“Doom Patrol” is a superhero show unlike any other currently on the air — and that’s what makes it so great.
The idea of throwing together a group of outcast misfits to create a superhero team is nothing new. It’s an age-old trope that’s almost as worn as the idea of superhero team ups themselves. For every Justice League, there’s the Suicide Squad or Justice League Dark. For every Avengers, there’s the Thunderbolts. But “Doom Patrol” takes that idea to a new level of broken, creating not only one of the best superhero teams, but also one of the most endearing and most human.
The show just wrapped its second season on the HBO Max streaming service after its first season aired on the woefully underappreciated DC Universe. At 24 episodes total — and just renewed for an additional 10-episode third season — “Doom Patrol” has plenty of content to enjoy, while not feeling overwhelming for new viewers. Just don’t go in expecting a superhero adventure like CW’s “Arrowverse” shows, or even “Titans.” This is a much more mature and much more slower paced experience that focuses more on character development and relationships at the expense of intense fights and CG-infused action.
“Doom Patrol” features a motley crew of individuals with super powers. They really hesitate to call themselves superheroes, and even poke fun at the idea on multiple occasions. The team features former Air Force Capt. Larry Trainor, a man infused with an alien being that makes him extremely radioactive; Rita Farr, a former actress from the 1950s whose body can conform to any shape or form; Crazy Jane, a woman with more than 60 personalities that each have their own super powers; and Robotman Cliff Steele, a former race car driver whose brain was placed into a robot body after a deadly car accident. And then there’s Cyborg — the Cyborg of the Justice League who’s still early in his career at this point. The group is led by the Chief, a man with a long and mysterious past who has helped bring them together to combat Mr. Nobody, a fourth-wall breaking supervillain played by Alan Tudyk of “Firefly” fame.
The show embraces the ridiculousness in every aspect imaginable. The second episode sees the team venture inside a donkey to rescue a town that had been trapped there by Mr. Nobody in an effort to capture the Chief, and that’s only the start. Later episodes see the team join up with Danny the Street, a sentient, gender-queer street with magical powers that’s being hunted by a top secret government agency that tracks and destroys anything abnormal. Meanwhile, recurring characters include a villain named Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man, a man with a second head that’s a dinosaur and a hand made purely of vegetables, and the Beard Hunter, who can track anyone by tasting their facial hair.
The absurd works because it’s balanced by the genuine emotion and heart among the main characters of the Doom Patrol. Each is dealing with their own trauma and emotional issues that are handled extremely well, especially for a comic book show. Cliff has spent 30 years trying to cope with the guilt of his failed marriage and the idea that he killed his wife and daughter in a vehicle accident. Larry carries with him a half-century of self-loathing of being a gay man in the 1950sand the decisions that he made that lost his wife and children and the man that he loved. Jane must come to terms with the abuse that created her multiple personality disorder and the years of abuse that followed in facilities across the country.
Each character is given at least one to two episodes dedicated to their backstories that really help reinforce who they are and what led to their current circumstances. Each is played against the ever-evolving story of trying to find the Chief after he’s captured, and to ultimately defeat Mr. Nobody. While the overarching story is still entertaining, it pales in comparison to the character-driven moments. Perhaps that’s why the first season is slightly stronger than the sophomore effort.
Season one of “Doom Patrol” is dedicated to exploring the team members and their dynamics. It hits hard in many aspects. The followup season embraces more of the comic book elements of the show for a slightly more traditional experience. It’s still great, thanks in part to the wonderful acting jobs of Timothy Dalton, Brendan Fraser and Matt Bomer, but the writing just isn’t as solid.
Still, even at its lowest spots — of which there are a couple — “Doom Patrol” is better than any other superhero comic book show on television at the moment. Be prepared for some extreme adult content at times and some moments that will just leave you scratching your head at the absurdity. Also be prepared for one massive cliffhanger at the end of the second season. The cast and crew were in the middle of filming the season finale when the pandemic began, and producers opted to release the season without that final episode completed. It will be included in a third season that should air next year. “Doom Patrol” is still worth seeing, even with that missing piece.
“Doom Patrol” is available now on HBO Max.