After last week’s foray into Marvel’s merry mutant cult, I’m finally getting around to reviewing the TV adaptation of their DC equivalent: Doom Patrol! (It also inspired The Umbrella Academy, whose TV series debuted at the same time.) If I had DC Universe I would’ve reviewed it sooner. Luckily my local library got it on DVD without me even requesting it! The main titles alone are superb! This cold take is made of SPOILERS! At the end, I’ll once again try to induct you into the campaign to save Lodge 49! I’m thankful for both of these series, making this blog Thanksgiving topical.
The first season is fifteen episodes, which seems long in the age of streaming. It works though! Each episode clocks in at around an hour. Unlike the Netflix Marvel Shows, every minute is well spent. Doom Patrol is a dense show but in a complimentary way. It feels like the shamebaby of Legends of Tomorrow & Legion, & it may be even better than both.
The live action Doom Patrol actually debuted on an episode of
Teen Titans. (The Teen Titans & Young Justice cartoons also introduced them as guest stars via Beast Boy. Batman: The Brave & the Bold shirked this trend) Its Chief was not played by Timothy Dalton. This crossover episode wasn’t included or referenced in the season one set so I don’t know if it’s even supposed to be in continuity. (Why does Titans look pretty janky whereas this has superb production values?) Regardless, it definitely occurs in a world where the Justice League exists.
Showrunner Jeremy Carver claims to not have been a Doom Patrol expert before landing this gig, but you wouldn’t know from watching it. (It’s especially surprising given how fast the project came together.) While heavily borrowing from the Morrison era, it also incorporates bits of the team’s earliest Silver Age incarnation. (Mento remains a dick.) Rather than toning things down, it keeps things strange because that’s the way it’s supposed to be. It wisely trusts the audience to roll with the absurdities The weirdness is what I signed up for, & it does not disappoint!
The characters are from different eras to track how the US & its approach to superheroes has changed. They don’t age, so flashbacks can be disorienting like X-Men prequels. How they process their bizarre predicaments is the series’ foundation. Fortunately the tone isn’t too dour or pretentious. Since they’ve had their abilities for decades, there’s also the issue of why they haven’t learned to master their powers yet. Rita in particular barely scratches the surface of what Elasti-Girl can do, with most of her focus spent on keeping her figure from oozing into a protoplasmic blob.
Instead of Beast Boy being the Teen Titans crossover character, it’s Cyborg. Apparently this was a DC/WB mandate. Despite not being from the comics canon, the show incorporates him well. Joivan Wade’s portrayal is a better adaptation than the movie equivalent because there’s lots more time to develop him & his strained relationship with his dad.
Another big change is that Negative Man is now a closeted homosexual. His internalized homophobia gives former test pilot Larry Trainor his negative vibe more than the mysterious Negative Spirit that resides within him. Realizing the cathartic karaoke performance of “People Like Us”is only happening in Trainor’s repressed mind is so heartbreaking. Matt Bomer is too handsome to conceal under bandages! (Matthew Zuk actually plays him in his Invisible Man gear, because casting two guys with the same first name for one character isn’t confusing at all.)
Hearing Brendan Fraser voice Cliff Steele reminds me how much I’ve missed him. (Riley Shanahan performs in the Robotman suit.) Rather than being updated, Cliff’s replacement body is limited to the 60’s robot standard he was created with. His obsolescence is even more pronounced once Cyborg joins the team. Being robbed of the opportunity to raise his daughter gives him further pathos. Robotman fakes an orgasm to blend in during a particularly outrageous sequence.
I love the diction that April Bowlby says everything as Rita Farr. As a former leading lady, this interpretation of Elasti-Girl (no relation to the The Incredibles’ Elastigirl without the hyphen) lives her life as an extended performance. (Looks like they switched to the more modern Elasti-Woman to lessen confusion.) Her struggle to maintain her physical form coincides with her struggles to reconcile what an unlikable person she was prior to her transformation.
Diane Guerrero does multiple unique performances as Crazy Jane. Unlike the lead of FX’s Legion, they’re unique. (When Legion was recently reintroduced, they gave him even more personalities to rival her sixty-four.) Some cosmetic changes make them more distinct & it’s not as naturalistic as
Typhoid Mary Walker, but it’s stellar work nonetheless. Bucking the stereotype of mentally ill supervillains, rebellious Jane is heroic. Time travel shennanigans make her the pivotal figure in averting Armageddon by starting her own cult whilst institutionalized.
These misfits are spurred into superheroism when Mr. Nobody kidnaps their mentor, Dr. Niles Caulder a.k.a. The Chief. They’re pretty inept at it! Because of the oddball tones & their assorted trauma being on full display, this is not a irritating dealbreaker. When they do manage to pull victory from the jaws of defeat it makes it that much more inspiring. The cleverest bit was how they defeat the universe-destroying Decreator alongside Willoughby “I can’t believe it’s not John Constantine” Kipling with maximum metanarrative. Combining marionettes & massacring Nazis is also fun.
A clip of Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man sold me on this series. Although he’s got one of the best physical powersets in the comics, the TV version is incredibly inept at deploying them. This is a fun running gag, although it’d be cool if A-V-M Man figured out how to be a shockingly effective supervillain next season.
2019: The year Beard Hunter became a household name. Comics Beard Hunter was a fit Punisher parody that got taken out like a chump in his debut because Punisher realistically wouldn’t last in a world of superhumans. TV Beard Hunter is a shlumpy guy like a sterotypical Punisher fan upgraded with methuman powers that make him an actual threat. I’m having a bit of cognitive dissonance with this adaptation.
