On Doom Patrol

“I’ve seen a lot of s***. But this? Y’all ain’t right.”

Roni Evers sums up the series in one sentence.

[Potential spoilers for Doom Patrol seasons 1 and 2]

The DC Universe (and now HBO Max) show Doom Patrol is about a group of unconventional heroes. Led by Dr. Niles Caulder (Timothy Dalton), aka The Chief, the Doom Patrol consists of:

Rita Farr (April Bowby): a golden age era actress with elastic skin who is unable to fully control when and where she becomes elastic. When she is upset, for example, her facial skin starts to droop.

Larry Trainor (voiced by Matt Bomer): a pilot with a being of energy – the “Negative Spirit” – in his body; his body was irradiated and burned, requiring him to wear bandages from head to toe.

Cliff Steele (voiced by Brendan Fraser): a race car driver who’s brain was transplanted into a robot by The Chief.

Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero): Kay Challis, a young woman with 64 personalities, each with a different super power.

Cyborg (Joivan Wade): Vic Stone, a young man with cybernetic enhance-ments including an operating system/supercomputer called GRID.

The Doom Patrol (minus Cyborg, who was out being heroic somewhere)

Each of our heroes has a tragic backstory, and when they cross paths with The Chief, he takes them in to live at Doom Manor in Ohio. When they decide they’ve been cooped up in the mansion for too long and venture out into the nearby town of Cloverton, hijinks ensue. Rita ends up becoming unstable and her body morphs into a giant blob; Larry’s negative energy releases from his body and fries everything in its path. Jane becomes a giant entity with a flaming head ready to incinerate Rita, but Cliff grabs the road and lifts it up to block Rita’s path. The team retreats, and when they return to Cloverton with The Chief, find a donkey roaming around. The donkey farts, and the visible gas that rises forms the words “The mind is the limit.” Season 1’s big bad, Mr. Nobody (Alan Tudyk), a fourth wall breaking narrator able to time travel and warp reality, creates a giant sinkhole in the middle of town which sucks in everything around it… and that’s the end of episode 1.

The Doom Patrol has faced adversaries, among others: a goat who can transport people to different dimensions, Doctor Tyme – a man with a clock for a head who controls spacetime, a giant sentient cockroach, a cult bent on bringing about the end of the world via a huge eyeball in the sky, Beard Hunter – a man who eats facial hair and can track down its owner, and recently Scants – pink mite-like infections that cause their victims to have terrible ideas. Their allies are just as strange: Flex Mentallo (Devan Chandler Long) is a strongman who can flex his muscles to alter reality. Danny the Street is a sentient street on which colorful residents – Dannyzens – live. Willoughby Kipling (Mark Sheppard) is a magician and member of the Knights Templar. And Roni Evers, who so succinctly summed up the Doom Patrol, is an ex-soldier who had cybernetic enhancements grafted into her body; though these were forcibly removed.

The Chief as seen by Cliff Steele

Doom Patrol is delightfully odd, and leans into that oddness whenever possible. A team called Sex-Men tasked with clearing out sexual ghosts? Sure. A man who, because he wants super powers, undergoes “treatment” and becomes a being with a human head, a second dinosaur head, and tree limbs? Absolutely. Wall-crawling butts with limbs and razor teeth? You betcha. Season 2 goes a bit crazier, introducing Niles’ daughter Dorothy Spinner (Abigail Shapiro) and her ability to manifest imaginary friends.

It is so unlike any super hero show that’s come before it, much to its credit; it’s not afraid to be at the same time weird and strange and moral and cringey and taboo. It asks “What would happen if people stumbled into becoming super heroes?” Can people who are deeply flawed and struggle with responsibility, guilt, remorse, and even sanity really help the rest of humanity? At this point several members of the team don’t have full control of their powers; Rita and Larry struggle, but are making strides while also battling their personal demons.

The performances are incredible all around, but the true star of the show has to be Diane Guerrero as Crazy Jane. Jane changes personalities on a whim, and each one has not only a specific super power, but physical appearance and personal affectations as well. Guerrero effortlessly flits between each personality while making them all seem distinct – you thoroughly believe you are watching different people housed in Jane’s body. Karen, the homemaker and hopeless romantic, is worlds apart from Baby Doll, the young girl who just wants to play and make friends. Hammerhead is the tattooed tough as nails enforcer, while Penny Farthing is a shy British girl with a stutter. Silver Tongue can create sharp metal words from her speech, which she uses to throw at people, while Lucy Fugue can control electricity. It’s all incredible to watch as one personality switches into another, and hopefully they can touch on many more of the residents of The Undergound – the metaphorical place in Kay’s mind where the personalities reside.

If you’re sick of the same old super hero tropes, check out Doom Patrol (and its polar opposite, DC’s Stargirl). I’ve never read the Doom Patrol comics (though I’ve read through a bunch of wikis for some context), so I’m usually pleasantly surprised where the stories go, and there’s quite literally nothing the show can’t do in its universe. Its mix of action, absurdity, humor and outright weirdness are really something to behold.

M

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