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'Doom Patrol': The Right Kind of Weird

(I will be talking about some plot points, so mild spoilers ahead.)

Doom Patrol (2019)

Into the Donkey's Mouth

Every so often, there comes a show that captures your imagination. Then some shows accelerate your imagination like a hamster on coke, duct-taped to a bottle rocket. And It won't be a shock to you, dear reader, that I'm referring to Doom Patrol as a coke-addled hamster whizzing by over 100 mph.

Where do we begin? A city swallowed by a donkey? An eye-opening in the middle of the sky? A villain who eats facial hair of his intended target to get their geo-location? A genderqueer teleporting street? 

It doesn't get wackier than that. Doom Patrol is a show that embraces its weirdness—and we all get a front seat to the circus.

Before I begin though I have to disclose that I'm a huge fan of the Doom Patrol comic books, more specifically the Grant Morrison run, so I can't talk about the show without mentioning that run. (Yes! I'm that guy.)

Mr. Nobody was totally talking about me!

DOOM PATROL (2019)

Background

This is all going to sound extremely contrived, but I would like to talk about my first experience with Doom Patrol the comic book, and funnily enough, it wasn't with Grant Morrison. It was with Rachel Pollack who came after Morrison.

Rachel Pollack was a trans woman and also one of the frequent fans who wrote in and eventually got to take the lead on the book. Anyway, at that time, I was 12 years old at an event for my school and somehow I got my hands on Doom Patrol #78.

It had a Giant "suggested for mature readers" on it, which naturally piqued my interest.

When I read it, at that time, I was unable to comprehend what was happening—there was amorphous art, bodies merging together, discursive dialogue, and I couldn't get a sense of the narrative as a whole. Later on, when I read her whole run, it gave better context as her stories dealt with feeling uncomfortable with your own body and identity, resulting in alienation from society. She also incorporates a lot of mysticism and spirituality into her work, as she has written several books on Tarot cards.

Although I didn't appreciate my first experience with the book, that experience stayed with me. And I kept thinking about that book. 

Later on in university, as I was going through my own phase of isolation, I rediscovered Doom Patrol through Grant Morrison. This was a pivotal moment in my life as reading his run inspired me to become a writer. 

His run makes Doom Patrol what it is today: Wacky but lovable characters, strange motivations, ridiculous plot points wrapped up with discontinuous dialogue, villains who talk in anagrams, and all presented with surreal imagery. Not to mention his work introduced me to unique writers such as William S. Burroughs and Jorge Luis Borges, who have inspired me to continue writing.

I would recommend that once you’re done with the show, if you’re not done already, to pick up Grant Morrison's run.  I highly recommend it if you like the show.  Also, I've grown to appreciate Rachel Pollack's run as well, it's still not available on Amazon yet but watch out for it.

The Show is Coming!

Doom Patrol (2019)

When They Announced The Show

When I heard they were making a show on Doom Patrol, I admit I was a little apprehensive. However, I got excited with their appearance on Titans where I could see they were trying to do justice to the characters.

And then I finally watched the show.

Every week, I was mesmerized by how they were outdoing themselves and being faithful to the characters and the original spirit of the source material.

'Doom Patrol' (The Lineup)

Doom Patrol (2019)

The Characters

The first primary character we see is Cliff Steele or ‘Robotman.’ Brendan Fraser voices ‘Robotman’ in the show and Riley Shanahan is the actor who plays him in the show. I don’t know who’s job is more challenging, but their performances synchronize well. Brendan Fraser can convey the emotion of a tortured soul, and still be able to crack wise and manage to make every ‘F-bomb’ impactful. He voices Robotman perfectly and it's hilarious to hear him comment everytime he finds himself in a ridiculous situation (Nurnheim Sucks!).

The fact you have two actors playing the same role, where one is the body and the other is the voice, is also a kind of a nod to the disorienting experience of being ‘Robotman’ as he is a consciousness that is trapped in a body that restricts any sensory experiences. It’s almost like there is a walled-off world,  which limits the experience of the actors—where one actor can communicate with others through body language, and the other actor probably has to act out interactions using his voice (save the few scenes Brendan Fraser appears).

Negative Man, or Larry Trainor (voiced by Matt Bomer and played by Matthew Zuk), is disfigured and still isn't fully comfortable with his sexuality. Larry is more controlling as he represses his desires, embodied by the Negative Energy. The energy wants to be free and is pushing Larry to live a more open, and honest life.

Rita: The Old-School Beauty Queen

Doom Patrol (2019)

Rita or ‘Elasti-Girl’(April Bowlby), turns into a blob if she's stressed, and has to eat excessive amounts of food to keep appearances. Her character is interesting because it shows the fleeting nature of both youth and fame. 

Her whole identity and personality revolve around her beauty, and when she ‘blobs out,’ she loses her sense of self. Now she has to rely on other skills such as tenacity and resourcefulness to survive, and not just identify herself as a ‘pretty face.’

Crazy Jane (Dianne Guerrero) has 64 personalities, and they might pop out at any time and who knows what they will do? (I'm looking at you, Karen!) Crazy Jane or Kay Challis, is such an interesting character(s) that you could probably do a whole season in ‘The Underground’: the mental realm where all her personalities reside. I don’t doubt that it’s a challenge to play her as a character, but also you’ll never get bored. My personal favorite of her many personalities is Silvertongue, I mean, who wouldn’t want to use words as throwing knives?

