Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided the writer with a free copy of the Blu-ray reviewed in this article. The opinions shared are his own.
For years now, our popular culture has been swimming in comic book stories. We are positively drowning in the stuff. Marvel releases two or three films a year that not only dominate the box office but consume our cultural conversations. While DC hasn’t been nearly as successful, their films still make money and have developed large fandoms. Beyond the movies, there are lots of television series and actual comic books. You cannot escape the power of comics and their myriad of heroes and villains. At some point, you gotta figure that it will be too much. That we will eventually say “that’s enough” and move on to something else. But at more than a decade into this new world and comics are still going strong.
The Doom Patrol won’t be that straw that breaks our love for all things comics, but neither will it be the poster child for making everything come up superheroes either. It was developed for the new DC Universe streaming service (yes, that’s a thing because what we really need is yet another new streaming service to prove to cord-cutters that cutting the cord can be just as expensive as not cutting it.). It is about a rag-tag team of meta-humans who learn to work together to save the world.
Honestly, after watching the pilot episode (which is called “Pilot” because that’s still a thing in the days of streaming services where they order an entire season of shows all at once), I was kicking myself for having agreed to watch and review this series. The story felt like an X-Men rip-off. It was trying too hard to be edgy, and Alan Tudyk’s narration was meant to be funny but came off as obnoxious. But then it got better and weirder. Actually, it got better the weirder it got.
The Doom Patrol are a group of misfit metahumans whose powers seem rather useless. They live in a mansion owned by a kindly old man who helps them and trains them to be heroes. The team consists of Cliff Steele/Robotman (voice by Brendan Frasier, body by Riley Shanahan), an obnoxious, former NASCAR driver who had an accident rendering his body useless. His brain now resides in a large steel robot which makes him super strong, but still not that smart. Rita Farr/Gertrude Cramp (April Bowlby) is a former Hollywood actress who was hit by a poisonous cloud which causes her body to form a large blob whenever she’s stressed. Larry Trainor (voice by Matt Bomer, body by Matthew Zuk) was a fighter pilot but when he crashed his plane, a negative spirit entered his body and sometimes controls his actions. He’s also badly burned and radioactive so he has to live in bandages like the Mummy. The last of the core four is Jane (Diane Guerrero), who has 64 personalities living inside her, each with their own superpower. Trouble is, she can’t control any of them. The Professor X of this motley crew is Niles Caulder/The Chief (Timothy Dalton, who doesn’t get nearly enough air time). He disappears early in the series forcing the Doom Patrol to pull up their bootstraps and go looking for him.
At its heart, this first season is an origin story for the entire Doom Patrol. We get numerous flashbacks to each character showing how they became metahumans and who they were before. In the early episodes, they are all selfish, depressed people who prefer life inside the mansion and would rather never leave. The disappearance of The Chief forces them to grow. The character’s powers are not particularly subtle representations of their own personal misgivings and struggles. Rita was a beautiful, but shallow Hollywood actress whose body literally turns into a blob, forcing her to confront her inner demons. Larry was a closeted gay man who now has a literal different person living inside him. Etc. The show layers on a lot of weird silliness, but inside that is a fairly nuanced tale of people coming to terms with who they are. They are helped out, starting with the second episode, by Vic Stone/Cyborg (Joivan Wade) who was friend with The Chief and makes it his mission to find him. I’ve always hated Cyborg as a character and live-action can never get his look right. This hasn’t changed with this story, but he does act as a leader of the group and pushes the story along.
What makes the series enjoyable is just how strange it gets. I recently wrote about how Legends of Tomorrow has learned to lean into the weird. Well, Doom Patrol not only leans it dives straight into the deep end. This is a show that has a pocket universe inside a donkey’s ass. This is a series in which a cult magically creates a giant eye in the sky (called the Decreator) which turns people into ash and is only stopped when the heroes create a second cult which then creates a second eye (called the Recreator). This is a comic book series on a brand new streaming service that has a robot man flex his muscles which gives an entire street (including the actual street, which is sentient) an orgasm as a way for the robot to realize his ongoing rage at not having sexual organs. It often reminds me of the stuff Brian K. Vaughan does in his comic books, which is to say it feels like the writers come up with the craziest, bat-shit insane stuff they can think of, then take it up a notch and call it good. And it generally works.
Doom Patrol is not a series that relieved my superhero fatigue. It isn’t going to make me pay out more of my hard-earned cash to subscribe to the DC Universe streaming service. It is utterly bizarre and completely nuts. In a culture that seems more homogenized every day, it’s wonderful to see something completely different, which makes this well worth the watching.
Blu-ray extras include some unaired scenes, a gag reel and a PSA for the state of Georgia.