Having found some moderate success with Titans, DC Universe has managed to bring its signature style to another motley crew, the Doom Patrol. Led by the wheelchair-bound Niles Caulder (Timothy Dalton), we are introduced to Robotman/Cliff Steele (Brendan Fraser), Elasti-Girl/Rita Farr (April Bowlby), Negative Man/Larry Trainor (Matt Bomer), and Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero). Being a fan of the Young Animal incarnation of the Doom Patrol, I had to dig in, and was pleasantly surprised by how the gang translated to live-action, with only minimal criticisms.
Beginning in Paraguay, 1948, we meet Eric Morden/Mr. Nobody (Alan Tudyk, who also narrates), who is seeking out ex-Nazis in order to be part of genetic experiments; moody and appropriately creepy, the tone for the series is set here — anarchic, dark-humored, and not afraid of breaking the fourth wall. Tudyk seems to be relishing the role here, playing Mr. Nobody as someone barely holding onto his sanity, which plays great fro Tudyk’s style. After this introduction, we then flash-forward to 1988, and are introduced to Cliff Steele, a crass drunk, but successful race car driver, as he is piling into his daughter’s nanny. Here, Doom Patrol pushes the boundaries of what we’ve seen in most DC live-action adaptations: this show isn’t afraid to get bloody, explicit, or downright crass, at times briefly reminding me of SyFy’s Happy! (of which I’m also a fan). Tonally, Doom Patrol resonates well, as it’s much less of a jarring shock than Titan‘s kewl “Fuck Batman” mindset.
Fraser, for what it’s worth, is ostensibly the star of this ensemble. Robotman’s arc is given the most focus, as we see the most of him pre-transformation, and his adjustment to his new body as well. His relationship with his wife and daughter are also given prime focus, and will likely be the inciting factor to his continued growth as a character. Robotman’s practical design is a bit clunky and goofy; the fact he doesn’t emote or even open his mouth to talk means relying an immense amount of body movement (which itself is hampered by he character’s unwieldy design), but luckily Fraser’s voiceover work carries a lot of the weight, and the narrative shifts to his pre-transformation self often enough to get a better feels for him. Negative Man’s transformation was well done as well, with a key character moment being revealed in a surprisingly poignant way, one that reinterprets his entire pre-superpowered life entirely. And while Rita’s backstory is seemingly rushed through, she fares better than Dr. Caulder, who is given nothing in the way of motivation, and Crazy Jane, who, as of yet, just appears fully formed. Hopefully the series gives them their due.
Overall, this is a strong pilot, with only a few instances of head-scratching. While on their first foray out in public, Elasti-Girl winds up losign control of her powers, and morphing into an amorphous blob and wandering around town, threatening a school bus of children. Robotman saves day, the gang returns home, and Dr. Caulder loses his shit, warning against enemies who will crop up against our heroes. The entire Doom Patrol, with the exception of Robotman, vote to leave town. They barely leave the confines of the mansion before experiencing a change of heart and returning to stand beside Robotman; the moment is bizarrely inconsequential — why vote to leave only to immediately rejoin their friend? There’s nary a word of protest from Dr. Caulder, and Crazy Jane seemed set to go help Robotman from the get-go. The finale itself, while ending on a cliffhanger, didn’t seem as tense as it perhaps could have been (although the farting donkey is one of the most bizarre, hilarious things I could have lease expected). And for an actor of his caliber, Dalton plays Dr. Caulder as annoyed just to be on set…hopefully he is given a lot more to do as the series progresses.
The real work of the episode is setting up these characters, and it does a hell of a job. All of them are fascinating, share a great rapport and chemistry, and it’s telling that the most dramatic, poignant moment involves a character just walking up a set of stairs. Having watched the pilot with my girlfriend (she is wholly unfamiliar with Doom Patrol), she grew fully invested by the time the credits rolled — that’s the sign of a strong show in my opinion: getting casual viewers invested. Throw in Greg Berlanti’s strong track record of producing, and Clint Mansell‘s great score, and Doom Patrol has definitely got my attention for the rest of the season. 4/5 Malted Milkshakes.