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.
Rita Farr/Elasti-Woman (April Bowlby)
Rita is a former ’50s movie pictures star who was obsessed with appearances. While shooting a movie in Africa — during which she asked the crew to get rid of a cameraman because he was missing an arm and was thus an “eyesore” — she fell through a wooden dock and into the water. When she emerged, she’d lost control of her body, which started to melt and lose its shape. These days, she spends her time knitting, being brutally honest with her housemates, and trying not to turn into a huge blob of skin.
Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero)
Finally, we have the best character of the series: Crazy Jane, who has 64 different personalities, each with their own special power. Guerrero is bloody fantastic in the role! In the premiere, we meet Jane; the belligerent and antagonistic Hammerhead; the sad Hangman’s Daughter; and another nameless persona who can flame on and grow really tall. Guerrero effortlessly and thrilling moves between those first three personalities, and it’s the most exciting thing about an episode that includes a big blob of skin destroying a quiet little town in Ohio. Speaking of which…
After taking us through everyone’s backstory, the episode finally settles in 2019, which is when Crazy Jane comes to live at Doom Manor. She and Cliff initially get off on the wrong foot, mostly due to Hammerhead, but once things settle down it’s clear that there’s some kind of father-daughter dynamic developing between them.
Dr. Caulder decides to go on a trip to tend to other mysterious occurrences in the world. Of course, the moment he leaves, Jane suggests they all take a trip into town. Even more obviously, that trip takes a disastrous turn, because Rita eventually loses control of her body and turns into the aforementioned giant blob of skin that tears through the streets of the town. Thankfully, Robotman is able to stop her, but the damage has been done by that point.
When Dr. Caulder returns the manor and discovers what happened, he immediately scolds them because their little adventure has drawn some of his enemies to the town, and now they must flee for their lives. Everyone agrees with him except Cliff, who decides to return to the town on his own to defend it. Feeling guilty, the rest of the team eventually join him. As they walk down Main Street, an albino donkey appears in the streets and farts out the words “The mind is the limit.” Meanwhile, Nobody appears to Caulder, who is hanging back in the bus, and creates a vortex in the middle of the street that starts sucking everything into it. In other words, things just got weird.
Overall, I really enjoyed the series premiere of Doom Patrol. It’s a rather dense episode, but I appreciated the fact that it frontloaded everyone’s origin stories because that (hopefully) means we’ll get to the good stuff way quicker than we did on Titans.
- Watch the body-horror-filled opening credits of Doom Patrol
- Umbrella Academy and Doom Patrol, reviewed and pondered