NOTE: Spoilers from throughout the first season of, “Doom Patrol” are present in this review
Despite the fact that it remains exclusive to the U.S., and remains restricted to a frustratingly limited selection of devices there, Warner Bros.’ DC Universe streaming platform continues to slowly gain momentum. Nonetheless, DC Universe’s fledgling handful of original shows have remained somewhat frustrating to consume here in Canada at this point, where they’re not only spread across several different channels and platforms, but also have episodes premiere significantly later than they do for Americans, who, as I mentioned, are the only ones that currently have access to the DC Universe app. If you live here in the Great White North for example, you had to wait several weeks after the first season of Titans had concluded in the U.S. for the entire lump season to exclusively drop on Canada’s Netflix catalogue, plus the infamous new Swamp Thing series is only now beginning its short run on Showcase, several months late.
Doom Patrol is obviously among these staggered DC Universe shows, which aired most of its inaugural run in Canada on the Space Channel (now re-branded as ‘CTV Sci-Fi’), before shrugging and later dumping the last handful of Season One episodes on Crave, much later than the episodes were made available to Americans on the DC Universe platform, yet again. You can now at least watch the entire first season of Doom Patrol in Canada if you’re a Crave subscriber though, with a second season being commissioned for 2020 on both the DC Universe app and the upcoming HBO Max streaming platform (though God only knows when that second season will be made available to us Canadians), and I highly recommend that you do so as well, because the first season of Doom Patrol is so far the most sublime gem to come out of Warner Bros.’ selection of original shows on the U.S.’ DC Universe platform!
Titans’ first season may still have been very good, and DC fans will still really enjoy it, but Doom Patrol is on a whole other level in its first selection of episodes. Originally being billed as a spin-off of Titans, complete with the Doom Patrol members making a guest appearance within something of a backdoor pilot that served as the fourth Titans episode, Doom Patrol now appears to instead occupy its own independent universe, with no direct connection to Titans. That’s perfectly fine however, since Doom Patrol is a very different beast from Titans, being a much weirder and more proudly offbeat show, one that subs out Titans’ harsh and relentless grit for a potent cocktail of absurdist comedy and truly potent tragedy. Each Doom Patrol episode is stranger and less predictable than the last, and while this is very faithful to the incredibly bizarre nature of DC’s Doom Patrol comic books, you can still easily enjoy this series, even if you don’t know the first thing about these characters.
From the jump, the series does a great job of establishing its lead personalities, largely from the initial perspective of Cliff Steele, played by Brendan Fraser, a debauchery-fueled racecar driver from the 1980’s, who winds up in a horrible accident, and has his brain transplanted into a large robot body that’s incapable of physical feeling. The other titular Doom Patrol members comprise Larry Trainor/Negative Man, played by Matt Bomer, a test pilot from the 1960’s who becomes horrifically scarred and infested by a negative energy spirit after a test flight gone wrong, Rita Farr/Elasti-Woman, played by April Bowlby, a spoiled 1950’s-era actress who ends up becoming an unstable blob monster after falling into mysterious contaminated water during a film shoot, Kay Challis/Crazy Jane, played by Diane Guerrero, a former mental patient from the 1970’s who has 64 alternate personalities, each possessing their own superpower and disposition, and Vic Stone/Cyborg, played by Joivan Wade, who was given a cybernetic body and mind after being nearly killed in a lab explosion. True, Cyborg is usually affiliated with either the Teen Titans or the Justice League throughout most of DC media, but Doom Patrol instead placing him with its titular team of weirdos proves to be a surprising stroke of genius, particularly after Vic was conspicuously absent from the initial roster of heroes in Titans.
