STARZPLAY TV review: Doom Patrol Season 1
World's Strangest Heroes8
Too much swearing3
Matthew Turner | On 12, Jan 2020Reading time: 5 mins
Following the characters’ appearance in an episode of Titans, DC’s team of misfit superheroes get their own show, Doom Patrol. Interestingly, there’s a bit of crossover with another misfit superhero show: Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy, whose creator, Gerard Way, both acknowledges the influence of the team on his work and recently wrote a run of Doom Patrol comics.
The Doom Patrol themselves were created in 1963 (by writers Arnold Drake and Bob Haney, and artist Bruno Premiani) pre-dating the first appearance of Marvel’s misfit team The X-Men by just three months. Although their line-up has changed several times over the years, the show sticks closely to the original team, as envisioned by Drake and Haney.
The pilot episode introduces us to most of the characters. They include wheelchair-bound Dr Niles Caulder (Timothy Dalton), who’s been assembling a group of super-powered misfits; Robotman, aka Cliff Steele (voiced by Brendan Fraser, physically acted by Riley Shanahan), a former racecar driver who’s had his brain transplanted into a mechanical body; ex-test pilot Larry Trainor, aka Negative Man (voiced by Matt Bomer, acted by Matthew Zuk), who has a separate being of pure energy living in his body and appears wrapped in bandages, Invisible Man-style; Rita Farr, aka Elasti-Woman (April Bowlby), a reclusive 1950s Hollywood starlet whose body has an elasticity she can’t always control; and Kay Challis, aka Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero), a woman with 64 different personalities, some of whom have different superpowers. In the second episode, they’re joined by the final member of the team: Victor Stone, aka Cyborg (Britain’s Joivan Wade), a more familiar character thanks to his appearances in Justice League and Teen Titans GO.
Of course, every good superhero team needs an adversary and Doom Patrol has a doozy in the form of Mr Nobody (Alan Tudyk), who also serves as the show’s snarky, fourth-wall-breaking narrator, setting the tone immediately by sneering things like “More TV superheroes, just what the world needs” in the show’s opening moments. With Mr Nobody around, things get pretty crazy pretty quickly, with the first two episodes featuring an encounter with, um, a magical farting donkey that can open a portal to another dimension.
However, the majority of the season is rather introspective, focusing on various back-stories, buried traumas and burning secrets for each of the team while they ostensibly conduct a search for Niles, who may have been kidnapped by Mr Nobody. But mostly they just sit around Doom Manor, bickering.
As the magical farting donkey suggests, the show has a commitment to outrageous and imaginative comic book nonsense that is very appealing. To that end, it’s full of enjoyable cameos and guest appearances from some of DC’s weirder superheroes – look out for both Danny The Street (a sentient street) and a brief appearance by Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man, among others.
It’s clear that the show has been put together by a creative team with a real love of comics, so it’s no surprise to find Arrowverse genius Greg Berlanti on board as executive producer, while the showrunner is Supernatural’s Jeremy Carver, who knows a thing or two about fantasy plots and irreverent humour.
However, the stand-out elements of the show are the character designs (Robotman, in particular, is superb) and the performances. Fraser’s voice work is exceptional on Robotman and he plays him as a surprisingly sympathetic figure, especially considering he can’t really do facial expressions. Similarly, Dalton is great value as Niles, while Bowlby is superb as Rita (she’s responsible for the pilot’s best moment) and Guerrero consistently impresses as Crazy Jane, making each of her personalities so distinctive that we can eventually spot each one without them being named (not that they do all 64 at once). On top of that, Tudyk is on typically great form, although he’s so much of a comic force that his absence is keenly felt when he skips a few episodes.
In terms of its ambitions, the show mostly succeeds – the “World’s Strangest Superheroes” (as DC dubbed them) are suitably weird, the humour is often very funny and there’s always something interesting going on in each episode, even if the plots aren’t entirely successful. The effects work is good too, particularly on certain animal characters that won’t be spoiled here.
However, that’s not to say the show doesn’t have its fair share of flaws. A large part of the blame for that belongs to DC Universe, who seem to have collectively decided that in order to stand out, their shows need to be full of swearing and adult content – Titans has swearing and extreme, nasty violence, while Doom Patrol has f-bombs a-plenty, as well as occasional nudity. The thing is, the novelty quickly wears thin and it’s completely unnecessary – it smacks of trying too hard and the show would clearly be much better without it, not to mention having the same family-friendly appeal as, say, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.
In addition, the 15-episode first season is a good five episodes too long, to the point where the middle section becomes a bit of a slog. Accordingly, the plots meander all over the place, to the point where it feels like we’re spending several episodes going repeatedly going over the same things (not helped by the fact that the show often loops back on itself).
Those flaws aside, Doom Patrol is ultimately an intriguing, fun and likeably offbeat addition to DC’s superhero show line-up. Here’s hoping they clean their act up a bit for Season 2.
Doom Patrol: Season 1 is available to watch online in the UK on STARZPLAY, a streaming service that costs £4.99 a month. The platform is available on Virgin Media On Demand or through Amazon Prime Video Channels, both as an add-on subscription to your existing account.