The second original live-action series to hit the DC Universe streaming service, Doom Patrol premieres this Friday, February 15, and the product is a cinematic experience that might be the best DC TV pilot that has been created since The Flash.
Taking its cues from both comics’ Silver Age and the acclaimed Doom Patrol comic book series run by Grant Morrison, Doom Patrol follows a series of misfits, all “saved” and collected by Dr. Niles Caulder (Timothy Dalton), also known as “The Chief.” Several of these characters and cast first appeared on an episode of Titans called “The Doom Patrol” last year, and that happened to be one of the best installments of that show’s first season.
Glen Winter (Smallville, Arrow, Supergirl) directed the Doom Patrol pilot which does more in an hour than many big-screen films. Perhaps learning from one of Titans’ mistakes — and full disclosure, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Titans — the show wastes no time in organizing this band of misfits. The cast is populated with some familiar faces and there is not a weak link in the bunch. In addition to Dalton, big names like Brendan Fraser and Matthew Bomer are part of this cast, and while I hadn’t seen Diane Guerrero’s work before, her interpretation of Crazy Jane and her many, many personalities is a revelation.
Doom Patrol also has the bonus that their antagonist, Eric Morden a.k.a. Mr. Nobody (Alan Tudyk), narrates the series. Picture a self-aware Gossip Girl on crack, and of course Tudyk is delightful. This, combined with the eclectic musical choices for this show, is unapologetic about how weird this series can be.
The pilot tells us the backstories of these weirdos to set up this world of donkeys that can fart words into the sky. Cliff Steele (Fraser) was a race car driver and maybe not even the best guy. After an accident, he’s lost his family — though the details of what exactly happened are hidden from him by Niles Caulder — but his brain is saved and he is revived in a robotic body. One of the many elements of this series that is completely accurate to the Morrison era of the comics, the “Robotman” design is perfect. Riley Shanahan is the man in the suit while Fraser still provides the voice, and together, they make a frustrated but sensitive man in a shell.
It’s incredible that someone as good looking as Matt Bomer would become a character wrapped in bandages, but that’s exactly what happens here. With that said, we do see Bomer (and Fraser for that matter) quite a lot in the first episode. His early scenes have a 1960s feel and look, appropriately, and Larry Trainor’s story, even before the accident that turns him into Negative Man, can be heartbreaking.
“Heartbreaking” is also a good word to describe the story of Rita Farr (April Bowlby). An actress from movies’ Golden Age, an accident literally makes her look like she melts into a blob. Imagine if the most beautiful actress in the world would get disfigured beyond her own control. Bowlby plays Rita as a proper, possibly neurotic 1950s woman who still longs for her glory days. It was such a good choice to keep her after her Titans appearance. I’ve always enjoyed April Bowlby’s work — Drop Dead Diva was a favorite — but this role is one people will be talking about.
Niles Caulder is probably a lot like the X-Men’s Charles Xavier on the exterior, but inside, he is hiding a lot of things from the people who live in his house. He’s “Dad” to this group. It seems he wants to help them, but he is certainly not telling them anything. This is another area where the casting comes in handy — Timothy Dalton is a big “get” and he portrays “The Chief” with so much gravitas. I can’t wait to learn more about him.
Finally, again, there’s Jane, who has so many personalities — each with their own superpower — that you have no idea what you’ll get. Diane Guerrero (Orange is the New Black) plays the role. If this show had been on, say, HBO, people would be talking “Emmy” here. Imagine if Tatiana Maslany of Orphan Black had to change from character to character on a dime, and that’s what we have here. Just wait until you meet “Hammerhead!”
When reviewing Titans, I pointed out that I wasn’t too much of a fan of the vulgarity within. Part of my issue with that it would keep kids who grew up with the Teen Titans from getting a live-action Titans show to enjoy. The other is that I felt Titans tried too hard to be adult. Like, yeah, saying “F-ck Batman” is cool, let’s go bash someone’s face into a glass window! In this case, Doom Patrol also has bad language, but it feels earned. Maybe because of the Grant Morrison source material this is okay; but also, I feel that the situations these characters have been put in merit the language and the darkness. This show is not for children, but again to use the HBO example, this is a show that would very much fit in at a place like that.
And that brings me to my last point. DC Universe. I think it is something like $7.99 to subscribe to the service these days. There’s a big library there of past series, comics, and more, but one might think that’s steep for just a few new series. Here’s my argument for getting it to watch Doom Patrol though: $7.99 is the cost of two comic books. It is half of what it would’ve cost to go see Justice League in the theater, and it’s at least ten times as good. One thing’s for sure: This show is not to be missed.
With that said… I really do wish Doom Patrol had a place to air with more exposure, because it might be one of the best DC TV productions that I’ve seen to date, and I’ve seen a lot of them. As mentioned in the headline, this is certainly the best DC TV pilot since The Flash, and in many ways, this pilot was better than that one. I felt Doom Patrol started as a very full experience, with strong acting, great characters, excellent writing, what looks like a huge budget, and as mentioned before, a fantastic directing job by Glen Winter. I’ve seen two episodes now — look for my Episode 2 review next week, where I can finally talk about Joivan Wade’s Cyborg — and I can’t wait to see more. There is a joy and disbelief that I am watching a Doom Patrol TV show of all things… who would have ever thought we’d get a good Doom Patrol show before we’d ever see a straight-up X-Men series?
I just hope as many people as possible can get a chance to see it.
Doom Patrol premieres Friday on DC Universe. You can see some photos below; more KSiteTV Doom Patrol coverage including trailers can be found here.