I’m not here to tell you how to live your life, but I do want you to understand that your life will be immeasurably better if you watch Doom Patrol. I loved this show when it debuted back in February, but now, fifteen episodes in, it has improved with every episode to become something truly extraordinary. Doom Patrol is a melancholy, riotous, wild ride like nothing you’ve seen. The pathos, insanity and creativity onscreen are staggering, and if there were any justice in the world, it would be this FX-heavy genre show, not a certain HBO series, that gets showered with Emmys this fall.
Now, with the full first fifteen episodes of the first season at our disposal, let’s dig into what makes the show so great. I’ll try not to spoil too much, but a few plot points, mainly mid-season, will be addressed.
The obvious thing to praise about Doom Patrol is the incredible creativity of the writing team, led by Jeremy Carver. Some of the out-there ideas are built on the Doom Patrol comics, but other elements are just the show’s very own. In both cases, it takes an amazing amount of confidence and finesse to pull off the twists and turns that fill every episode.
One of my favorite examples is Danny the Street. Danny is a genderqueer, sentient street that serves as a magical pocket dimension for outcasts and weirdos. Danny is a character in the comics, but the portrayal of Danny onscreen is nothing short of magical. Danny isn’t just a place or a plot device, they are a character who we worry about and love because Danny helps and shelters people.
In the episode “Danny Patrol,” where we meet this beautiful stretch of asphalt and shops, we’re treated to one of the most tremendous and moving sequences of the show, where Larry (Matt Bomer) finally embraces his otherness and sings a joyous rendition of Kelly Clarkson’s “People Like Us” with a drag queen backing him up. It’s just one of many totally bananas sequences, but it works, and it’s incredibly moving because it’s earned through a combination of character and depth.
That’s the thing about Doom Patrol: Every trippy, strange story beat works because we care about the characters within them. The superhero team at the core of the show is a typical group of misfits (for a show like this) and loners, united by one strange thing: They’re all functionally immortal. Their inability to age or die is something that’s never really brought to the fore until the end of the season, but it’s incredibly important. Immortality left them stranded in their trauma and self-loathing until they met others like them. It’s a pretty amazing metaphor for recovery of any kind, and it’s used in such a subtle way.
Every character on Doom Patrol was deeply damaged before they became a metahuman, and super powers don’t redeem them. Rita (April Bowlby) was broken by the Hollywood machine and her desire for fame long before she turned into a blob, and “Crazy” Jane (Diane Guerrero) exists as one of dozens of personalities formed to help a little girl cope with terrible abuse. Cliff Steele (Brendan Fraser’s voice/Riley Shanahan on set) was a mess before he was a brain in a tin can, and Larry (played on set by Matthew Zuk) was closeted and tortured long before an inter-dimensional spirit took up residence in his body. Even Vic (Joivan Wade) was trapped under his parents thumb before he became Cyborg.
What Doom Patrol is, at its core, is a show about how we human deal with our pain and our past. Seeking out support and understanding from others gives our “heroes” the self-awareness to move forward in their lives. Only then, after actual group therapy, can they be heroic. Or try.
That’s another thing about Doom Patrol: They’re not terribly good at being heroes or using their powers. Mostly, that works for the show, though I was hoping to see more of Rita using her elastic abilities. Even so, April Bowlby is brilliant when she gets to be a hero through simple acts of bravery and compassion. These supers are fighting their own demons way more than they fight the villains, and that kind of navel gazing could be boring, but it’s the way Doom Patrol gets us there is so fun that it all works.
For instance, Larry’s connection with the “negative spirit” actually helps him to reconnect with a long-lost love and come to terms with his sexuality and mistakes with the kind of time-hopping, reality-bending scenes that just wouldn’t be possible on some serious prestige drama. The same goes for Diane Guerrero, who’s been giving career-defining performances in every episode as Jane. When we finally get into “the underground” of Jane’s mind, it’s a trippy, fun way to meet many of her personalities, but also a harrowing journey into her trauma and abuse.
The way Doom Patrol manages to balance aching melancholia and human drama with hysterically weird genre elements and meta commentary on the story itself is astonishing. Much of that has to do with the tone set by Alan Tudyk as Mister Nobody. His superpower is literally to be a narrator and to exist in the margins outside the story he’s part of. He’s not just Deadpool talking to the camera; his awareness that he’s in a TV show, and his ability to manipulate that, are the entire point. Tudyk has so much fun in this role, especially playing off Timothy Dalton’s completely earnest Chief Niles Caulder, that it’s impossible not to enjoy every second he’s present and relish the weirdness of character’s very existence.
And there’s so much delicious weirdness on Doom Patrol: beyond the sentient street, there’s a talking cockroach that welcomes the apocalypse, a bad guy that learns a person’s life by eating their beard hair (it’s ever grosser than it sounds), and a flock of man-eating butts. (I refuse to explain that more; you need to see it for yourself.) And all of that works because the characters and stories at the core of the show are so perfectly written and acted.
Again, I don’t want to tell you what to do, but if I were a supervillain narrating your life, I’d remind you that DCUniverse offers free trials and now is a perfect time to get one and binge the whole first season—and who knows, you may like the service that gives you access to everything DC, including movies and comics! Heck, you might even read our Swamp Thing review next week and decide to stick around to see if the girl from Teen Wolf makes out with the nice seaweed monster. Or even better, you’ll love this show so much that it will get the pickup it so desperately deserves, and you’ll be there for season two of Doom Patrol.
(featured image: DC Universe)
Jessica Mason is a writer and lawyer living in Portland, Oregon passionate about corgis, fandom, and awesome girls. Follow her on Twitter at @FangirlingJess.
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