The properties of DC Comics have proven to be strongest when on television. The CW has carved out a lucrative space for their superhero shows to thrive and DC Universe has set out to do the same. Titans didn’t fare very well in its first season, messy and often unfocused storytelling shoulders a lot of the blame. However, Doom Patrol, the streaming service’s second live-action show, is much stronger. The pilot is full of chaotic energy and dark comedy. But it’s also a lot of fun and introduces its characters and the season’s mystery in spectacular fashion.
It seems the producers believed a lot in Doom Patrol. Prior to getting their own show, several of the characters were introduced in an episode of Titans. The pilot expands upon what we already know, giving us new information about the characters, all while the mystery surrounding Chief (Timothy Dalton) grows. The series opens with Cliff Steele (Brendan Fraser), a race car driver who’s cheating on his wife. He’s later in a fatal car accident, but he’s saved by Chief, who’s only able to salvage Cliff’s brain, which he places inside a robotic body.
It’s at Chief’s manor where he meets Rita Farr (April Bowlby), a former actress whose skin became elastic after an accident during filming, and Larry Trainor, a former pilot whose rocket blew up on the way down from a test run in space. Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero) is introduced at a later point in the episode and is shown to have multiple personalities, each of which has a different power. When Chief leaves them in the house alone for a day, they decide to go into town. Of course, they aren’t able to control their powers and chaos ensues. Meanwhile, Mr. Nobody (Alan Tudyk), the season’s villain, uses this event to his advantage to kick-start his master plan.
The acting is top notch and the cast delivers fantastic performances. Brendan Fraser is physically onscreen for about 10% of the episode, but even though you can’t see his face as Robotman, he conveys so much emotion in his voice that it often feels like Robotman’s face is just as expressive as he sounds. April Bowlby and Matt Bomer manage to showcase guilt and nonchalance all in one go. Both of their characters are much older than they look, though they maintain their original behaviors and attitudes toward things. Diane Guerrero is particularly exceptional, revealing impressive range as Crazy Jane. She skillfully shifts between the various personalities of her character without missing a beat. Alan Tudyk shines as Mr. Nobody, serving as big bad and narrator and is hilarious and intriguing, while Timothy Dalton comes across as helpful and kind, but also mysterious and shady.
Doom Patrol works because it isn’t afraid to be zany and it’s a big part of the reason for why it’s so engaging right out of the gate. It’s also clear the series isn’t intent on taking itself seriously and even breaks the fourth wall on occasion, mocking itself, comic book fans, and other DC characters. The writing is crisp, fresh, and darkly humorous. It also has the right amount of action without having it overshadow the character development, which builds nicely throughout the episode. DC Universe seems to have made more room in their budget for Doom Patrol (sorry, Titans) because the cinematography is sharp, the lighting warm, but not too bright, and the scenes that take place in dark places or at night are well-lit.
More than anything, the pilot brilliantly sets up the season and makes you excited for the journey the characters will go on and what Mr. Nobody has in store. There are a lot of questions posed, with the promise of answers a satisfying payoff down the line. Doom Patrol is a major step up for the streaming service. It’s bolstered by strong writing and an even stronger cast. The show is unpredictable in the best way in that it’s not clear what will happen, only that you’re willing to go along for the ride anyway.
Doom Patrol premieres February 15 on DC Universe’s streaming service.