What did I just watch?
I mean, really. What was that? And why was it just so damned interesting?
Doom Patrol is not the first show about unconventional superheroes, on television or at the movies. We’ve seen what kind of box office numbers Deadpool (a Rob Liefeld creation: Egads!!) is capable of generating. The Suicide Squad has made its grand appearance on the silver screen. Legion is about to begin its final season on television, and with its bizarre visuals and insane plot, this Marvel show about a possibly insane mutant may be the closest thing to this DC Universe production.
I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall during the Writers Room meetings for this series. Just how many times was the question “How can we make this show even weirder?” asked.
So, I guess the point I’m trying to make is that Doom Patrol is a weird show. It has superheroes in it, poor pathetic souls who gained their powers through horrific accidents or mad-scientist-type tinkering. These superheroes are a team, of sorts, even if just in the fact that they all live in the same old mansion. They also have a wheelchair-bound leader/mentor/father-figure, just like the X-Men. And while they don’t really seem to possess a whole lot of high-tech gadgetry—unless you count the short bus they sometimes drive around in—they manage to go places and sometimes save the world from impending doom. And stuff.
If I seem to have trouble actually describing this show to you, perhaps you will understand some of its appeal to me. It’s not predictable, many of its plots refuse to follow logical patterns, and its heroes aren’t particularly heroic.
The antiheroic “heroes” on the team are all B-movie horror monsters of one stripe or another. Robotman, as a human brain in a robot body, is essentially a robotic Frankenstein’s Monster. Negative Man, wrapped from—presumably—head-to-toe in bandages has a sort of Mummy/Invisible Man vibe. Elasti-Girl is, of course, the Blob. Crazy Jane is a combination of Sybil and Joan Crawford’s character in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? And then there’s Cyborg, a hybrid of man and machine.
Cyborg is the character who really doesn’t fit in. He should have been on the series Titans. Any comic book fan worth their salt knows that’s where he belongs.
But, like the rest of the Doom Patrol, Cyborg has some deep psychological problems, which is a recurring theme in this series. Team meetings at the mansion are more group therapy sessions than anything else, even though Jane is the only member who proudly wears the “crazy” moniker.
If there is a single through-story in this season—and I’m still not sure there is—it is about the disappearance of Niles Calder, our team’s wheelchair inhabiting leader, at the hands of the deranged multi-dimensional villain Mr. Nobody. By “multi-dimensional” I mean that Mr. Nobody exists (in part or in whole) in several dimensions at once. But, he’s also multi-dimensional in the sense that his character is given a backstory that is as tragic as those of our heroes. Plus, as portrayed by Alan Tudyk, he’s also kinda fun. As an extra-dimensional being, he is also the narrator of our story, and he often tips a nod and a wink at the viewer when referring to this as a “story,” or “this season,” or television critics. Mr. Nobody seems to be the only one who realizes that none of this is reality, and he breaks the Fourth Wall more frequently than Garry Shandling used to do. Sure, his intentions are mostly evil (Mr. Nobody’s, not the late Mr. Shandling), but he’s still the character who is standing in for the viewer.
The un-reality of the series is the part that sticks with me, days after I watched the final episode. This is what makes me draw the parallel to Legion, more than anything else. It’s the stylized surreality of the show. Almost like a video storybook. Oh, I just thought of another series it reminds me of. Pushing Daisies. Remember that one, about the pie-maker who went on to become a Tolkien elf, or something like that? Maybe it’s because both shows had a narrator. While this provides a bit of distance between the viewer and the characters, it also adds a bit of a magical quality to the story. And this series is magical.
During the season, we join our heroes as they confront evil Nazi scientists, travel to a kingdom that exists inside a snow globe, investigate a universe inside of a farting donkey, get visited by Crowley from Supernatural (although he’s now going by the name Willoughby Kipling), discover a sentient, gender-queer street named Danny that teleports to any destination it desires, and welcome the Charles-Atlas-like Flex Mentallo to the team. And these are the quieter moments. The series reaches a crescendo featuring a giant B-movie cockroach and a giant B-movie rat intent on destroying everything. Plus, Niles Calder makes a revelation that seems to change everything, but probably doesn’t.
That’s it. I won’t ruin everything for you. This show is every bit as ridiculous as I’ve probably made it sound.
But, there’s something about it. I would definitely watch another season of this stuff.
This series, and the series Titans that preceded it on the DC Universe streaming platform, restores my faith in Greg Berlanti and whomever else is involved in translating these DC properties to the small screen. The DC shows on the CW have, by this point, become a bit of a disappointment (I’m not even certain I’m going to commit to the next seasons of The Flash or Supergirl, the only two CW shows I was still watching this past season). These DC Universe shows, so far, have seemed to revel in the freedom from network television. Yes, there’s some salty language, which doesn’t bother me but may bother parents with young children. And the subject matter is a lot more adult. What does “gender-queer” mean, Daddy? While gay characters were introduced on these other shows, gay relationships were never explored quite like that of Matt Bomer’s Larry Trainor.
All of this may be too much for some viewers. This is rated-R superhero fare, so you should know that before you watch.
But, it’s also pretty good. It thrums with life and potential. The same way most of the other CW shows did in their first couple of years. Here’s hoping that doesn’t change too soon.
Firewater’s Season 1 Report Card: A