Last week saw the live-action series debut of “The World’s Strangest Heroes” with DC Universe‘s Doom Patrol making an impressive debut in a year set to be filled with dysfunctional superhero teams. In my review of the opener, I explained how I was impressed with the way the pilot for the 15-episode series checked off all the important boxes on my pilot scorecard. Even more than that, it surprised me in ways that swim upstream from the current wave of “grim-n-gritty superhero teams” and helped set itself apart from other DC superhero series.
So where does that leave us with second episode “Donkey Patrol”? With pretty much more of the same of what we got from the pilot, which is more than enough but also signals my only “gripe”–and this one is more with DC Universe than the series. As much as I enjoyed “Donkey Patrol”, the first two episodes would’ve worked better as a combined extended premiere. That’s not to say that the journey we take to get to where we’re at heading into next week’s episode wasn’t satisfying–it just didn’t need to be stretched out quite as long as it was.
Other than that, I found the episode did an excellent job keeping the storylines moving along while showing consistency with the characters. The levels of oddness were dialed up at a digestible, non-gratuitous/shocking-for-the-sake-of-being-shocking manner–and we were treated to a very earnest, relatable Vic Stone/Cyborg, brought to life through an excellent turn by Joivan Wade.
Note: While it’s both pretty easy and obvious to make comparisons to the comics, I won’t be doing that here. I prefer to let comics be comics and TV series be TV series. Just something to keep in mind as you check out my spoiler thoughts:
● With thoughts of David Addison (Bruce Willis) from ABC’s Moonlighting and Ryan Reynolds‘ Deadpool in mind, proper respect needs to be given to Alan Tudyk‘s Eric Morden/Mr. Nobody. While it’s quite possible that this could start to get annoying by episode 7, so far Tudyk’s fourth-wall crushing, take-no-prisoners narration makes his Nobody into somebody. Tudyk’s “somebody” is not only the “big bad” in the series but the “big bad” outside of the series: sounding in every way like the social media trolls who feed off the need to tear things down.
Extra points are given for references to/shots taken at/jokes made about: Grant Morrison fans, Reddit trolls, the current state of DC Universe subscriptions, and viewers turning off the shows after last week’s ending.
● Once again, Matt Bomer and Matthew Zuk both deserve credit for delivering us a Larry Trainor/Negative Man who could’ve come across as a bit much with the doubt and the running away–but it never comes close to being anything but heartbreaking. The Larry Trainor we see is a man who has struggled with identity his entire life–and now that struggle has been elevated to an absurd level. The deconstructed Fight Club “homage” was a particularly nice touch, dragging Trainor’s internal battles with himself out into the open in a very dangerous way.
● The connection between Wade’s Vic/Cyborg and Timothy Dalton‘s Dr. Niles Caulder/The Chief felt natural, made sense, and explained away the question marks I had about Cyborg’s overall involvement in the series. It was nice to see a Cyborg who enjoys “leaping tall buildings in a single bound,” and even the conflict with dad Silas Stone (Phil Morris) felt more “1-1/2 side of the same coin”: Vic and Silas both see heroism in Vic’s future…but for Silas, Vic’s future as a hero comes down to two words: Justice League.
● Now seems as good a time as any to bring up the donkey from last episode, and who really gets a chance to shine this episode: Whether it’s vomiting back to reality our very own Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero) or serving as some twisted portal to “Nobody land” for Vic, Brendan Fraser and Riley Shanahan‘s as Cliff Steele/Robotman, and April Bowlby‘s Rita Farr/Elasti-Woman, the episode’s resident “ass” has quickly achieved rockstar status.
● Cliff and Vic have a nice “sibling rivalry” vibe, which I was glad to see because it feels refreshingly different from the typical “father figure” route.
● Crazy Jane’s “Baby Doll” personality not only added layers to Guerrero’s fine performance but also helped better define Vic and Cliff’s dynamic. As for the talk of the “Underground” where her personalities live? Yup…I’m interested. Tell me more…
● The time Rita, Trainor, and Vic spend in “Nobody land” trapped in their memories wasn’t a concept we haven’t seen dozens of times before, so it’s up the characters’ backstories to see the viewer–and sell it, they do. Thanks to Trainor getting on the same page with his energy self, our heroes and the people of Calverton make it back to reality – but not without a price- a price that plants a seed for some interesting later-in-the-season dealings.
Whether it’s a demonstration of the true evil behind his actions or his using the truth as the sharpest knife of all, Nobody calls into question a memory that Vic’s used to inspire his do-gooding for years: the night his mother died. Are Vic’s “memories” nothing more than the programmable machinations of his father…and for what purpose?
So we are two episodes in and have some team dynamics in play, a “big bad” established, and more bizarre mysteries than a mystical donkey could fart at. Heading into next week’s third episode “Puppet Patrol,” we’re hoping for less douby, more teamwork, and a whole lot of weirdness.
DOOM PATROL is a re-imagining of one of DC’s most beloved group of outcast Super Heroes: Robotman, Negative Man, Elasti-Girl and Crazy Jane, led by modern-day mad scientist Dr. Niles Caulder (The Chief). The Doom Patrol’s members each suffered horrible accidents that gave them superhuman abilities — but also left them scarred and disfigured. Traumatized and downtrodden, the team found purpose through The Chief, who brought them together to investigate the weirdest phenomena in existence — and to protect Earth from what they find.
Part support group, part Super Hero team, the Doom Patrol is a band of super-powered freaks who fight for a world that wants nothing to do with them. Picking up after the events of TITANS, DOOM PATROL will find these reluctant heroes in a place they never expected to be, called to action by none other than Cyborg, who comes to them with a mission hard to refuse, but with a warning that is hard to ignore: their lives will never, ever be the same.
DOOM PATROL stars April Bowlby as Rita Farr / Elasti-Woman, Diane Guerrero as Kay Challis / Crazy Jane, Joivan Wade as Victor Stone / Cyborg, Brendan Fraser and Riley Shanahan as Clifford “Cliff” Steele / Robotman, Matt Bomer and Matthew Zuk as Larry Trainor / Negative Man, Timothy Dalton as Dr. Niles Caulder / The Chief, and Alan Tudyk as Eric Morden / Mr. Nobody.
A reimagining of the superhero DC characters originally written and drawn by Arnold Drake, Bob Haney, and Bruno Premiani, DC Universe’s Doom Patrol is written by series creator Jeremy Carver (Supernatural, Being Human), who executive produces alongside Greg Berlanti, Geoff Johns, and Berlanti Productions’ Sarah Schechter. Warner Bros. Television produces in association with Berlanti Productions.
Doom Patrol premieres new episode every Friday on the DC Universe streaming service.