TV Reviews

Binge Report: Doom Patrol Settles into Greatness

As DC Universe handles the confusing fallout from the Swamp Thing cancellation, the executives in charge really want everyone to know that as far as they’re concerned everything is business as usual. Until WarnerMedia tells them otherwise, they are moving forward with their development slate and making decisions about their already existing shows. Item #1 on that schedule should be deciding to renew Doom Patrol, which recently wrapped its first season and is still awaiting word on whether there’ll be a second go around with comic book TV’s weirdest outcasts.

When last I wrote about this show, I was five episodes into a binge of the first season, which I found to be entertaining but perhaps a tad guilty of trying a too hard to stand out amid the glut of superhero TV. Any show which ends a pilot with a small town being sucked into a donkey’s ass – that’s right, you heard me – is certainly guaranteed to get your attention, but when it keeps doing those kinds of crazy stunts – which Doom Patrol does through its first 5 episodes – at the expense of the characters the novelty wears a bit thin.

To use a baseball analogy, it felt like watching a pitching prospect throwing too hard after a promotion to the majors. He’s so amped up and flowing with adrenaline he wants to blow everyone away with fastballs. Eventually, though, a coach will tell him to settle down and just be himself.

That’s what Doom Patrol does in its second five episodes – it simply settles down, and in so doing it quickly becomes a truly fantastic superhero show with compelling characters. Beyond that, rather than simply retread X-Men comic book tropes it actually becomes about something, weaving #MeToo, mental health, and homophobic opression commentaries into its larger narrative about its titular group of outsiders.

Crucially, Mr. Nobody, Alan Tudyk’s scene-stealing and somewhat overpowered villain – seriously, what can’t he do? – recedes into the background, freeing the show to dwell on the characters and further explore their origin stories. Beyond that, the clearly clever writers stretch their muscles not just to surprise but to find creative ways to visualize the characters’ internal struggles.

Thus, in one episode (“Jane Patrol”) we go inside Jane’s mind and meet her different personalities milling around in a warehouse-like building where they have set rules and procedures to determine who gets to go up top – via a subway – and when. Since they’re all played by different actresses and Diane Guerrera’s Jane is present in the warehouse and refusing to go back up top, we get to see the personalities actually interact, which is a fascinating way of depicting dissociative identity disorder. It’s at least a better crack at it than some full-length movies I’ve seen.

In another episode (“Therapy Patrol”), the characters actually sit down to a therapy session initiated by Cliff and finally open about all of their secrets. In an even more unexpected episode (“Hair Patrol”), we travel back to 1913 to see the moment Chief’s’s worldview changed for good and why he has become so protective of/secretive about the odd and supernatural. Prior to that (“Danny Patrol”), Larry’s still somewhat closeted homosexuality is explored to empowering effect when he’s transported to a secretive place meant as a safe haven for society’s down and discriminated.

Of course, this is still Doom Patrol. So, of course Mr. Nobody’s meta-commentaries and WTF jokes continue to factor in, which is how one of the deepest and most thoughtful episodes of the season ends on a twist featuring a hilarious – spoiler – vengeance-seeking rat named Admiral Whiskers. Plus, “we should seriously fear” Mr. Nobody is very well established in “Doom Patrol Patrol,” which shows us just what happens to superheroes who try to go up against him.

The funniest “Nooooooooooo!” cry I’ve ever seen

That kind of highly memeable material is part of the Doom Patrol equation, but it doesn’t mean anything if the characters aren’t worth caring about. I wasn’t totally feeling that in the first part of my binge, but I’ve fallen for it hook line and sinker as the season has progressed. Now, there are five episodes left and the overarching storyline of saving Chief from Mr. Nobody must be solved. To be honest, though, I’m just down for spending more time with these people as they lead their strange, sad, damaged lives which are made the slightest bit better by being around one another. I almost don’t care if Chief comes back.

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9 comments

  1. –> “To use a baseball analogy – which I’ll do because I’m an old white guy”

    Yeah, because black guys never use baseball analogies. Neither do women. Or young people. Got it.

    1. So, do you want to talk about Doom Patrol at all, the thing I just wrote about? Or are we going to go down this road about baseball because I made a dumb joke about it?

      Fine. It’s on me for including what I thought was a dig at myself, but if you want backup:

      “Baseball has the oldest viewers of the top major sports, with 50% of its audience 55 or older (up from 41% a decade ago), according to Nielsen ratings. The average age of baseball viewers is 53, compared with 47 for the NFL and 37 for the NBA, according to the ratings.”

