Doom Patrol alone is entirely worth paying for DC Universe. While Titans was a solid start that stumbled and struggled to properly use their core team, Doom Patrol knocks it out of the park with it’s hilarious, weird, and, above all, beautiful character driven story that makes these arguably obscure DC characters fan favourites.
While the plot is somewhat simple, the directions the show takes to get through that plot is absolutely wild. A group of misfits must work together to find and save their fearless leader Niles Caulder, aka The Chief from the evil Mr. Nobody. Along the way, they save the world from an ancient god, a sentient genderqueer teleporting street from a government agency, and themselves from their own inner demons. The aesthetic of the show is heavily inspired by Grant Morrison’s run. It is dark and gritty, but also cartoony in some ways. A perfect example of this style is found within the opening. It’s completely and utterly awesome.
The cast shines brighter than any comic book franchise in a long time. Brendan Fraser makes an epic come back as Cliff Steele, a famous race car driver who has a terrible accident where his brain is the only thing that can be recovered, which is placed in a robot body. He’s desperate to find a purpose in his now lonely life, whether it’s as a hero or a father.
Matt Bomer plays Larry Trainor, a gay pilot from the 1960’s who, after a terrible accident, lives with burns all over his body irradiated and with a mysterious energy spirit living inside of him. Larry’s sexuality is an important part of his character, as his relationship with the negative spirit is a beautiful metaphor for internalized homophobia, and having a gay actor play him makes it hit home better. Larry is a recluse who has to learn to accept himself for who he is so he can heal and make up for those he hurt in the past.
Diane Guerrero does a brilliant job playing Crazy Jane and 63 other characters (not actually 63). Crazy Jane has Dissociative Identity Disorder, creating 64 different alters, all with different super powers. While Jane sometimes sees herself as dangerous, the show takes a great effort in presenting DID in a respectful manner. Some alters are more power than personality, some are more personality than power, but Diane does a fantastic job at making them all have a purpose.
April Bowlby is probably the most underrated actor on the show. She kills it as Rita Farr, a 50’s movie star who, again, after a terrible accident, can melt and stretch when she gets distressed. Rita could have easily been a one note boring character but April brings something deeper to her. She’s often an emotional core to the show, needing to learn that it’s okay for her to be a hero.
Joivan Wade rounds out the main cast as Victor Stone aka Cyborg, who starts as the weakest link of the show but quickly becomes an endearing member of the team. An upcoming high school football star and the child of two brilliant scientists, he is nearly killed in, you guessed it, a terrible accident, and put back together by his father with electronic and computer parts. While his character seems straight forward, there’s a lot more to Vic under the surface, especially with his relationship with his father, Silas.
Timothy Dalton and Alan Tudyk are both fantastic additions as The Chief and Mr. Nobody respectively despite only making a few appearances throughout the show. Mr. Nobody takes breaking the fourth wall to a whole new level, and is a genuinely interesting and menacing villain. The Chief is a mysterious character who is both a leader and a father figure to most of the team, who ironically call him “Dad” on occasion, and of course Timothy Dalton plays him excellently.
The only serious downsides to the show are the effects. Of course DC Universe doesn’t have the same money as, say, HBO, but for a show where everyone has weird powers that can’t be done practically, the VFX budget is glaringly low. The writers use these limitations to their advantage, however, mostly pushing the characters before their powers, and when effects are needed, it’s usually for something so outrageous that the unrealistic CGI is forgiven.
Additionally, there are two plot points that definitely could have been handled better, especially in a show that seems to take care in treating the identities they represent with respect. One is a majorly transphobic moment where someone’s manhood is judged by whether or not he has a penis. It’s a moment that makes sense within context, but it could have been handled much better, especially when the episode before this had trans characters. The other moment is a plot surrounding The Chief in his past, with a character who is portrayed as a horribly harmful Native American stereotype. Again, within context of the show it makes sense, but it’s incredibly uncomfortable to watch as a person of color. This character was supposed to be a “less evolved” human, but there is plenty if imagery of her associated with stereotypical Native American imagery, and Chief often uses language exoticising her instead of treating her like a person. Definitely something that could have been written better.
Doom Patrol is a big step forward for DC Universe. It’s something everyone can love, DC fans or not, though I would probably not let your kids watch this. It’s definitely for an adult audience. The characters are the main thrust of this show, and together they create The World’s Strangest Heroes, and quite possibly The World’s Best Team on TV. If DC Universe keeps putting stuff out like this, paying for this service is going to not only be worth it, but a must.