At its best, the latest offering from the streaming service known as DC Universe (yes, that’s a thing now on the ever-expanding landscape of places to go for entertainment) reminded me of two things I loved as a kid—comic books and classic monster movies. While it’s main source material is the former, adapting the DC comic Doom Patrol, which premiered in 1963, to the screen for the first time, it undeniably has echoes of classic creature features like “Frankenstein,” “The Blob,” and “The Invisible Man.” Only one episode was allowed to be screened for press (the studio provided a second but I’m embargoed for over a week on it so didn’t bother yet) and so it’s hard to tell what “Doom Patrol” will become, but I found the first hour of this oddball adventure far more enjoyable and consistent than DC Universe’s “Titans,” enlivened by sharp direction and a great ensemble.
Believe it or not, this is technically a spin-off of “Titans,” which premiered on the new streaming subscription service back in October. That series aired what is referred to as a back-door pilot for its fourth chapter, called, you guessed it, and introducing us to a few of the characters on this now-standalone show. Lest you think WB and DC are cutting corners, the team in front of and behind the camera for the premiere of “Doom Patrol” is a notable one, especially for anyone who has ever bought a Comic-Con badge. It’s produced by Greg Berlanti, arguably the king of the modern superhero show as the producer of “Arrow,” “The Flash,” “Supergirl,” “Legends of Tomorrow,” and “Black Lightning.” Oh, he also produces the great “Riverdale,” smash hit “You,” and “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” and he directed last year’s clever “Love, Simon.” The guy’s busy. And he knows a thing or two about how to fashion an entertaining superhero show.
All of this is to say that “Doom Patrol” looks as good as anything that would air on The CW or basic cable (unlike “Titans,” which sometimes looks a little cheap). And the cast is remarkably strong. The premiere is narrated by the great Alan Tudyk (“Serenity”), who also plays the villainous Mr. Nobody. He introduces us to the Doom Patrol, starting with Cliff Steele, played by Brendan Fraser. Cliff is a macho competitive car racer who gets into a horrible accident, waking up trapped in the metal can that will become known as Robotman (Fraser will continue to do the voice while Riley Shanahan does the on-set work). We meet other lost souls forever transformed by accidents, including actress Rita Farr (April Bowlby) and pilot Larry Trainor (Matt Bomer). Rita has an on-set accident that basically turns her into a version of The Blob whenever she’s scared or insecure. She literally melts and destroys everything around her. Larry gets into an accident too and is transformed into Negative Man, covered in bandages a la the classic Invisible Man. Finally, there’s a young lady known as Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero) and all of her 64 personalities appear to have different superpowers. Uniting this motley crew is the Professor X or Dr. Frankenstein of it all, the great Timothy Dalton as Niles Caulder aka The Chief.
Dalton, Fraser, Bomer, Bowlby, Tudyk – this is a remarkably talented crew of actors bringing their quirky best to “Doom Patrol,” and they all keep the premiere afloat in their own way. Dalton adds a nice gravity to his reticent leader; Fraser has the smarmy charm thing down pat; Bowlby is convincingly apprehensive; Bomer would have been a household name in the era of the Universal monster movie so it’s nice to see him in something inspired by them; and Tudyk serves as a great narrator. The only issue with a review of “Doom Patrol” is how heavily the premiere relies on origin stories makes it pretty unclear what the program will look like from week to week. So consider this more of a review of a single episode than the whole season. Although, even with the glut of superhero shows on TV, and the gauntlet-throwing challenge from Mr. Nobody that critics are “gonna hate this show,” I’m going to check out what happens next.
Series premiere screened for review.