      – MarketWatch (https://www.marketwatch.com/story/5-ways-mlb-is-trying-to-get-younger-fans-interested-in-baseball-2017-02-22)

      83% of baseball TV viewers are white, according to Nielsen, as of 2017. (https://www.vox.com/2016/10/27/13416798/cubs-dodgers-baseball-white-diverse)

      Only 30% of baseball fans are female, according to a 2015 study (http://demographicpartitions.org/demographics-of-sports-fans-u-s/)

      Statistically speaking, it’s an old white man’s game. Making baseball analogies is thus increasingly an old white guy writer thing to do, which is exactly why I was taught in college social science statistics classes that it’s something you should never do. It comes from a place of assumed common acknowledge, but the actual statistics indicate when you make that assumption you are turning a large percentage of readers into an out-group who is being talked to as if it’s weird that they’re not part of the in-group.

      But, yes, it’s 2019. Younger, female, and/or black writers also make baseball analogies. It’s not the exclusive province of men like me. I obviously shouldn’t have included the statement mostly because it’s an in-joke at myself that didn’t actually contribute anything to the story. Clearly, in your case it became the only thing you possibly cared to comment on, largely because it stands out as a weird thing to have been dropped into a review of a comic book TV show. But, seriously, do you actually want to talk about Doom Patrol?

  2. Ooh, ooh, I do! I could definitely see the potential for greatness in the pilot. As I noted in my mini-review, I know almost nothing at all about this team, beyond Cyborg, and Beast Boy, and only because they were in the Teen Titans.

    Unlike you, though, I loved the characters (well most of them) right from the jump. The acting and writing really sold me on them, which worked for me, because it’s often how I find my way into loving a show (and why I always refer to it as dating.) Of all the characters, I had a hard time cozying up to Jane, even though I like that actress a lot, but I haven’t seen the last five episodes, which I’ll get to this weekend. They all sound intriguing. You’ve re-sparked my enthusiasm for the show, because I’d left off while I was watching other stuff.

    I do agree that the pilot was trying really hard, but I was okay with that. And I loved when Cyborg showed up. I got nothing about that whole donkey thing, though. 😶 I can handle weird just fine, up to a point, but when you get to Legion levels of bizarre, I tend to check out. Doom Patrol has not reached that level, and still feels somewhat grounded.

    So, my homework then, is to finish up Swamp Thing, Doom Patrol, and NOS4A2.

    1. To be fair, my struggle to connect to the characters at first might simply be on me. I was second screen viewing the first two episodes – meaning I was half-watching it while working on my computer. So, maybe I missed out on some of the story intricacies. However, in broad terms the themes and characters felt very familiar and thinly sketched, except for Mr. Nobody. What I didn’t expect, however, is that after the show’s brief intro and crazy donkey fart shenanigans the rest of the season really is just a smaller, deliberately paced character study about a bunch of screwed up people. By the end, I loved all of them and didn’t care if it all built to a superhero throwdown or not.

      “So, my homework then, is to finish up Swamp Thing, Doom Patrol, and NOS4A2.”

      I haven’t actually watched any more of Swamp Thing. Not sure if I will due to its cancellation, but the people who made the show probably don’t deserve that kind of rejection. I have now finished Doom Patrol. Just haven’t had a minute to write about it on the site yet. Love how the season ends. NOS4A2 is far more of a mood piece for me, in that I have to be in the right mindset for it. I tried the pilot and just wasn’t feeling it, not because it was bad but because I wasn’t in the mood for its Channel Zero-style slow horror. What I saw, however, was undeniably well done. I’ll be checking back in on that one soon.

      So, my TV homework includes: NOS4A2, Chernoybl, Los Espookys, What We Do in the Shadows, Big Little Lies. I fell behind on a lot of stuff this past month, mostly because I spent a lot of my movie/TV-watching time binging old Godzilla movies.

      1. Son of Godzilla, All Monsters Attack, Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, Godzilla 2000, Mothra vs. Godzilla, Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, Invasion of Astro-Monster and at least two others I had on in the background but don’t really remember.

        Yeah, I went a bit crazy, largely because I realized there are a lot of of these movies I’d never seen before. I ended up being a little more partial to the Showa era films, but holy hell if you haven’t seen 2001’s Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack it’s surprisingly great. It flips a lot of expectations – Godzilla as the villain and Ghidorah as the good guy! – and has human characters worth caring about as well as a healthy mixture of camp and angst.

      2. I’ll check it out. I’d never given that one much thought before. I do prefer the movies made during the 50s and early sixties but I haven’t seen a lot of them since I was a kid. I remember liking the ones with the baby Godzilla, which my Mom hates with a passion, and which a lot of people consider an abomination. I also remember watching the cartoon (with accompanying theme song) with the Godzuki character.

      3. I’m with you on Son of Godzilla. It’s hated by virtually everyone, but, dammit, it’s a cute, goofy little movie. It probably helps that I saw it young and it was one of the first Godzilla things I ever saw. I’m aware of the cartoon, but I haven’t seen it.

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