Thanks to the advent of streaming services and binge culture, there is no shortage of comics-adapted television out there. Sure, we’ve seen plenty of straightforward popular stuff like Supergirl or Daredevil, but things have also gotten more niche. Whether it’s a show like Runaways featuring a CGI dinosaur or Legion’s portrayal of psychic dance battles, the lineup of superhero shows gets bolder and stranger with each passing year.
That said, Doom Patrol, which debuted earlier this year on DC Universe and wraps up season 1 this week, is by far the strangest, most delightful, and unexpected show I’ve seen in years. It took a few episodes, but by the third one I was completely hooked. Based off the comic created by Arnold Drake, Bob Haney, and Bruno Premiani, and later revamped by Grant Morrison/Richard Case, Doom Patrol has so much originality and depth that it left me gobsmacked week after week. If you’re not watching this show, here are five reasons you should be:
The Doom Patrol isn’t a team of shiny superheroes, a team of super-villains working to thwart those heroes, or even bad guys with a change of heart. They’re flawed, but trying, and their quests are less of the greater-good variety and more of the personal, soul-searching kind (even if they do casually prevent an apocalypse or two along the way). Each of the team members has your standard issue set of powers. What’s different about this show is the way they view and use them: as consequences and reminders of the mistakes they made in life they must learn to use and accept rather than invitations to a virtuous or higher moral calling. It’s refreshing to see this team as a found family working for smaller stakes and through very human issues – more often through things like superhero therapy than sprawling battles.
Forget “F*ck Batman.” Losing the trappings and censorship of network television should be freeing, but not in a gritty-for-the-sake-of-being-gritty sort of way. Doom Patrol proves that television can be so much better without network restrictions, but not by going out of the way to be edgy or dark in a simply R-rated sense. Instead of the typical violence and nudity we get things like flesh-eating butt monsters, kinky beard consumption, and accidental ensemble climaxes.
Also if you have young kids they maybe shouldn’t watch this?
This leads us to an important third reason Doom Patrol works so well: a lack of pompous nonsense. Some of what I’ve said so far probably sounds bizarre and maybe even off-putting on paper, but the most amazing thing about Doom Patrol is that it’s equal parts absurd and accessible. I like abstract and strange storytelling, but I also think it’s easy for creatives to let the obscure or mysterious nature of a story overshadow the emotional connection with the audience (Legion Season 2, I’m looking at you). Doom Patrol made me think, always, but it’s also not afraid to let the audience feel in equal measure.
For a show whose central villain is the Bureau of Normalcy, Doom Patrol is decidedly normal – as in, representative of how real life actually works – for a superhero show. It’s 2019, but we still live in a world where Marvel’s closest move towards LGBTQ+ representation on the big screen is a small cameo from an unnamed character. Television has been better, but our screens are still often very unlike our day-to-day worlds, whether that be representations of race, gender, sexual orientation, or representation of people with disabilities. And yet Doom Patrol, by featuring a genderqueer street named Danny or an irradiated pilot wrapped in bandages and lamenting living his life in the closet, gets us closer to representation in a single episode than the MCU has in more than a dozen films.
The MVP of the proceedings here is Diane Guerrero, who has the Herculean task of portraying dozens of various personalities on-screen (Crazy Jane has 64 distinct personalities in total) and gives James McAvoy’s performance in Glass a serious run for his money. Fortunately unlike McAvoy, she’s not the only one on screen trying. Alan Tudyk is the fourth-wall breaking, narrating, plotting, and mischievous Mr. Nobody, who manages a sort of easy, gleeful, but horrifying menace that would make the list of Oscar-hungry Joker casting rejects singe with jealousy. Matt Bomer appears on screen only intermittently as a flash back to Negative Man’s former self, but every occasion for his return makes full use of his quiet charm, and April Bowby‘s performance as Elasti-Woman conjures every perfect image of a classic film actress, even complete with a touch of the old Transatlantic accent. Suffice it to say everyone is doing their fair share of heavy lifting, but the fact that I could name no fewer than four standouts says a lot about the quality of the team.
So that’s it – five reasons you should stop reading now and watch this show! And if you’re not convinced, here’s an extra bonus reason: Clint Mansell does the score and it is magnificent.
Hats off to Jeremy Carver and the rest of the team for bringing it all together so wonderfully.