Crazy Jane in Silvertongue mode

Doom Patrol (2019)

All joking aside if you have 64 personalities, how can you have stability in your life? And Crazy Jane doesn’t even try. However, as the show progresses, we can see her opening up to Cliff and is willing to rely on others for help.

Vic Stone, or ‘Cyborg’ (Joivan Wade), who is seemingly the most well adjusted, and probably the most well-known character in the show, also has a lot to offer. Vic is haunted by the accident that led to his mother’s death and his creation. We can see the guilt of his mother’s death, driving him to do good. He’s also further burdened by expectations placed upon him by his father Silas Stone (Phil Morris), who comes across as cold and calculating. Vic’s journey is about him becoming his own person and overcoming his father's shadow and accepting his Cybernetic self as a part of himself.

Cyborg: The coming of age story

Doom Patrol (2019)

We round off the two characters that are interestingly the opposites of each other and essentially the reason that Doom Patrol comes to be. The first is ‘The Chief’ or Dr. Niles Caulder (Timoty Dalton)—he’s the father of the group, and he represents order. He has organized the characters' chaotic lives and gives them a sense of stability from a world that has rejected them. He is a stern but fair father figure that our heroes need, or want.

And finally, we get to Mr. Nobody (Alan Tudyk) who represents Chaos. He is the fourth wall breaking, name dropping, post-modern supervillain who causes problems in our heroes’ lives; he is the one spurs them to action when he kidnaps ‘The Chief’.

Whether it’s narrating the main characters lives or invading the 'White Space' of comic books, you can trust Mr. Nobody coming up with strange obstacles for our heroes. However, it’s interesting how order and chaos, play a part in our character’s lives and becomes an important theme throughout the show.  

Mr. Nobody: The Trickster

Doom Patrol (2019)

What makes 'Doom Patrol' unique?

The question that comes up is why we should care. Most superheroes have tragic backstories, and that alone wouldn’t engage us with the characters.

Most superheroes indeed have a tragic background to elicit sympathy from us but what distinguishes Doom Patrol from the rest is that while other superhero’s superpowers are very cool—their powers are dehumanizing.

We get closer to these characters because of their pain. Their alienation, the absurdity they face as a result of their powers, and the struggle of their day-to-day lives.

Ever have a vengeful rat hijack your body through your brain? Ever get stuck in an air vent because you turned into jello? Or can’t escape a bus terminal because an entity inside of you won’t let you leave? Or have no control of what kind of personality takes over you?

Trippy Larry

Doom Patrol (2019)

They can't have normal lives because of their powers. And this is what makes them more human and relatable. The pain of not fitting in is a very human experience.

And although we do have the initial self-pity as most of them are reluctant to answer the ‘call-to-action’, we as the audience want them to overcome their disadvantages, and we naturally root for them. They are underdogs, even with their abilities.

And when they all eventually come together, (pun intended) their lives have meaning. Their meaning is to fight the absurd, with absurdity. The team gives them a sense of belonging. A family that shares a sense of solidarity and acceptance from a world that has cast them aside.

Robotman Approves

Doom Patrol (2019)

Weirdness and Why it works

The lives of our heroes are so strange that they are the only ones possibly equipped to deal with the ‘weirdness’. Overcoming strangeness with strangeness.

So if we break it down, how does weirdness play into the show?

When you have to fight the 'Uncreator', you go back in time to create a cult of 'Recreator' to fight against the destruction of the world.

Or other times you go inside Crazy Jane’s mental realm ‘The Underground.’ To find the one personality that powers everything.

Mr. Nobody: Call-To-Action

The strange challenges tugs at every characters internal dynamic. Where there's still a need to define and cling to a sense of ‘Normalcy’, but their frame of reference is so broken they don't know what ‘Normal’ even means. And because of that, it gives them the ability to think outside the literal box and face unique challenges using improvisation and following an internal logic, that is as loopy the problem they face.

A clear example is when the team comes together (I promise it’s the last time I’ll make this joke) and enters the white space, Mr. Nobody takes control of the narrative and starts controlling the characters' actions through his narration. Rita realizing this takes control of the narrative and narrates her own story, taking control of her actions. 

Another example would be how they discover a key shaped hole inside the donkey's mouth and they all figure to go inside its mouth to find the swallowed city.

My point is that because of their oddness they are able to come up with solutions to problems that us 'normies' wouldn't be able to.

Albert Camus would say that ‘to exist that we must face the absurdity of our existence’. And in many ways, Doom Patrol confronts the strangeness of life. And the answer is more strangeness.

Climax (I lied about not telling that joke from earlier)

Doom Patrol (2019)

There's always a danger that a show can "go-up- its-own-ass", when it comes to strangeness, and Doom Patrol does a perfect balance where there is a semblance of a plot and the weirdness is not so off-putting that it turns off casual viewers.

Although, Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man could be very close to that line. Even though, I love Animal-Vegetable-Mineral-Man.

This show is a perfect antidote for what Titans was lacking. Titans was all angry, serious and dark with no sense of self-awareness, or sense of humor. Doom Patrol has bucket loads of all the things Titans lacked.

The only mild criticism that I have is that sometimes the special effects look really cheap, and some of the acting in the earlier episodes, to put it lightly, is a little cringy. But to be honest, it’s not something that took me out of the experience of the show. I highly recommend this show to anyone, and so far it has been my favorite TV-show of 2019.

Breaking the traditional mold, Doom Patrol is a breath of fresh air. And the show has left me wanting more and I'm very excited to see where it will go next. I really hope for a second season. This is the original programming the DC universe needs, and I hope they will give us more.

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