The Apeshit Genius of DC’s ‘Doom Patrol,’ the Best Superhero Show You’re Not Watching

Gabe Bergado
HBO Max

In the penultimate episode of Doom Patrol’s first season, the ragtag group of superpowered misfits hold hands as they wait to be transported into the White Space of a comic book, the space between panels, the “area where there is no story.” It also serves as a pocket dimension where the villainous Mr. Nobody (Alan Tudyk) has been hiding and keeping the genius Dr. Niles Caulder (Timothy Dalton) hostage. The heroes are being whisked into this meta setting through the reality-contorting powers of the mystical himbo Flex Mentallo (Devan Long). As they stand there, fingers interlaced, Mentallo flexes. The adventurers start tingling, shaking, overcome with an otherworldly bodily sensation. But something is off. Flex has flexed the wrong muscle. Diane Guerrero’s Crazy Jane exclaims, “We’re fucking cumming, man!” and everyone simultaneously orgasms to the blasting tune of Eric Carmen’s 1975 hit “All by Myself.” 

Doom Patrol is not at all like the many sterilized superhero movies and shows that we’ve seen over the last decade of the genre’s explosion on screen. The grandeur of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, the beaming ideals of superherodom, is nowhere to be found here. Doom Patrol also feels less like the procedurals of the CW’s Arrowverse, though it does share similarities with the wackier Legends of Tomorrow. Its genre-bending episodes and multi-dimensional characters are reminiscent instead of all-time genre TV greats like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Magicians. For those not already in the know, it must be said: Doom Patrol boasts some of the most bonkers, experimental, and phenomenal storytelling on TV today. It’s the best superhero show you’re not already watching. 

Based on the comics of the same name, Doom Patrol until now has been nestled away on the DC Universe subscription streaming service. (The service has not released an official paid subscriber count, though data collected by Sensor Tower tallied roughly 33,000 in the first two weeks after the app’s September 2018 launch.) The show’s characters were first introduced during a season one episode of Titans, another lesser-known DC Universe gem. 

Doom Patrol’s freshman season has recently become available to stream on HBO Max and the first three episodes of the new season premiered June 25, hopefully prodding more viewers to indulge in its apeshit genius. So far, season 2 dives deeper into the Doom Patrol’s universe and only continues to demonstrate its flair for inventive absurdity while also introducing a malevolent new threat. 

At the beginning of the series, we meet the Doom Patrol, a tattered band of freaks living in a secluded mansion. These individuals have hid away from society, scarred by the tragedies and unwanted gifts that led to their powers and immortality. 

Robotman aka Cliff Steele (Brendan Fraser) is the brain of a former racecar driver controlling a clunky yet powerful metallic body. Ex-hotshot Air Force pilot Larry Trainor (Matt Bomer) is so disfigured from an atmospheric plane crash that he keeps himself wrapped up like a mummy; the accident left him with radioactive skin and a parasitic, shimmering entity dubbed the Negative Spirit living within him. There’s Crazy Jane, a young woman with 64 different personalities that can take over at any time, each with their own unique power. The glamorous, onetime old Hollywood actress Rita Farr (April Bowlby) can hardly keep it together—literally. After being exposed to a toxic gas that left her cells unstable, she often melts into a huge blob of skin. Rounding out the team is Joivan Wade’s Vic Stone/Cyborg, the most heroic of all on paper, who has been using the tech merged with his body after a lab explosion to fight crime. 

All together, they are a bumbling group of weirdos who only stumble into preventing the apocalypse after Caulder, their leader, is kidnapped by Mr. Nobody. On their journey to find him, they continually end up having to save the day. One lead sends them to Paraguay, where they find clues about Niles’ disappearance from a puppet show about a Nazi scientist. In another episode, Cliff begins experiencing hallucinations; soon, they all realize it’s because a rat named Admiral Whiskers beckoned by Mr. Nobody has crawled into Cliff’s head. Another standout from season one sees Larry and Vic coming across Danny, a sentient, genderqueer, teleporting street (yes, you read that right) who has become a safe haven for other outcasts. Their residents include a Black drag queen named Maura Lee Karupt, who beats the crap out of an agent from the evil organization known as the Bureau of Normalcy. Happy Pride, y’all. 

These are just a few of the loony storylines that make Doom Patrol such an enthralling breath of fresh air. The characters of Doom Patrol feel less like superheroes with sob-story origins and more like survivors of trauma figuring out who they are—while simultaneously interrogating what they should do with these acquired powers. Some of these characters have had their crude abilities for years (Larry joined Doom manor in 1966, for example, while Rita had already lived there for some time when he arrived). Only once they begin to process their traumas are they able to rise.

For Cliff, that means contending with the fact that he was actually a pretty awful father when he was human. Cyborg grapples with the accident he caused that killed his mother and left him critically injured—the impetus for his father turning him into this technological beast. Crazy Jane must finally acknowledge the abuse she suffered as a child, and how its after-effects have manifested into dangerous substance abuse and mental strain. Larry faces how he wasn’t brave enough to be his true self while he was in the Air Force: He was in love with another man, whom he ultimately let down. And April, to put it lightly, was a straight-up jerk, a facade she put up to keep others out.

[Spoiler alert for season two below.]

Season two picks up in the aftermath of a massive revelation. Niles was actually the mastermind behind each of his charge’s accidents, each one of his semi-failed experiments in a quest for immortality. His motive? Something to do with his mysterious daughter Dorothy (Abigail Shapiro), whom he hid away for decades. She somehow is perpetually stuck as an elementary school-aged girl, but has a volatile connection to a dangerous being that, you guessed it, could bring the end of the world.  

Season two will surely continue taking fans for more twists and turns in the light of the group’s discovery. It’s unclear if there will be a happy ending, but at least they had one last season. One thing is for certain: With its unique blend of full-on nuttiness, refreshing protagonists, and unabashed confidence to go where no other superhero show has gone before, Doom Patrol is more than worth giving a watch.

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