And after nearly a year, Doom Patrol has returned — now fun sized!
Of course, the condition of Cliff (Brendan Fraser), Rita (April Bowlby), Jane (Diane Guerrero), the Chief (Timothy Dalton) and Dorothy (Abigail Shapiro) is foremost the subject of the first of three episodes made available today on both DC Universe and HBO Max. As continues to be the case with the original scripted material developed for DC Universe — except, oddly, Titans and Young Justice — the series now has home on the niche service and a more high profile aspect of the WarnerMedia empire; in this case, the company’s answer to Netflix, Disney+, and Hulu. And, as odd as it seems, Doom Patrol fits right in with the sort of premium tier content HBO Max wants to offer. In fact, it makes slightly more sense on that platform than even DC Universe.
Picking up from last season’s finale, the Chief tries his best to restore the others to their normal size despite, as we learn, spending months at failing to do so. Then again, since the others learned about his part in their transformations, the whole point of the Chief is that he is as much of a screw-up as the rest of the Doom Patrol. This appears to be one of the major running themes of the year as we learn a change to the status quo means he cannot expect to care for Dorothy much longer. The subsequent episodes available today see the team attempting to both become surrogate parents for the child or attempting to find way to slow the Chief’s aging. These endeavors go about as well as his initial attempts to restore their size in Episode 1. This is, of course, thematically consistent with Doom Patrol as a series and one of the reasons it is, ultimately, the best of the DC Universe live action dramas.
And remember how much we love Swamp Thing when we say this.
The relentlessness of the group’s relative incompetence can be emotionally draining at times. In fact, we were pretty tired by the time the Chief wheeled in for his dinner with Red Jack (Roger Floyd) in Episode 3. Nevertheless, their failures make them human and quite appealing. Cliff’s tendency to swear all the time feels lived in. Rita’s almost manic high and lows are recognizable. Larry’s (Matt Bomer) self-loathing is universal even as it speaks to a very specific experience of closeted men in the 20th Century. And though Jane’s personalities may still reflect a certain misunderstanding of Dissociative Personality Disorder, the attempts her personas make to shield the original from trauma rings true.
Then there’s Cyborg (Joivan Wade). When he was first announced as part of the cast, taking Beast Boy’s spot on the team, it seemed strange. The storyline pitted his more assured superhero persona against the overall tone of Doom Patrol as a series. And what we got for the journey was a body horror story tinged with severe trauma. It’s an exploration of Vic Stone some have attempted before, but we don’t think it has even been as successful as it is here. Season 2 introduces the notion of a love interest for him. And while we love the chemistry Wade shares with Karen Obilom on screen, the fact Vic and Roni Evers (Obilom) meet at a therapy group gives us pause. Then again, Roni’s name will give steely-eyed watchers some clue as to where her story might go — potentially making the problematic meet cute more appropriate than it seems at the moment.
But getting back to Vic, giving him even an episode’s worth of relating to someone on a purely physical level is something new for this show. And seemingly anticipating the COVID-19 pandemic, Doom Patrol‘s second season seems concerned with various forms of physical intimacy even as it continues to explore the difficulties of finding emotional intimacy. People hug — something rarely seen last year. Rita, despite some stumbling, seems comfortable in her body. The variety of ways both themes are examined, in terms of the characters and the way they are externalized visually, sets the series apart from many of the other superhero shows.
Then it does something completely ridiculous like letting Cliff smash up the bus while a pair of cops look on and deadpan about this robot having a mental collapse in front of them. This was always an element of the Doom Patrol comic — and something carried over to the first season — but the jokes seem to be landing with a greater punch, as do the moments of viscous, grisly violence.
Is Doom Patrol worth your time? Definitely. It’s not always an easy watch — we fell off it last year because were not always in the right headspace for it. But it is a series of surprising quality and depth. And if you’re come to this as an HBO Max subscriber, welcome. You’ve never really seen a show like this before.
Doom Patrol streams Thursdays on DC Universe and HBO Max.