There is a lot of superhero media around right now. Comic books seem to be in a new golden age, and there are more superhero movies and TV shows coming from Marvel and DC than ever before. As someone who grew up reading a lot of superhero comic books from Marvel and DC, I’m very happy with that. But, I recognize that many people may be getting tired of this trend by now. Many production companies have realized this too: series like “The Boys” and “Invincible” satirize and deconstruct the genre. DC found their own answer to the superhero zeitgeist in “Doom Patrol.”
The show is based on the DC Comics team of the same name, which debuted in 1963 from creators Arnold Drake and Bob Haney, but was largely considered to come into its own in 1989 under writer Grant Morrison. The basic concept of the Doom Patrol is that, for some unknown cause, a mysterious scientist known as Niles Caulder, aka the Chief (Timothy Dalton), has gathered a group of powered individuals to live in his remote mansion as a refuge for a world that has rejected them. Their powers all cause them to have an extended lifespan, so many of them originate from different points in the 20th and 21st centuries.
The main cast of characters is notable: Cliff Steele, aka Robotman (Brendan Fraser); Rita Farr, aka Elasti-Woman (April Bowlby); Larry Trainor, aka Negative Man (Matt Bomer); Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero); and Victor Stone, aka Cyborg (Joivan Wade). However, as they themselves often say within the show, to call them “superheroes” would be a stretch. In reality, despite having superpowers, these people are for the most part pessimistic and traumatized. Cliff Steele was a NASCAR driver from the 1980s who, after an accident that left his body destroyed, had his brain placed into a faulty robot body. Rita Farr was an actress from the 1950s who gained elastic powers that disfigured her, ruining her life, before she slowly gained control of them. Larry Trainor was an Air Force pilot from the 1960s who fused with a spirit made of negative energy. Jane suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) and has 64 personalities, each having a different superpower. The running theme with these origin stories is that the way that the characters gained their powers ruined their lives in every other way. By presenting its characters in this way, “Doom Patrol” flips the idea of the superhero story on its head: the characters must become good people despite their superhuman abilities, not because they have them.
The first season’s plot starts when the reality-warping, fourth-wall-breaking being known as Mr. Nobody (Alan Tudyk) abducts the Chief, leaving the rest of the cast to try to find the man who brought them together. Along the way, the team delves into their own repressed trauma—Cliff deals with his addictive personality and toxic mentality and Rita tries to become a “normal” person despite her unstable physical form. We learn that Larry was a closeted gay man during the 1960s who still struggles with his identity in the modern day and that Jane suffered from horrific abuse as a young child. Along the way, they must learn to accept each other and themselves to find the Chief.
To call “Doom Patrol” weird is an understatement. It is unashamed to take inspiration from the strangeness of 1960s comics and, in my opinion, may even turn it up a notch. Brendan Fraser as a sarcastic, foulmouthed robot is hilarious, as is Alan Tudyk as a Deadpool-esque fourth-wall breaking villain/narrator. To scratch the surface, other characters include a man who has a different superpower for each muscle he flexes, a living street that communicates by flashing words on street signs, a donkey whose insides contain a pocket dimension and an army of carnivorous human butts. One of the main messages of “Doom Patrol” is to embrace the weirdness of life and to stop trying to be “normal” or fit in. In fact, one of the antagonistic forces throughout the show is a government organization literally named the Bureau of Normalcy, which seeks to contain and imprison anything which threatens their own arbitrary view of what should be “normal.”
The acting in “Doom Patrol” is also phenomenal. The series brings in greats like Matt Bomer, Timothy Dalton and Alan Tudyk and heralds the return of the incredible Brendan Fraser to our screens with a lot of four-letter words to say. However, in most discussion about “Doom Patrol,” you would find that the stand-out performance is Diane Guerrero as Jane. Her portrayal of not only Jane but also her many alters brings the entire show to the next level, as well as being one of the most realistic portrayals of DID in modern TV. Each personality is a distinct character in both behavior and looks, but they all manage to retain the core of who Jane is.
All in all, “Doom Patrol” is so much more than a show about superheroes, or even a show about how much it sucks to be a superhero. It’s a show about trauma, about family, about accepting oneself and about a guy who eats beard hair. And honestly, I think you should do yourself a favor and give it a watch. All three seasons of “Doom Patrol” are available to watch on HBO Max.