Lauren Rabaino

After watching part one of Joss Whedon’s new online series, I found myself asking one question: What compels a person to write a musical-comedy about a blogging, love-stricken, super-villain scientist?

Boredom may have something to do with it. Whedon – best known for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel” – wrote “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” with his brothers during slow days of the writer’s strike last year (how he had time for that while also getting ready for the debut of his new Fox series “Dollhouse,” I have no idea).

In an appeal to the ever-growing obsession with user-generated entertainment, the series is told through the video blog – or “vlog” – of a scientist bad-guy, Dr. Horrible, played by Neil Patrick Harris (“How I Met Your Mother”).

The first episode of the three-part series was the No. 1 download on iTunes Tuesday, and with good reason. It’s absolutely brilliant. An overload of visits to – where the video is also available – forced the site to switch servers around midday.

“It’s the story of a low-rent super-villain, the hero who keeps beating him up, and the cute girl from the laundromat he’s too shy to talk to,” Whedon said on the fan blog.

The hilarious, although slightly cheesy, storyline opens with Dr. Horrible reading fan mail on his vlog. We quickly learn about the secret romance he feels for an unsuspecting woman (Felicia Day) and the rivalry between him and his arch-nemesis good-guy, Captain Hammer (played by Nathan Fillion from Whedon’s “Firefly” series).

Part one of the series aired (or, streamed, really) Wednesday at midnight Eastern time (meaning, luckily for us on the West Coast, the video was released at 9 p.m. Monday).

Full of lame humor intertwined randomly with melodious solos, the series will keep you laughing to the end.

Surprisingly enough, Fillion and Harris’s vocals are not entirely atrocious. In fact, the two are pretty musically talented, and Whedon isn’t a bad songwriter himself (the catchy tunes have been stuck in my head for days).

The entire musical aspect of the show was likely sparked by the positive response generated from “Once More With Feeling” – an incredible musical episode Whedon wrote for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” After having watched only one 14-minute-long episode of “Dr. Horrible,” it’s probably still too early to say whether this series will be better than “Once More With Feeling.”

Fillion makes his clichéd first appearance while singing on top of a moving vehicle – hair blowing in the wind and all.

After his role in 2002 as a badass spaceship captain in Whedon’s “Firefly” series, it’s no surprise that Fillion perfectly fits the part of a cocky, jock-type superhero.

The second episode is available today and the third part will be released Saturday.

The musical will only be available for free until July 20. After that, they can only be purchased on iTunes.

Whedon hinted on a Q&A in the fan blog that he intends to put the short series out on DVD eventually, complete with extra features.

Just because the video is somewhat YouTube-like in nature doesn’t mean it has that same homemade quality. Whedon didn’t get sloppy just because his series is online. It’s well produced and hosted through video provider Hulu, which hosts select movies, episodes and clips from major networks online for free.

It streamed quickly with beautiful quality, even in fullscreen view.

Whedon’s collaboration with Hulu may be the start of a new trend in online-only series. As far as I can tell, Whedon is one of the first major directors to do a series made specifically for the Web – and, unlike other Web projects of this nature, it is not intended to virally promote another production.

Although the ultimate plot ending feels like the predictable theme of a bad guy turning good for the girl of his dreams, maybe Whedon will throw another curve ball at us. Even if he doesn’t, the complete outrageousness of it all makes it worth watching.

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