Doom Patrol is a troll of a TV show. Why, you ask? For one, it cast Matt Bomer in a role where we will almost never see his face because he’s mostly just voicing the character of Larry Trainor/Negative Man, and will only appear on screen in flashbacks to before he became covered in bandages. Furthermore, though, the show is refreshingly self-aware and spends a fair bit of time mocking and deconstructing the tropes of the superhero genre. In fact, it starts doing this from the moment it begins.
The pilot begins with a very meta narration from Alan Tudyk, who plays Eric Morden/Mr. Nobody. “Ready for a story about superheroes? Ugh, more TV superheroes, just what the world needs. Be honest, have you hung yourself yet?” sneers Nobody. ”Or, what if I told you this was actually a story about super-zeroes, losers, achingly pathetic metahuman goose eggs? How about it? Ready to feel about better about your own miserable lives for the next hour or so? Follow me. Our story begins, as such stories do, with a visit to Nazi — I’m sorry, Cobbler.” Let me tell you, I died laughing at the Nazis line, because if there’s one thing superhero stories love, it’s Nazis.
As Tudyk’s narration continues, we see his character making his way through the rainy streets of Paraguay in 1948. He talks his way past some guards and meets with a scientist named Von Fuchs, whose experiments offer “certain enhancements for a price.” Morden pays the man and hops in this chamber, and becomes, well, nobody as he repeats the words, “The mind is the limit.” It’s unclear what the significance of those words is yet, but they do come up again at the end of the series premiere.
Honestly, I love the way Doom Patrol starts because it doesn’t waste any time in establishing that this is not Titans. Whereas DC Universe’s inaugural series was dark and brooding from the moment it begins, Doom Patrol is intent on being as insane as possible while taking the piss out of the superhero tropes it embraces.
From there, it’s time to meet the members of the titular superhero team, all of whom have poignantly weird and tragic backstories. So, let’s run down the show’s super-zeroes.
Cliff Steele/Robotman (Brendan Fraser)
Fraser’s Cliff Steele is our entryway into Doom Patrol. When we first meet him in the pilot, he’s a douchey race car driver who’s cheating on his wife with their daughter’s nanny. Little does he know, though, that his wife is sleeping with someone on his pit team. In fact, he finds that out in the middle of a race and ends up crashing. If you’ve read the comics upon which the show is based, you probably expected Cliff’s pre-Robot life to end there. However, the shows tweaks his origin story — and the change it made was my least favorite part of the pilot because it was so clichéd.
When Cliff wakes up in his robot body, Dr. Niles Caulder (Timothy Dalton), the leader of the Doom Patrol, initially leads Cliff to believe that this is the aftermath of his race car crash, but that’s not the case. As he gets used to this new sense-less life, he discovers that he was actually involved in a second accident, which resulted in his wife’s death. Yes, the show decided to gift this character with an unnecessary dead wife, which is one of the most clichéd things in the world. Unfortunately, the script doesn’t do anything to subvert this trope either. Although we do find out that Cliff’s daughter is still alive.
Larry Trainor/Negative Man (Matt Bomer)
In 1961 California, Larry Trainor was a happily married Air Force pilot, “an American god,” according Nobody’s narration. Of course, tragedy befell him when he took a superpowered rocket out for a test flight. While in the air, his plane was hit by some energy force, which fried the electronics and sent him hurtling back to Earth. The ensuing crash left him burned beyond repair. Oh, and there’s also some energy being living inside of him. So now he lives life covered in bandages like a mummy.
The show added another tweak to Larry’s origin story: We later discover that he’s a closeted gay man who was hooking up with one of the plane workers before the crash. The pilot implies that the shame he felt about that has stayed with him to the present. “The truth is Larry Trainor had felt like a monster long before he ever was one,” Nobody says.