Upon finishing the first episode of DC Universe’s Doom Patrol, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Why can’t the DC Cinematic Universe make movies this unique and fun?” Doom Patrol isn’t trying to fit itself into a box, creating yet another paint-by-numbers superhero story. This is a show speaking to its fanbase that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s a refreshing take on a genre that–at times–feels beaten to death.
DC Universe is well on a roll with its original programming. The first original series, Titans, was a huge success and Young Justice continued the adventures of characters we know and love in a dynamite follow up. As for Doom Patrol, it knows knows what it is and doesn’t care what you think, which is the most endearing thing about it.
From the first moments of the premiere, you know you’re in for something different. “Ready for a story about superheroes? More TV superheroes, just what the world needs. Be honest, have you hung yourself yet?” Those words, spewed into a mic by none other than Alan Tudyk–who plays the villain Mr. Nobody–open up this first episode. This is unlike any other superhero television series, and I couldn’t have been happier.
Doom Patrol, on its surface, is a story of a group of superheroes living in mansion, and they’re all a bit out there. They’re not really a team at this point. They’re more of a group of freaks living out of the public eye. There’s Robotman, the brain of former racecar driver Cliff Steele living in a metal robot; Elasti-Girl, former Hollywood star who occasionally turns into a blob-like creature; Negative Man, a military pilot who was in a horrific crash but didn’t die; and Crazy Jane, a woman with multiple personalities that all have their own superpowers. The head of this household is scientific genius, who is exceptionally secretive, The Chief. Eventually, Cyborg will join as well, but we’re not there just yet.
Episode 1 is the essential “origin” episode where we’re introduced to these characters and get to know how most of them came to be who they are now. However, the show makes the audience well aware that these are all deeply flawed people. For example, Cliff Steele may seem like a family man, but it’s quickly apparent he’s not faithful to his marriage, and he’s a bit of a jerk. In fact, most of members of this team–aside from Negative Man–have unlikable flaws made plain during their origins, and the quirky tone for the series carries over into their character traits.
It’s familiar territory for the viewer, which is a nice way to get the audience invested in the show, when what you have coming down the line are things like pocket universes, an indescribable villain, and a giant blob destroying a town. But Doom Patrol isn’t all just wacky weirdness. There is a lot of heart to the story, characters getting to know each other, dealing with past regrets, and a lot of engaging conversations that are written exceptionally well. That may sound very much like a CW series, but the angst and the needlessly over dramatic moments are nowhere to be found.
These characters are incredibly well-defined for a pilot episode. We get a glimmer of their pasts, who they are in the present, and that’s about it. Throughout it all, the audience gets to piece the rest together themselves, rather than get blasted with an info-dump of exposition. The writing is a journey for the characters, not a flashcard of facts. And quirky tone aside, the pacing is exceptionally well done. One person who steals the show is Crazy Jane, played by Diane Guerrero (Orange is the New Black). Guerrero has to take on the role of playing 64 different personality types, all contained within one vessel. Her range here is amazing, as she jumps between these different personalities–some of which are extremely hostile and others are passive and infantile.
Episode 1 does more than tell the typical origin story; it is a “call to arms” for these potential heroes. They head to town, but everything goes to hell, and they need to save the day from Mr. Nobody and his farting donkey. Yes, you read that right. As soon as you feel like you have a grasp on what’s happening, this show drops something incredibly dumb or weird in the middle of your lap. It’s up to you to figure out whether this will make sense in the grand scheme of things, even as it just gets more bizarre.
Flatulent animals aside, where the show gets a bit confusing, primarily for those who watched Titans, is how this fits into DC’s world. Is this a part of a the same world as Titans? On Doom Patrol, the role of the Chief is played by Timothy Dalton, but on Titans, he was played by Bruno Bichir, and there is no mention on Doom Patrol of Beast Boy. Maybe I’m expecting it because every studio loves creating shared universes now, and Doom Patrol debuted on Episode 4 of Titans. While this is a little bit of an annoyance, it’s the only one throughout Episode 1.
If you’re looking for a traditional superhero story with familiar faces, Doom Patrol will be a bit of a disappointment. However, what makes this opening offering so wonderful is that it isn’t more of the same. These unfamiliar DC characters are super weird, this show has a very off-beat and humorous tone, and it is unpredictable. It’s the exact opposite of a palate cleanser. DC Universe’s newest original series is vastly different from its previous offerings, which is what is so intriguing about it. For as great as I thought Titans was, this somehow blows that out of the water. Doom Patrol won’t be for everyone, but it was definitely for me.