Hey Folks! Welcome to you Monday morning and another review by your faithful servant in terms of all things geek related, Andy Larson. However, unlike my typical comic book post to help ease you back into that weekly grind, in today’s article, I thought I’d talk finally about the first season of the Doom Patrol TV series that I recently finished up.
Yep, the second in a string of TV shows made specifically for the DC Streaming Service, Doom Patrol had 15 episodes in its inaugural season, and sports some pretty well known actors including Timothy Dalton as the Chief, Brendan Fraser as Robotman, and Alan Tudyk as the main villain of the series, Mr. Nobody.
Now I won’t lie that it’s been hard for me to do TV reviews in the past especially for something as complex as an entire season as opposed to a couple episodes or something, and so I’ve pretty much stayed away from them in the past even though the Marvel Netflix shows gave me ample opportunity to do them. That coupled with the fact that I somewhat took a leap of faith with Doom Patrol anyways, given it was DC property and at least initially I viewed it as a spin off of the Teen Titans show on that same network, given they are featured in an episode, this review has been somewhat like pulling teeth for me to do.
However, I thought it was super necessary because in a media world slowly becoming filled with more comic book related TV shows than you can count, I sincerely think Doom Patrol stands out as one of the best I’ve ever seen, and that includes the previous heavy favorites like Daredevil Season 1 and Heroes Season 1.
Why is that you ask? Well…the easy answer would be characterization, but I think it’s more complex than that.
You see this is not a traditional super hero show, and it does revel in the fact that it isn’t. There is in essence no Doom Patrol team, like you would think of in terms of the Avengers or something. In fact, when most of the members find out there was an actual Doom Patrol team that attempted to fight the main villain of the show in Mr. Nobody several decades ago, nearly all of them have no idea they even existed.
You have super powered individuals, but they don’t go looking for bad guys to punch. In fact, most of them barely know how to control their powers and shun the outside world, living safely inside the Chief (their caretaker/mentor) mansion, as if it was some sort of sophisticated charming institution for the mentally ill. And that’s honestly the exact environment the Chief created for them. One of peace and relaxing calm, where these severely broken yet extremely powerful people quietly knit, dabble in water color painting, or build model trains while trying to deal with the fact that they are for all intents and purposes, freaks of nature.
There’s Cliff Steele aka Robotman who was an adulterating former race car driver (played brilliantly by Brendan Fraser) who killed his former wife and nearly his young daughter in a automobile crash that left him nothing more than a brain encased in a clunky albeit strong metal frame. Cut off from physical feeling, Cliff deals mostly in the show with rediscovering his inner humanity despite being trapped in a walking talking iron coffin. That includes cultivating a relationship with Crazy Jane and attempting to come to terms with the fact that his daughter thinks he’s dead and was raised by his best friend.
Speaking of Crazy Jane, she’s got 64 split personalities with a super power for each of them. Tragically abused as a child, her psyche developed this fascinatingly complex web between her personalities called the Underground all which allow the different aspects of her to surface and take control. By far one of the episodes of the season in my opinion is the one that deals with Cliff attempting to help Jane deal with the dark secret that caused the mental trauma in the first place by traversing the Underground. Again, super neat concept that allows Diane Guerrero to really display her acting chops which are suburb.
Then you have Larry Trainor aka Negative Man, a jet test pilot and closet homosexual from the early 1960s, who got merged with some sort of negative energy spirit from some alternate dimension during a test flight. Tortured for years by the government run “Bureau of Normalcy” in order to see if they could weaponize the energy being for their own sinister ends, Larry is also tortured by his own self loathing and the terrible way he treated his secret lover, John Bowers, due to his inability to accept who he was. Some of the most powerful moments of the entire show deal with Larry’s own personal journey to not only accept the Negative spirit as his partner but to also come to terms with the wrongs he inflicted on John through his denial of his love for him.
Finally, rounding out the original Doom Patrol members you have Rita Farr who goes by the name Elasta Girl in the comic book, although she’s never really given that name here. A starlet from the 40s and 50s who now transforms into a blob of protoplasmic goo, Rita’s journey to accept the fact that she had been obsessed with her public appearance so much as a movie actress that she not only did terrible things but even importantly never really knew who she was deep down. Maybe not as a tragic as the issues her fellow team mates, but it’s the kind of personal growth we can all understand. Rita shedding the preconceived notions of her identity that were placed there by others in hopes of really delving into the depths of some true self discovery. I can’t think of a better theme for someone that in essence recreates the image they project to the world from just a pool of slime.
