On February 15th, some of the world’s strangest superheroes will debut in their own self-titled series from the DC Universe streaming service. Doom Patrol, a spin-off of Titans, will follow the adventures of the titular group when they are recruited by tech-based hero Cyborg, to stop the villainous Mr. Negative from taking over the world. That premise isn’t really conveyed during the first episode of the series, but the premiere is a good re-introduction to the team of outsiders.
Doom Patrol’s first episode can be best described as unconventional and slightly off-putting, but the show is explicitly aware of that. The premiere relies heavily on narration, goes meta very fast, and makes frequent use of flashbacks as a narrative device. These are all narrative elements that, when mishandled, greatly weaken a television series. But Doom Patrol manages to use each in tandem, creating a very unique viewing experience that sets the series apart from others in this oversaturated genre. The series’ humorous tone and self-referential nature also allows Doom Patrol to stand apart from its grim parent show, with the events of the group’s appearance on Titans not being referenced.
DC Universe’s third original series pulls heavily from Grant Morrison’s run on the Doom Patrol comics which were known for taking creative risks. However, this series takes its time in revealing the fantastical elements of its mythology. Doom Patrol’s primary focus in the series premiere is the cast of colorful characters. This approach grounds the more fantastical parts of the story, saved mainly for the episode’s climax, in character development.
The returning characters from the team’s guest appearance on Titans are at the forefront of the episode. Rita Farr (Elasti-woman), Cliff Steel (Robot-man) and Larry Trainer (Negative man) each have their backgrounds explained through the episode’s non-liner narrative. The three have all experienced tragedy and loneliness, with the Doom Patrol team acting as a dysfunctional family unit. They watch out for each other in a world that can’t quite understand them.
Brendan Fraser’s Cliff Steel is arguably the central character in this episode, serving as the audiences point-of-view, all while having the most screen time devoted to his origin. His is a tragic story, but it sets up a redemptive arc for the character, as Cliff embraces his second life. Fraser’s flashbacks as the human Cliff remind audiences of his comedic work like The Mummy, but the actor also proves he can handle serious drama once his character is robbed of a ‘normal’ life.
Rita Farr and Larry Trainer both suffer from physical conditions that make them outsiders; rejected from society due to abnormalities beyond their control. Their origins don’t get the spotlight that Cliff’s does, but the writers do a good job of establishing each character’s traits and motivation. There is no doubt that they each will have a future episode that dives deeper into their pasts.
Crazy Jane is the only member of the team new to the streaming service’s shared universe. Though Kay Challis gives a good performance, Crazy Jane is depicted as more of a supporting character in the series’ premiere. She does not get the kind of attention the other characters do and ultimately, feels like Cliff’s sidekick. This is only the first episode, but it is odd to make Cliff the POV character when Jane is the only new addition to the team following their appearance on Titans, and as a result is the least defined of the four when the credits role.
The pilot doesn’t spend much time setting up the first season’s over-arching storyline, with Alan Tudyk’s Mr. Nobody only having a small role in the episode (he’s great by the way). Doom Patrol’s first episode mainly establishes the core theme of the first season and the actual plot will probably take shape in the second episode. The result is a slow-paced opening, but one that has – for the most part – well developed characters and a lot of heart.
Doom Patrol’s pilot episode is one large character piece for the team as experienced by audience surrogate character Cliff Steel. It doesn’t dig into the meat of the series, but it builds investment in the main cast.