It’s time to face facts: at this point in the DC cinematic and television evolution, the company produces its best content when it doesn’t take itself too seriously. From a sheer enjoyment standpoint, two of the most entertaining films about DC characters in recent years have been ‘Teen Titans GO to the Movies‘ and ‘The LEGO Batman Movie,’ and the DC “Arrowverse” shows on the CW constantly delight in cheeky crossovers to go along with the characters just plain having fun on-screen. Even the new ‘Aquaman‘ film, which recently became DC’s highest-grossing film of all time, is more bonkers than not.
I’m thrilled to report that this trend seems to be continuing with ‘Doom Patrol,’ the newest series to be launched exclusively on the proprietary DC Universe streaming service. Courtesy of DC, I’ve been able to check out the first few episodes in advance; let’s review them on an individual basis, starting with the pilot episode here.
WARNING: Spoilers for this episode of ‘Doom Patrol’ lie ahead, obviously. If you haven’t seen the episode and don’t wish for any of its content to be spoiled for you, the time to turn back is NOW!
RECAP: Being the pilot episode and all, this tale is heavy on the exposition and “origin stories,” but still manages to stay entertaining and with a fresh feel throughout the 58-minute run time. The action kicks off with an unknown narrator, later revealed to be the villainous Mr. Nobody (Alan Tudyk), who speaks directly to the audience in his voice-overs, like a more chilled-out version of Deadpool.
“More TV superheroes, just what the world needs. Have you hung yourself yet?” Mr. Nobody intones before we see his own origin story as a man who literally pays a mad scientist to imbue him with superpowers. While his motivations and his beef with the Doom Patrol remain largely unclear through the course of this particular episode, fear not: all will become clear(ish) very soon.
And what of titular team of not-quite-heroes? They all exist in the “present day” under the watchful eye of Dr. Niles Caulder, also known as The Chief (Timothy Dalton), who takes care of them in his mansion – “Doom Manor.” Each character gets their own time-crossed tragic back-stories recounted, of course. We have Rita Farr (April Bowlby), an A-List Hollywood actress in the 1950s until an accident on-set exposed her to a mysterious artifact caused her skin to seemingly melt off her bones and turn her into a raging gelatinous mass when she loses mental control. Larry Trainor (Matt Bomer) was an ace fighter pilot in the ’60s, but during an experimental high-altitude rocket test, his ship malfunctioned and he was possessed by an other-worldly being of energy, resulting in a Jekyll-and-Hyde type of existence that keeps him covered in bandages at all times. Crazy Jane, a woman who first connected with The Chief in the 1970s and who suffers from multiple-personality disorder – only all 64 of her personalities all have different superpowers. And Cliff Steele (Brendan Fraser), champion race-car driver in the 1980s who finds himself distracted enough by his troubled marriage to wind up in a car accident that decimates his body; the world thinks he passed away, The Chief has salvaged Cliff’s brain and transplanted it into a stiffly hulking robot body.
All is mostly well, until The Chief has to leave the mansion unexpectedly and Crazy Jane cajoles the group into going to town for an unscheduled excursion. There’s a reason The Chief has kept them isolated from the “real world,” you see: people fear what they don’t understand, and nothing about the Doom Patrol makes sense. Their time in town doesn’t go as expected, things get a little out of control, and the episode ends with Mr. Nobody finally making his presence known to the group in a very villainous, very standoffish manner.
- Even though the Doom Patrol was introduced in ‘Titans,’ the other live-action DC Universe series to date, no prior knowledge of the characters or the team is really necessary to enjoy this series. If anything, I might recommend that a viewer actually goes into the series “blind” and without reading up on the Doom Patrol as it exists elsewhere – the team has been around since the 1960s in comic book form, and what we’re given on screen most closely resembles the late-’80s Grant Morrison run, but make no mistake, this TV show is its own beast, baby.
- The “cross-generational” aspect of the team is a very intriguing dynamic to watch unfold in this pilot episode, as each character has their origin told in flashback to a different era (with the exception of Crazy Jane, who doesn’t get an origin flashback but does casually mention that she’s been hanging with The Chief since the ’70s). Even though they all have their own back-story from a different decade, they were each successful people near the top of their games in their industries at the time, which makes their current status as social and “normal” rejects all the more poignant.
- The cast does a great job across the board. Tudyk is always enjoyable in quirky roles, and he really gets a chance to aurally chew the scenery as the narrator of the tale. Bowlby gets to show lots of emotion and pathos as Rita, allowing her to break free of some of the stigma that’s long surrounded her of being nothing more than the “cute girl” actress. Dalton and Bomer don’t get a ton to do, but more is coming from them as the show progresses. The same is true for Guerrero, who only scratches the surface of Crazy Jane’s myriad personalities in this episode. And I think it’s no “lip service” to say that this is Fraser’s best work since his ‘Mummy’ days – but I have always enjoyed Brendan Fraser as an “all in” style of actor, so what do I know?
CLOSING THOUGHTS: “Pilot” is an incredibly strong start to what should be a surprise smash for DC and it’s streaming service – this could be the series that launches more than a few new subscriptions! Come back every Friday for a review of the newest episode as it “airs” to the public.
PRINCIPAL CAST FEATURED IN THIS EPISODE:
Timothy Dalton as The Chief
Brendan Fraser as Cliff Steele/Robotman
Diane Guerrero as Crazy Jane
April Bowlby as Rita Farr
Matt Bomer as Larry Trainor
Alan Tudyk as Mt. Nobody
Joivan Wade as Cyborg
‘Doom Patrol’ features new episodes on Fridays via the DC Universe streaming service.