I mean there were definitely parts of the show that I had some grumblings about especially initially. The inclusion of Cyborg to the team being the biggest one. Not that I’m some sort of huge Doom Patrol purist, but if there’s one member of the Teen Titans you are going to stick on this team, it’s Beast Boy or nothing. Cyborg just seemed to be playing to an audience in terms of he’s a well known DC commodity now, and they felt like they needed a bigger draw for the show.
However, it was like putting Iron Man on the X-men, it just didn’t make sense. Also no knock on Joivan Wade who played Cyborg, but since being indoctrinated with Teen Titans Go! thanks to my two little ones, there is only one Cyborg for me.
Still by episode 8 or so, even the presence of Cyborg was something I started to overlook in my overall enjoyment of the show. The inclusion of such fun, original concepts from the Grant Morrison run such as the teleporting sentient piece of real estate known as Danny the Street, the disgusting yet charmingly hypnotic Beard Hunter, and of course Flex Mentallo, the Man of Muscle Mystery, were welcome side tracks on these ongoing sessions of group therapy for our rag tag bunch of misfits as they not only learn more about themselves, but come to trust and care for each other as a tight knit community.
I think Arnold Drake, who created the Doom Patrol, would have been proud to see his creations displayed in such a light. In reading the original Doom Patrol comics from the Silver age, the main aspect that I feel is highlighted is how isolated and alone all of these different characters could have been if they had been left to their own devices, trapped within the strange and unusual forms that made them outcasts from their fellow man. But with the team and the community they create, they can overcome not only their own issues, but strive to something better.
(Plus I also thing Arnold would be delighted that Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man made an appearance on the show as well. Telling you…that Easter egg side story was something I looked forward to every single show!)
In closing, I feel like my thoughts on this show can be summed up in the conversation I had with my podcast co host, Rob Stewart. After reading the first volume of Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol for an upcoming future podcast, Stew commented that he was looking forward to watching the Doom Patrol show because it was going to be fun, and that Grant Morrison was way too serious. That’s when as a friend I had to burst his bubble.
You see, Doom Patrol is not a fun show. It’s not Parks & Rec with Superheroes. It’s not a spoof or a true satire. It’s not laugh tracks and snarky dialogue. Yes, it’s weird, it’s meta fictional, it takes pot shots at established superhero themes and motifs, and in my humble opinion, it’s very clever. But if you are getting into this because you want something like Guardians of the Galaxy, what with a “too cool for school” mentality of poking fun at the sacred cows of comic book media featuring a band of lovable losers coming together as a family, you are barking up the wrong tree.
Doom Patrol is dark. It’s chilling at points. It lays bare it’s characters and makes you feel uncomfortable for looking at all of their flaws and quirks. But it’s also extremely life affirming because these are really broken people. They aren’t losers. Loser means you were actually in the game. These people are such freaks that they weren’t even allowed on the playing field. And yet, through the course of the season they find the courage to face the things they have become and realize in someways they were actually even more grotesque as normal human beings then the misfits they currently are.
It’s about becoming “Okay” in your own skin and granting yourself the serenity to accept what you can’t change. Also Doom Patrol is about not just about self exploration, but the journey that people can make together in supporting those efforts. That means being open minded, accepting people despite their flaws, and most of all embracing the notion that just because you may not look as broken on the outside, doesn’t mean you don’t have things to fix in your own life.
And maybe that spirit rubbed off on me a little, as in response to that, Stew started to tell me that “I was losing him as a potential fan”. At which I just said “Well then…that’s okay”. For a show man like me who spends a lot of his life trying to convince people about how “Great” stuff is and how they should hop on board, in this instance, I just said “I like what I like I guess”.
Doom Patrol probably isn’t for everyone. It should be in some ways, but I can understand why it’s not. It might be too serious, or cut to close to the mark for some. Others may mistake it for being weird, just for the sake of being weird.
But I definitely see a greater purpose to all of it.
For me it was extremely fascinating delve into the minds of those that started off the series being more freaks on the inside than they ever were on the outside. But they stuck together. They came to each others aid. And in the end they were all better for it.
Yep, more than fighting giant robots or facing down world dominating super villains, that’s true heroism right there.
What else do you want from a super hero show than that?!?