. Our expectations are turned on the head as we cheer on Dr. Horrible and we see what happens when he succeeds. Unlike Four Lions where they succeed and that’s it or Megamind where he reforms or “Genesis and Catastrophe” where we know he goes on to do evil; in Dr. Horrible we see the cost of Dr. Horrible’s success on his psyche. He won, but lost himself.

Villains like the Joker or Count Rugen are such fun since they’re just so evil. They aren’t lovable in the protagonist sort of way, heck, they’re hardly sympathetic. It’s the sympathetic villains we like for a protagonist, but Dr. Horrible is one of the few where we actually see the consequences of his actions. In this one we see what it actually means to be a villain protagonist.

And it’s an amazing musical.


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