Brief Thoughts On Doom Patrol Season 1, Episode 1

by Erik Amaya

Doom Patrol -- Ep. 101 -- "Pilot" -- Photo Credit: Jace Downs / 2018 Warner Bros Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.
DC Universe’s Doom Patrol is one of the most confident superhero show debuts in recent memory; going so far as to have the nominal villain Mr. Nobody (Alan Tudyk) derisively declare that another superhero show is “just what the world needs.” But it turns out the series, at least from its first episode, justifies its existence with strong lead characters. great performances and dose of absurdism imported straight from the 1980s Doom Patrol comics by Grant Morrison, Richard Case and a bevy of other artists.
The core team — Robotman (Brendan Fraser), Negative Man (Matt Bomer) and Elasti-Woman (April Bowlby) — come to us from DC Silver Age, when monkeys ruled supreme and bizarre ideas held sway. And in transporting them to television, the characters maintain a lot of their strangeness. Robotman is still the brain of race car driver Cliff Steele, for example, but in revising his history to make him part of the circuit in the 1980s, his swagger, drug habit and promiscuity take on a different light. Like the early Morrison run, Cliff is very much the anchor and we spend a lot of time seeing him come to grips with the time he lost while Dr. Niles Caulder (Timothy Dalton) outfitted him with a new robot body and the difficulty in becoming, essentially, an android.
Indeed, the rest of the odd assortment get varying degrees of origin story in the episode. Negative Man was once Larry Trainor, a 1950s Air Force test pilot seemingly living a lie whose brush with an extraterrestrial force left him badly burned, but nigh-on immortal. He also contains that alien force within his charred formed. Elasti-Woman was Rita Farr, an actor in the 1950s studio system whose narcissism was given a brutal kick when “swamp gasses” turned her into an expanding blob of flesh. Each of the three principle characters are trapped in various ways. And where their abilities were used in a more traditional stories back in the Silver Age comics, Doom Patrol explores them first as disabilities. For the characters, this means hiding in a place Mr. Nobody — who also acts as narrator — tells us is called Doom Manor.
You may recognize part of Doom Manor from the groups’ appearance on Titans last year, but according to executive producer and showrunner Jeremy Carver, the two shows stand apart in different realities. This is why Caulder — aka The Chief — is played by a different actor and elements of Cliff, Rita and Larry’s personalities are different.
And in the context of the first episode, they are even more shut down and shut in than their Titans appearance suggested. In Cliff’s case, he’s spent decades hiding in his room constructing elaborate slot car courses before the (re)appearance of Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero) in 2019. The metahuman battles with Dissociative Identity Disorder — and its more of a battle since each of her 64 personalities has a superpower all their own. Nonetheless, Cliff and Jane have an immediate rapport and that humanizing element, pulled directly from a scene in a Morrison/Case issue of Doom Patrol, helps make the characters engaging to viewers almost as quickly.
In fact, the show is packed with talent. Bowlby and Guerrero are fantastic on screen as the damaged but surviving Rita and Jane. Fraser and Bomer bring such life to their voice performances and are backed on screen by actors Riley Shanahan and Matthew Zuk, who both offer fine physical performances to Robotman and Negative Man. But even in flashbacks before their accidents, Fraser and Bomer give their all to Cliff and Larry. Additionally, Dalton gives The Cheif an air of mystery and dubious intentions — which comic reader will recognize as completely on the mark — while Tudyk relishes the fourth-wall breaking antics of Mr. Nobody; both as narrator and as the occasionally seen villain. It’s this collection of talent, and a very strong script from Carver, which makes Doom Patrol not only a very confident debut, but a surprisingly faithful adaptation of the material. Well, at least the Morrison material.
Which honestly makes sense. As Nobody suggests at the beginning, another traditional superhero show may not be what the world needs, but in bringing DC’s “strangest heroes” to the screen, DC Universe widens the very essence of the format and presents characters who are, as the series begins, almost nothing but flaws. And yet, their flaws make them all the more interesting and worth spending time with.
Doom Patrol streams Fridays on DC Universe.

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