Danny the Street is a sentient teleporting LGBTQ street. Flex Mentallo the Muscle Man of Mystery bends reality as he flexes. They’re the Doom Patrol’s allies against the Bureau of Normalacy, which is undone by ravenous butts that escape its captivity. This world salad makes more sense in context.
Mr. Nobody is a better version of the Joker than many because he’s actually creative with surrealistic torture instead of just a common mass murderer. (Alan Tudyk will be voicing Mr. J in the Harley Quinn cartoon.) He gives Cyborg a video game victory screen upon nearly beating his dad to death. You’ll never think of “Hot Diggity!”the same way again. Although Erik Morden spends a fair amount of time looking fully human, his partially disjointed Mr. Nobody form is a creepy cool effect.
The White Space is an intriguing metaphyical concept. It’s the white spaces between comic book panels, known as gutters in the industry, where Mr. Nobody resides. (Perhaps its also the White Hot Room, wherein the avatars of the Phoenix Force dwell?) He’s able to reshape the narrative of reality by narrating within this pocket dimension. Rita realizing she can counter him by providing her own stage direction is a nifty character moment.
The finale is a little too abstract for its own good. Nobody, along with Ezekial the cockroach & Admiral Whiskers the rat, traps Danny the Street within a painting. The newly enlarged varmints betray Morden who inexplicably loses his powers inside the painting yet can still narrate? This could’ve been explained better.
Most importantly, this all leads to a kaiju-sized cockroach & rat making out! They made a giant rat stomach for Cliff to flail around in just like I wanted for FILLER! but lacked the time, budget, or skill. (Speaking of which, I just got my first foreign levies check from the WGA for co-writing FILLER! I never expected to make any money off this short film, so this was a lovely surprise. Now I fell like a legitimutant screenwriter. It’s more than I earned in royalties for The Dolorous Adventure of Brother Banenose! So please watch FILLER! again!) Negative Man’s radioactivity tears open the painting dimension for the team to escape shielded within Ezekial’s gullet. Once they emerge they’re miniature-sized, with Danny being reduced to a brick.
The showdown with Nobody in the penultimate episode would’ve been the more satisfying conclusion to the season. Since it’s also the most predictable, I can see why it was subverted. Despite the actual climax being messy, the overall show was still great.
Niles Caulder caused the team’s accidents to workshop immortality so he could protect his daughter, Dorothy Spinner. (Do she & her mother control the giant Wolpertinge?) This is puzzling since he already appears immortal. Weirdly a deleted scene clarifies that he stole an amulet that slows down the aging process that Morden had paid Von Fuchs with. I only recall the theft but not the object being directly referenced in a puppet show.
Unlike the X-Men team uniforms, I think the Doom Patrol uniforms look sharp. (Mostly because its members don’t really have unique costumes.) Hopefully we see them more often in season 2. The world doesn’t need more superheroes in conventional clothes. Negative Man’s bandages soaked in donkey blood, however, ties him into the team colors even without a supersuit.
Foreshadowing suggests The Brotherhood of Evil
Mutants will be the Big Bad of season two. Before becoming Nobody, lowly henchman Eric Morden gets replaced on this team by Monsieur Mallah! Ultramax is an adorably retro robot. Madame Rouge would be a good rival to help tease out Elasti-Woman’s potential. It’d also be trippy to meet the rest of the Brotherhood of Dada.
Oddly the curses are only bleeped out in the deleted scenes & blooper reel. The DVD should’ve included the delightfully offbeat coming attractions. It does have a “PSA” for filming in Georgia (Doom Manor is the old Coca-Cola mansion), which seems like it’d be of most interest to film industry professionals rather than the general public.
While I can’t tell you if DC Universe is worth subscribing to, Doom Patrol is definitely worth watching! I can’t wait for season two! Maybe they can include Ambush Bug? Now on to Swamp Thing! Damn, they nipped that in the bud before the first season was even complete.
Dispatches From Elsewhere feels like Pool Party usurped Dudley & Son! Looks like this’ll make a great double-header with season 3 of Lodge 49! Oh wait, AMC stabbed it in the back like a cad. It could’ve had them both! What’s the point of getting invested in this when AMC couldn’t even bother promoting the quirky diverse esoteric mystery show it already had?
This decision doesn’t compute from a business standpoint. AMC didn’t even wait until it got Hulu ratings from the critically acclaimed second season in before dropping the ax. We couldn’t even support the show by buying physical copies on DVD or Blu-Ray. Replica Lynx rings are the most requested merch by fans that aren’t available. It goes without saying I also would’ve bought a Liz Dudley action figure.
Lodge 49 is a rarity in that it’s not a direct adaptation of anything. Anne With An E’s cancellation by Netflix is getting more buzz because it has fans nostalgic for Lucy Maude Montgomery’s books as well as fans who’ve only been exposed to them through this series. I believe both can be saved, but priority should be given to Lodge 49 since this is its original & possibly only form. (As glad as I am that The Expanse was saved, at least the series would still exist in novels had the fan campaign failed.) Instead of leveraging its uniqueness as a strength, AMC foolishly slew it because it couldn’t promote it as a The Walking Dead spinoff. So if you can only signal boost for one prematurely ended show to be resurrected, make it this one. Lodge 49 forever!