Neil Patrick Harris (in bushes at left) spies Felicia Day and Nathan Fillion… (Amy Opoka / Timescience…)
In 2008, five years after the close of "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer," four years after the end of "Angel," and the year before "Dollhouse," their creator Joss Whedon took it upon himself to make a short series for the Web, the three-act musical tragicomedy, "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog." Widely available these four years online and on home video, it finally comes to television Tuesday, as Whedon may have hoped all along — it is conveniently about the length of an hour of television, with the commercials taken out — on the CW, the network that undoubtedly would have been the home of "Buffy" and "Angel" had it existed when those shows were on, or those shows existed now.
But let me return from that parallel universe.
One would reckon that much of the audience for "Dr. Horrible" will have already seen it, though many will want to watch it again — on television! with commercials! — because we live in a world where watching things again is just how we watch things. (It holds up well.) And there will be, I suppose, some viewers — Internet-adverse or -incompetent — who might have wanted to watch it but couldn't work out how.
And there will be those who have never heard of it until now.
Passing time has only increased its significant star power. Neil Patrick Harris, America's sweetheart, is the eponymous villainous vlogger and the series' flawed hero; Nathan Fillion, who is now Rick Castle on "Castle" and was the star of "Firefly," is the shallow putative hero Captain Hammer; and nerd goddess and Internet artist Felicia Day, the mistress of the online gamers-comedy "The Guild" (and, like Fillion, a veteran of late-period "Buffy"), is Penny, the girl in the middle who helps the homeless. Also, Simon Helberg, whom you will know from "The Big Bang Theory," is the doctor's sweaty sidekick Moist.
The story is this: Dr. Horrible, a hardworking mad scientist and video-blog host, hopes finally to be admitted to the exclusive Evil League of Evil — his earlier attempts, often foiled by the preening Captain Hammer, have proved fruitless. Despite having "a PhD in horribleness," he is not particularly competent; the email he reads from followers on his blog is mostly derisive. Even his maniacal laugh needs work.
He is a lonely man, and we feel for him. We want him to be freed from his incompatible desires — to reconcile his old desire for success in villainy ("The world is a mess/And I just need to rule it," he sings) with the new love he bears Penny, whom he knows from the laundromat where as his shy alter ego, Billy, he goes to do his clothes.
It is a sweet, rather sad piece that — like the songs, by Whedon and his brother Jed, which are at once mock-heroic and actually heroic, mock-moving and moving in fact — works both as parody and as a drama. It also works as comedy, from line to line and moment to moment, but it is not, really, a comedy. It kept me quite unsettled, seeing it for the first time — and subsequent times, for that matter.
'Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog'
When: 9 p.m. Tuesday
Rating: TV-PG-DV (may be unsuitable for young children with advisories for suggestive dialogue and violence)
Timeline: Emmy winners through the years
VIDEO: Watch the latest fall TV trailers here