Each Doom Patrol member carries a heavy air of personal failure along with their extraordinary abilities, being driven by a desire to find their missing leader, Niles Caulder/The Chief, played by Timothy Dalton, throughout Season One. The Chief has been kidnapped by the team’s supposed arch-nemesis, Eric Morden/Mr. Nobody, played by Alan Tudyk, a seemingly omnipotent, fourth wall-skewering baddie that seems to revel in creating increasingly weird and unpredictable scenarios for the Doom Patrol to face. It’s true that some of the character-focused episodes work better than others in Season One, especially when the more openly strange, Mr. Nobody-fueled episodes tend to excel the most, but once the show’s ensemble of anti-heroes fully gels especially, Doom Patrol becomes one of the most fresh, funny and surprisingly cool live-action superhero shows to grace the small screen at this point. Each Doom Patrol member is portrayed to perfection here, with Alan Tudyk also quickly proving to be a scene-stealer as Mr. Nobody, a villain that constantly toes the line between genuine menace and mischievous clown. It’s enough to make you hope that Mr. Nobody finds a way to continue on in future seasons, since the show really wouldn’t be the same without him, even if this first season of Doom Patrol wisely makes the decision not to cram him into every episode, and thus exhaust the humourous appeal of Mr. Nobody’s character.
Established fans of DC’s Doom Patrol comic books will also be thrilled to know that the show boasts an amazing desire to embrace even the weirdest and most head-scratching moments of not only the Doom Patrol’s history in the printed panels, but also much of the most regrettable and downright absurd footnotes from DC Universe franchise history in general. Aside from Mr. Nobody, for example, the greatest threat to the show’s heroes is the Bureau of Normalcy, who proudly hunt bizarre inhabitants of the show’s universe, ripped straight from DC Comics history, including the sentient and genderqueer teleporting roadway, Danny the Street, and the reality-altering muscle man, Flex Mentallo. This is of course aside from Season One antagonists like the Cult of the Unwritten Book, who manifest a world-destroying eyeball in the sky, Admiral Whiskers and Ezekiel, a cockroach-and-mouse duo that hilariously serve as the season finale’s major obstacles, Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man, a very obscure DC Comics villain who serves as a persistent and funny background gag throughout the first season’s episodes, and best of all, the Beard Hunter, a portly and childish metahuman who can track any man across space and time by eating their beard hair. These foes are all brilliantly weird in their own right, and they all manage to provide surprisingly gripping drama, laughs and spectacle in equal measure.
Doom Patrol’s first season runs a surprisingly lengthy span of fifteen episodes to boot, but despite this being noticeably longer than most any other streaming-based live-action drama season of note, and despite some of these episodes being better than others, Doom Patrol also thrives because it’s never boring, nor predictable. Despite the first season’s simple hook of the Doom Patrol members simply wanting to locate and rescue the missing Chief, the show is constantly finding clever and unexpected ways to reinvent itself between episodes. The titular lead characters remain consistent for the most part, but their circumstances are always challenging the viewer and their expectations, while often providing ever more weird and hilarious comedy to offset the leads often struggling with some very heart-wrenching personal issues. In this respect, Doom Patrol almost feels like a more extreme and proudly R-rated version of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow on The CW, minus the time travel hook, which is instead substituted by the lead heroes seemingly being immortal, after their separate connections to The Chief end up tying into a surprising motivation behind the Bureau of Normalcy, and their desire to bring down the protagonists.
Despite the fact that you can somewhat compare it to the style of one of the other best live-action DC shows currently on television though, there’s nothing else quite like Doom Patrol within the increasingly crowded arena of superhero TV shows at this point, from DC or otherwise. If we had the DC Universe app here in Canada, which we don’t at the time of writing, I’d say that this show is officially your reason to subscribe to it if you hadn’t already. Since Doom Patrol is currently exclusive to Crave here in Canada however, I’d say that Crave subscribers with any interest at all in funny, smart and offbeat superhero entertainment must make Doom Patrol a high priority! This show is one of Canada’s only true ‘Crave Originals’ at this point, if we don’t count most of its first season getting airtime on the Space Channel/CTV Sci-Fi Channel, but trust me, it’s also a great reason to take the plunge on the Canadian streaming platform if you love superheroes, or great eccentric TV shows in general, and are looking for a reason to get a Crave membership. A couple of episodes may miss the mark, but the vast majority of Doom Patrol’s Season One episodes are wonderfully funny and entertaining, while also being emotionally impactful and tragic, providing a surprisingly robust and compelling character study that exceptionally exploits its potent weirdness, in order to produce something as truly unforgettable as it is unapologetically bizarre.
- Excellently developed lead characters that deftly balance comedy and tragedy
- Bizarre, yet entertaining collection of eccentric antagonists, especially Mr. Nobody
- Proudly faithful to the weirdest story elements of DC lore, while also being surprisingly accessible
- A couple of weaker episodes here and there