Doom Patrol already had its backdoor pilot during the first season of the DC Universe series Titans, in Episode 1.4, aptly titled “Doom Patrol.” During that episode, Garfield, AKA Beast Boy, is a member of Doom Patrol and living in the mansion with them, when fate has him cross paths with Rachel, AKA Raven. Gar leaves Doom Patrol to help form the ad hoc superhero group, the Titans. Not “Teen” Titans, mind you. Most of its members are grownups.
We got a glimpse into DC’s version of the X-Men (back off, nerds: I know Doom Patrol has been around three or four months longer) during that episode. These weird B-movie horror characters were given too much screen time for that episode to be anything other than a backdoor pilot. We knew the TV series was coming.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. As much as I liked Titans, I wasn’t exactly enamored of the Doom Patrol, as they were originally introduced. The Chief, Niles Caulder, had been played by actor Bruno Bichir on Titans, where he had a much more sinister air than he does as portrayed by Timothy Dalton in the series pilot. That’s probably the “chief” difference. Rita Farr/Elasti-Woman, Larry Trainor/Negative Man, and Cliff Steele/Robotman are relatively unchanged.
April Bowlby continues to portray Rita, channeling every Golden Age Hollywood actress in the process. Matt Bomer and Brendan Fraser are mainly voice actors in this one, except for flashbacks before they gained their “powers” as Negative Man and Robotman. Other actors physically portray the Doom Patrol members on-screen. Actress Diane Guerrero (Maritza on Orange is the New Black) joins the cast as Crazy Jane, a woman with 64 different personalities, each having its own superpower. Take that, Legion. Series promotional materials suggest that Cyborg will be joining the group as well, but he doesn’t appear in the pilot episode.
Kind of a shame, really. I wanted Cyborg as a member of the Titans.
Beast Boy wasn’t mentioned at all during the pilot. I’m not certain where he fits in the timeline. Perhaps the present-day of the pilot takes place before Garfield came to Doom Manor. I can’t be certain.
The pilot episode gives us an origin story with a twist. The show immediately improves its Geek-Quotient by casting Alan Tudyk, everyone’s favorite Firefly pilot, as the voiceover narrator of the episode. Tudyk is the main villain, Mr. Nobody, and he tells us the backstories of our main characters with gleeful self-awareness. A product of nefarious Nazi experimentation, Mr. Nobody is the insane narrator for what promises to be an equally insane show. He doesn’t shy away from breaking the fourth wall either. At one point, Tudyk says, “Critics. What do they know? They’re going to hate this show.” I don’t know whether or not these were portentious words. I’m not a true critic, but I kind of liked this one.
I believe the backstories given our main characters have a little more meat on their bones than we got on Titans. Cliff Steele is still a former racecar driver, but he didn’t become Robotman as a result of an accident during a race. Instead, he was injured in an automobile accident that may (or may not have) killed both his wife and daughter. Larry Trainor did become Negative Man after being exposed to space radiation during the test of an experimental jet. But, it also turns out that Trainor (like actor Matt Bomer) had also been secretly gay, therefore considered a monster by the world at that time. Rita Farr’s transformation into Elasti-Woman is also granted additional verisimilitude when we see it happen as an accident on an African movie set. The diva actress was at least partially responsible for her own fate as she alienated the crew of the movie she had been working on. Crazy Jane remains the character I know least about, except that she’s certifiably crazy, and she does have powers.
I enjoyed the way Tudyk, as Mr. Nobody, introduced the backstories in little vignettes, which did remind me more than a little of the opening sequence to Suicide Squad. The actual story of the episode doesn’t really begin until our weird little gang takes a road trip into town while the Chief is away and all Hell breaks loose. Mr. Nobody actually shows up in person (looking like a human jigsaw puzzle in a twister, with a few pieces missing) at the end of the episode, as the town is being sucked into a huge vortex and a donkey I have no explanation for shows up to literally fart a message into the air.
The message? THE MIND IS THE LIMIT.
This show has managed to hook me the same way Lost did, only this time with a farting donkey instead of a tropical polar bear.
Movies like Deadpool, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Suicide Squad have helped pave the way for a superhero television show like this one. I hope the series will continue to experiment with the traditional comic book format and further embrace the lunacy promised by the pilot.
Truly, the mind is the limit, and I have no idea where this story is going to take me next. I like that.
It’s much too early to give a grade to the entire season, but I will say that this episode earns an A from me.
Mr. Nobody is an unreliable narrator. Maybe he’s wrong about the critics, too.