DOOM PATROL / REVIEWED: SEASON ONE (ALL EPISODES) / WHERE TO WATCH: DC UNIVERSE
The notion that something is ‘unfilmable’ is ridiculous. Everything is filmable, especially anything committed to the four-colour comic book page, which is just another form of sequential art; what are movies, after all, if not a series of comic book panels laid end to end? However, if you were to accept the premise that certain things are at least more difficult to adapt for the moving image than others, Grant Morrison’s run on Doom Patrol from 1989 to 1992 would certainly be up there.
Morrison inherited a Doom Patrol title that was about to be cancelled. The writer was part of the second wave of young British talent to break into the US comics scene, and had turned heads with Arkham Asylum the year before. Given free rein on what would soon become the template for the nascent Vertigo line, Morrison went crazy. Literally.
His Doom Patrol, the one that features (with minor adjustments) in the DC Universe TV series, retained the ever-present Robotman and re-tooled fellow original Negative Man, but let them grow as Cliff Steele and Larry Trainor. More importantly, he surrounded them with a cast of weirdos; a reality-shaping ape girl, a transgender and transracial composition called Rebis, a living street, and a girl with 64 personalities, each one of them with their own superpower.
The DC Universe show, the second live-action offering from the streaming service (the core of this Doom Patrol appeared in an episode of the first, Titans), overlooks Rebis and waits to introduce Danny the Street, instead bringing back DP OG Rita ‘Elasti-Girl’ Farr and inserting Cyborg into the mix, the latter an interesting move given Cyborg’s elevation to the big guns in the lacklustre Justice League movie.
The show begins with Steele, Trainor, and Farr living in a remote mansion with the Doom Patrol’s Chief, Dr Niles Caulder. While Caulder is away on business, a returning Crazy Jane convinces the others to take a trip into the nearby town, against the Chief’s wishes, which results in their location being discovered by The Chief’s arch-enemy, Mr Nobody. Nobody opens a vortex inside a farting donkey, which sucks up the town, the Chief, and Crazy Jane, and from there things get even stranger...
If the show can be sold on its off-the-wall weirdness - and if you can’t pique people’s interest with the Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man, puppet Nazis, a revenge-crazed rat, and someone called the Beard Hunter, then what are you even doing? - the performances of the principles are the reason to stick around. Timothy Dalton as The Chief and Brendan Fraser as the voice of Robotman (and his pre-robot human self) are the marquee stars, but the real value is to be found in the quartet of Farr, Trainor, Jane, and Nobody.
April Bowlby as Rita, and Matt Bomer as Larry, are exercises in years of regret, both having committed - to them - terrible acts before befalling their current misfortune. Alan Tudyk has an absolute ball as Mr Nobody (who also breaks the fourth wall as the show’s narrator) but Diane Guerrero’s Crazy Jane is the star; although there are some minor physical clues when she switches personalities, the real proof is in Guerrero’s acting, portraying a dozen roles on one show, often half as many in one episode, and keeping them all distinct and real.
Uber-showrunner Greg Berlanti does a magnificent job of keeping everything together, which can’t have been easy given the surreal nature of the storylines and that the fifteen episodes were helmed by thirteen different directors and scripted by a team of ten writers. It also keeps the aesthetic of the earlier Titans series - DC Universe is now two for two - which is encouraging ahead of this summer’s Swamp Thing production. That DC Universe has so quickly slipped into a successful, critically-favourable formula that nevertheless presents faithful comic book adaptations is a wonderful sign, and whets the appetite for the later-scheduled Stargirl and season two of Titans.
Although superheroes are very much nothing to be ashamed of these days, Doom Patrol is that rare show that will appeal to non-superhero fans - smart, action-packed, dramatic, and funny - while still retaining the absolute spirit of its source material. We are living in a golden age of creator-led television but even so, Doom Patrol is a very, very special thing indeed.