TV Tryouts – Doom Patrol

Doom Patrol (DC Universe)
Season 1, Episode 1 “Pilot”
Written by Glen Winter
Directed by Jeremy Carver

There is so much television I hear I should watch and with 24/7 streaming services abounding it can quickly become overwhelming. To finally get a taste of all these great shows I will start doing TV Tryouts. Each month I will watch a couple of pilot episodes of series I have been hearing rave reviews about and see if that first episode can hook me to keep watching. Now, an argument you might make is that you have to view the first six or entire first season before a show “gets good.” To that, I say, “I just don’t have the time.” A television series should have strong enough writing that its characters, dialogue, and plot naturally compel me to keep watching. If it doesn’t then that’s ok, plenty of shows for everyone.

As much as I love DC Comics, I have had an awful time getting into the rapidly expanding television output from the company. I have tried to sit down and watch Arrow, The Flash, and Supergirl, but I can’t engage with the writing. It’s all so caught up in how clever it thinks it is, yet wants to be super serious for the fans. This is the equivalent of someone taking the campy Batman show from the 1960s and trying to inject a few serious subplots. You have to be incredibly talented to pull something like that off. When I saw the trailers for DC Universe’s Titans series, I knew immediately it was a hard pass for me. It did the opposite thing and went for a tone so ill-fitting for the Teen Titans. I had comfortably resigned myself to just realizing that none of this was for me, and that’s okay. However, then I started to hear some positive buzz around Doom Patrol, as a show that isn’t your typical DC series. I remained skeptical but was intrigued enough to sit down and watch at least the first episode.

The opening scene features Alan Tyduk who will serve as the main antagonist for the series. We see him meeting with a Nazi refugee in Uruguay who uses his laboratory to imbue people who can pay with superpowers. Tudyk’s Mr. Morden has both his mind and body broken apart and becomes the disembodied voice that guides us through the introductions to our main characters. The spotlight is definitely on race car driver Cliff Steele in the pilot, played by Brendan Fraser in a sort of comeback role. Steele is quite different from his comic book counterpart, the series merely retaining his background as a race car driver. All the additions are for the better and made me realize how little his backstory is in the comics. The tragic past of Steele grounds the character who will become the potential dubious looking Robotman. The whole pilot is about staying true to the looks and concepts of these characters but giving them a past that establishes who they are and their motivations.

The common thread between these disparate characters is that they struggle with being viewed as monsters. Because we’re given comprehensive backstories for Larry Trainor and Rita Farr we gain an understanding that the monstrous nature comes not from their original physical forms but from choices they make or social mores that are forced upon them. Trainor is a closeted gay man constrained by his desire to become one of the first astronauts; he’s expected to have an acceptable family unit for 1961 America. A chance encounter ruins those chances and destroys all of his possible life paths, public and private. I get the feeling this will be explored further in the series.

Rita Farr shows her ugliness in her personality, a vain and spoiled Hollywood actress in the 1950s who can’t stand the sight of her amputee cinematographer. The external is all that matters to Rita, so in typical morality play fashion, she’s struck with a disorder that turns her into a melting horror. It’s a little more on the nose than what happens to Steele and Trainor but still very much in line with the themes of the pilot.

The weakest element of the pilot is Crazy Jane, which is who I was worried about when I saw the trailers. I like Diana Guerrero on Orange is the New Black, but this character is one that can be done horribly if you aren’t a fantastic actor. Jane can so quickly become the angsty, “badass” girl character that is a one-dimensional cliche. In the pilot, we don’t get her origin, and her introduction is cringey. There’s some soften and complexity shown in the third act, but it wasn’t enough for me to be excited about her inclusion. Crazy Jane has so much potential from a performance perspective and storytelling one as well. I hope she is better developed as the show progresses.

Overall, I am onboard to watching the first season and seeing if the potential in the pilot continues in subsequent episodes. Be on the lookout for my review of all of season one later this month.

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