A Life Less Analog, Entertainment, Geek Culture

‘Doom Patrol’: We are all misfits living in a world on fire

Technology column header

Late to the party, but I finally finished Season 1 of “Doom Patrol” and the first three episodes of Season 2. And I absolutely love this TV show.

Even though I’m a comic book geek, I wasn’t really familiar with this team of misfits from DC Comics. I only read a few issues from Grant Morrison’s run, which I liked, but that was it.

Batshit crazy series

Doom Patrol: (L-R) Cliff Steel a.k.a. Robotman (Brendan Fraser), Larry Trainor a.k.a. Negative Man (Matt Bomer), Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero), Victor Stone a.k.a. Cyborg (Joivan Wade), Rita Farr a.k.a. Elasti-Woman (April Bowlby), and Niles Caulder a.k.a. the Chief (Timothy Dalton). Image credit: DC Comics
Doom Patrol: (L-R) Cliff Steele a.k.a. Robotman (Brendan Fraser), Larry Trainor a.k.a. Negative Man (Matt Bomer), Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero), Victor Stone a.k.a. Cyborg (Joivan Wade), Rita Farr a.k.a. Elasti-Woman (April Bowlby), and Niles Caulder a.k.a. the Chief (Timothy Dalton). Image credit: DC Comics

In a way, I’m glad I don’t really know the comic book incarnations of these characters. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them with fresh eyes, without a lot of comic book baggage. Though I do recognize some Easter eggs. Plus the Morrison run influenced the show, after all, though it has reimagined these characters and created a fascinating world of its own.

I will only tackle Season 1 in this column piece, and will try to minimize the spoilers. If you haven’t seen the show, I advise you to just get through the first episode or two. You definitely have to get used to the absurdity and dark humor. “Doom Patrol” is a batshit crazy series that will defy your expectations of what a superhero show should be. And I absolutely love it because of this.

If there’s one heroic thing that this DC Universe original series has done, it’s reviving the career of a fine actor like Brendan Fraser. He’s absolutely brilliant in this show as the human Cliff Steele and as the voice of Robotman, whom Riley Shanahan portrays physically.

Tragic accidents

As the man-child Cliff, who was a famous race car driver before his tragic accident, Fraser has elevated the F-word into an art form. You will hate Cliff for being a selfish prick who has a massive chip on his shoulder, but you will also empathize with his tragic story. He realizes that he is an asshole who keeps cheating on his wife. But as flawed as he is, Cliff still believes he has tried to be the best father he could be to his daughter Clara. She means the world to him.

Meanwhile, Matt Bomer plays Larry Trainor, a hotshot US Air Force pilot in the early 1960s, who is on the short list of candidates to go to space. A husband and a father with two sons, Larry also has a secret: he is a gay man having an affair with his fellow serviceman John Bowers. This being the 60s, Larry is constantly afraid that people will discover his homosexuality. He also doesn’t want to leave his family and the Air Force when John tells him he plans to quit, and asks Larry to go with him. Larry tells John he’ll talk to him after his historic flight on an experimental aircraft. Larry, however, encounters mysterious energy while in the atmosphere, and crashes his aircraft. He miraculously survives, but is forever changed. Matthew Zuk portrays Negative Man when he is wrapped up in bandages.

The real you

April Bowlby plays Rita Farr, an Olympic swimming gold medalist who becomes a Hollywood star in the 1950s. While shooting a film in Africa, she falls into the river and ingests a mysterious gas. Somehow, this alters her molecular structure, turning her body gelatinous when she is upset. Rita is always afraid of losing control over her body, and turning into a blob-like creature. She is also living in the past. Pining for her glory days when she starred in the pictures and had many adoring fans.

Crazy Jane has 64 personalities, each with its own superpower. The dominant personality is Jane. Later we learn that Jane is merely the dominant alter personality and not the original identity. She is one of the many distinct identities that a girl suffering from repeated childhood trauma created to protect herself. Diane Guerrero is absolutely brilliant playing these distinct personalities, which includes the brutish Hammerhead and the childlike Baby Doll. Jane has a strange friendship with Cliff — either sort of hitting it off with him, or actually hitting him.

Mad world

Meanwhile, the man who has gathered them all together is Niles Caulder, played by Timothy Dalton. The Chief is a medical doctor and a modern-day mad scientist. He is the one who has treated them, and built their robot body, in the case of Cliff. He is also a man with many secrets, who has made his home a safe haven for these misfits, but who also has his own burning mission in life.

Finally, Joivan Wade plays Cyborg. A “big-city superhero” — someone who was never a member of the Doom Patrol in the comic books. In the comics, he was always a mainstream hero who first joined the Teen Titans before becoming part of the Justice League. This series, however, shows how Victor Stone fits right in with this band of misfits. What’s even more fascinating is the dynamic between Vic — who’s an actual teenager with high-tech cybernetic parts — and Cliff — a man-child with a retro, clunky robot body. He also has a bond with Niles, who has known Vic’s father for many years.

People like us

What I love about “Doom Patrol” is that it’s not afraid to embrace its weirdness. Even though I’ve been a Marvel fan ever since I was a kid, I always enjoy how DC celebrates strangeness. You just have to watch “Doom Patrol” to really appreciate it.

More than telling the stories of superheroes, this series examines what it means to be human. And the price we have to pay for our strangeness in a world that demands that we should all be normal.

“Doom Patrol” is about flawed and lonely human beings wrestling with their abnormality, and slowly learning self-acceptance. And I mean slowly. Along the way, we meet many strange characters. The show teaches us that we don’t have to fear, reject, or oppress others just because they are different.

Perhaps the world has always been a strange place. And that’s OK.