[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Director: Glen Winter
Writers: Arnold Drake, Bob Haney, Bruno Premiani
Starring: Brendan Fraser, April Bowlby, Matt Bomer, Diane Guerrero, Timothy Dalton, Alan Tudyk, Riley Shanahan, Matthew Zuk
Meet the Doom Patrol. They’re a whole bunch of zeroes who will occupy the next three months boring you half-to-death. At least, that’s according to Mr. Nobody, the show’s antagonist and colorful narrator during the first episode.
Doom Patrol is a show unlike any DC show I have ever seen. DC has released two pieces of original programming on the DC Universe streaming service. The first was Titans which garnered mixed to negative reviews due to its edgy tone, heavy color saturation, and choppy scenes. Then came a new season of Young Justice, which showed that Greg Weisman can still bring the perfect balance of action, plot, and character to a show that transcends animation and weaves together countless storylines. What is going to set Doom Patrol apart from any other DC show is its ability to perfectly balance tragedy and comedy.
The pilot episode does a great job of setting the stage beautifully. Many people were frustrated at Titans’ usage of constant flashbacks that continued to give us past information we may not have cared about all the way until the penultimate episode. In Doom Patrol, there doesn’t look to be any of that. We get to see the flashbacks of all of the characters (except Cyborg) and their triumphant, hilarious, and catastrophic accidents that turned them into the “freaks” they are today.
There are moments that allow us to see this world through each of the characters’ eyes, and while there are moments of dialogue that will have you on the floor laughing, the underlying tone remains quite sad because, in reality, the humor is there to cover up the fact that each one of them feels alone on the inside, cut off from what matters most. The flashbacks and narration do take up quite a bit of screen time in the first episode, but they do a great job of making everyone feel familiar with these characters and adjust them to the status-quo, if there is one. Many people may groan at the thought of narration, but it’s done by Alan Tudyk, and it’s done masterfully. You can feel the cynicism dripping from his words. It’s so disgustingly sarcastic that it may catch some people off guard, but I loved it.
The pilot is fairly dialogue-heavy, and there are a lot of moments with characters just talking to one another, but each performance is so unique that it commands your attention. The Doom Patrol doesn’t get into a huge battle during the first episode, and that is okay because it allows the characters to shine through. Each team member experiences loss and companionship in the 1-hour pilot, and it’s beautiful to witness.
Doom Patrol is not afraid of the shock factor, but it uses it very purposefully. Impulses of violence are over as quickly as they began, the show isn’t afraid of nudity if it helps an aspect of a character’s personality, (in this case that the character is an a**hole), and the show is definitely not afraid to get weird and surreal. Each character has their own unique quirks that come across loud and clear in this first episode, and April Bowlby, Brendan Fraser, and Diane Guerrero do an especially great job of portraying their characters with their added quirks.
The first episode centers around Robotman’s point of view. He is the first member of the Doom Patrol on-screen, his is the first backstory we see, and we learn the other backstories as he does when meeting the other characters. I am not sure if the story will continue to center around Robotman or if it will rotate, but I loved it. Fraser does an amazing job pulling off the perfect mix of family-man and a**hole, and it’s impossible not to love and hate the guy at the same time.
There are a lot of love-hate relationships in the show, both between characters themselves and between the characters and the audience, because most of the Doom Patrol are deeply flawed people in some way, and they are forced to live together with little contact to the outside world. The Doom Patrol is not a team, at least not yet, and they want you to know that right away. All of the performances are fantastic in the pilot, each giving off arrogance, loss, yearning, and so much more.
As for the more technical parts of the show, everything is a drastic improvement from Titans. The lighting has a normal color palette that is saturation free! There were no dark, gloomy shots in the daytime, no depressing blue lens tinting the entire screen, and plenty of light-sources. The rest of the effects may cause some mixed reviews. A lot of them, especially Elasti-girl’s elasticity, are somewhat campy and look like they might be from the early 2000s. I am not sure if it is intentional or because of the show’s budget, but Robotman’s suit, Rebis, Crazy Jane’s powers, and Mr. Nobody himself all look a little dated, but it worked for me. I found the slightly dated look to be amusing, and I liked how they chose to do Mr. Nobody despite the negative reaction most had to the trailer. I know they are likely doing the best with what they have. The soundtrack is also amazing but never overbearing. It is subtle and will start elevating the level of the scene long before you notice the music.
The best parts of the Doom Patrol pilot for me, however, were the little things. Small moments of banter, little posters on the wall, but most importantly, Robotman’s shirts. They give Robotman two shirts in this episode and both of them had me on the floor laughing. They are so clever, subtle and cruel.
I can see the level of special effects in the show, but that isn’t a negative for me. As long as you are okay with some campy atmosphere at times, the effects will come across as amusing more than out-of-place. The only other negative for me was Negative Man. He wasn’t bad, but there wasn’t enough of him. When we saw the cooking scene during the Titans episode featuring the Doom Patrol, Larry stole the show. He was absolutely hilarious. In this episode, however, he was a man of few words and it felt like something was missing. I hope they give him a little more of the spotlight in future episodes.
Doom Patrol is a great pilot episode that wonderfully balances tragedy and comedy, is filled with great performances, and sets the stage beautifully for the season to come. It’s bold, wacky, funny, tragic, and everything in between, and I will gladly watch these losers for 14 more episodes.