‘Doom Patrol’ Episode 1 – “Pilot” | TV Recap

February 15, 2019
Jonathon Wilson 1
TV, TV Recaps
4

Summary

Thoroughly, enjoyably demented, the Doom Patrol pilot takes wild swings at all kinds of genres, tones and clichés, and is all the better for its ambition.

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4

Summary

Thoroughly, enjoyably demented, the Doom Patrol pilot takes wild swings at all kinds of genres, tones and clichés, and is all the better for its ambition.

This recap of Doom Patrol Episode 1, “Pilot”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on its predecessor, Titans, by clicking these words.


It’s late, and I’m tired, so there’s a slim chance that I just hallucinated the last hour. Perhaps Doom Patrol, the new DC Universe show that was set up in Titans and will continue weekly henceforth, isn’t anywhere near as bonkers and eminently watchable as I seem to think it is. But all available evidence seems to suggest it just stomped onto the streaming scene with perhaps the best TV debut in DC’s recent history.

I’m not even sure how to describe it. There’s a layer of knowing meta-commentary and an unpacking of superhero tropes and clichés, but there’s also an enthusiastic embracing and celebration of those conventions. The tone lurches back and forth between snarky ridicule and earnest character drama. The pilot works as an origin story, a spin-off, and its own thing; a bizarre culmination of a history and a sensibility that winds back through multiple distinct reboots all the way back to the swinging sixties. If the surprisingly-good Titans wasn’t enough reason to plonk down some more cash on a monthly subscription service, Doom Patrol very much might be.

The titular Doom Patrol is a group of ostracised misfits with powers that range from “he’s basically just a big robot” all the way to “we’re going to need a bigger CGI budget.” The robot man – he’s literally known as Robotman – is Cliff Steele (Brendan Fraser), a former hotshot, Ricky Bobby-style race-car driver who, after a severe crash, has his brain transplanted into a hulking metal cast. The budget is being spent by Rita Farr (April Bowlby), aka Elasti-Girl, a 50s starlet whose skin can now digitally expand and contract. Joining them are Larry Trainor (Matthew Zuk’s body; Matt Bomer’s voice), aka Negative Man, a radioactive test pilot with a being of pure energy living inside a body he keeps bandaged up like a mummy, and Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero), a woman with 64 separate personalities, each of whom has their own superpower.

This quartet are looked after by Timothy Dalton’s Dr. Niles Caulder, aka “The Chief”, and their whole shtick is that their superpowers cause them perpetual alienation and trauma – which is, needless to say, interesting and tricky thematic territory. Doom Patrol elects to navigate that territory mostly by bounding across it without much of a care, throwing increasingly ridiculous ideas at every nearby wall and just seeing what sticks. None of this should work, and yet almost all of it does, thanks in part to committed performances, but due also to a deft touch by showrunner Jeremy Carver, who somehow finds the exact right moment to pivot when it looks like he’s heading in any particular direction.

The overall effect is bizarrely refreshing, rather than scattershot or annoying. Some elements naturally work better than others – the fourth-wall-breaking in-on-the-joke stuff can be overly obvious or just plain tedious – but the willingness to be ambitious and messy is much more likable than hitting the expected beats as safely and mundanely as possible. Alan Tudyk plays a kind of decontructionist narrator-villain named Mr. Nobody who gradually pulls the pilot apart as it goes, and he’s basically Doom Patrol in microcosm; aware and slightly resentful of its own silliness, but game for unabashed insanity just because.

Simply put, I liked Doom Patrol a lot, and I suspect other people will too. We’ll have to see how it progresses, but with Shazam on the horizon and this due to gradually unfold for the foreseeable future, this kind of off-beat, difficult to pin down material is perhaps exactly what the on-screen DC Universe needs to dispel the ideas that it’s too self-serious and “edgy” to be fun or interesting. Doom Patrol feels calibrated specifically to put paid to that notion, and it’s all the better for it.

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