“Ready for a story about superheroes? Ugh. More TV superheroes. Just what the world needs.”
So begins the pilot of “Doom Patrol,” the latest television series produced by DC Comics, the company responsible for well-known heroes such as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. The company has had a turbulent history and varying success with the films and movies it produces: There are widely acclaimed gems such as 2017’s “Wonder Woman,” as well as widely criticized films such as 2016’s “Suicide Squad.” Considering these ups and downs, it was hard to know what to expect when DC announced its new roster of television shows that would be premiering on their own, independent streaming platform, DCUniverse. Of these new shows, “Doom Patrol,” with a cast of relatively unknown heroes, came off as the most obscure. However, with the show’s intense focus on character development, its strong writing, and the powerful performances from the cast, “Doom Patrol” is currently in line to become one of the stronger DC productions.
The story is relatively simple. After a terrible accident, Cliff Steele (Brendan Fraser) finds his entire body obliterated, with only his brain intact. A brilliant scientist named Niles Caulder (Timothy Dalton) finds Cliff and builds him an entirely cybernetic body, turning him into a creature known as Robotman. Cliff soon finds his place amongst Niles’ dysfunctional family, made up of several other similarly situated people: Rita Farr/Elasti-Girl (April Bowlby), Larry Trainor/Negative Man (Matt Bomer), and Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero). But their simple life cannot last, as the monsters of the outside world and the monsters within them all seek to destroy them.
One of the greatest strengths of “Doom Patrol” is the intense focus on its characters. Unlike other DC shows, this one faces the challenge of appealing to an audience that is likely to be completely unfamiliar with its characters. Yet, “Doom Patrol” meets this challenge remarkably. These characters are some of the more complex characters that have graced the superhero scene in some time. Though they all have tragic backstories — which are by no means rare occurrences in superhero stories — the characters internalize and reflect their trauma in a way that makes them captivating to watch. They are characters worth spending a season watching.
The standout performance, however, belongs to Brendan Fraser in his role as Cliff Steele/Robotman. The first episode of the series is largely focused on his character, the accident that forced him into his new form, and his attempt to cope with it. As the human form of Cliff Steele, Brendan Fraser gets very little screen time. For the majority of the episode, Fraser portrays post-injury Cliff Steele in the form of Robotman. However, for what screen time he does get, he accurately and honestly portrays the complexities of the character. He captivatingly portrays the turmoil within Steele and his battle to make sense of the new world and new body in which he finds himself. Fraser’s performance, and the Robotman character, are easily the highlights of an already great premiere.
However, the credit cannot entirely go to the actors. The powerful writing team, spearheaded by Jeremy Carver of “Supernatural,” kicks off the new series superbly with their dialogue. Though the beginning of the episode contains some exposition-heavy narration, the quirky and humorous way it is written, coupled with the strong narration by the series villain (Alan Tudyk), make it work. The dialogue feels natural, except for the parts where it is strategically exaggerated. The breaking of the fourth-wall, though at first jarring, ends up working in favor of the show, establishing its weird and quirky nature. Furthermore, the team impressively blends moments of dark humor with dramatic and emotional moments.
Despite these strengths, the show is not perfect. There are some scenes that feel unnecessary and, at times, even gratuitous. Additionally, with the episode moving along at a rapid pace, it sometimes feels that key moments are passed over. For instance, there seems to be very little emphasis on the actual forming of the team and their relationships with each other, even though it will certainly be a focal point of the series going forward.
Overall, the premiere of “Doom Patrol” proves to be a worthy entry in the DC Universe. With strong, complex characters, a more than capable cast, and an excellent writing team, it will be interesting to see if the show will be able to cement itself as one of the strongest contributions to the DC roster. So if you are, as the narrator says, “ready to feel better about your own miserable lives for the next hour or so,” dive into “Doom Patrol.” It should be a fun ride.