The DC Universe streaming service delivers its second live-action series with Doom Patrol, a spin-off of the previous Titans series. “Doom Patrol” was easily one of the best episodes of Titans, but how does this pilot stack up? It has its ups and downs, but overall this is a passable first entry. Some questionable CGI takes the viewer out of the experience at times and t ransitions can be sudden and unexpected, but fun performances from the cast carry a plodding narrative that introduces the core ensemble (except for Cyborg.)
Should you check out Doom Patrol? Well, here’s five thoughts on the first episode before you do (but beware, some spoilers may occur).
1. The Bad CGI
Let’s go ahead and knock this one out. Doom Patrol has some pretty horrendous use of computer generated effects. In Cliff’s flashback sequences of racing stock cars, it looks like a poor 5-dollar-bin knock-off of a Pixar film. This is Michael Bay’s Hot Wheels, but without a Michael Bay budget, and it just looks off-putting. Some of the low-budget rendering feels almost intentional at times, but it never feels self-aware as a production enough to acknowledge it.
The lack of cohesion in effect is almost metaphorically representative of Rita’s character, unable to hold together in the image it intends to be. The more intimate set pieces involving the core cast don’t suffer from these setbacks, but the climax of the episode where Rita rolls like a mini-Tetsuo blob across the town shows the warts in this show’s budget lapses.
2. Cast Changes
Bruno Bichir is replaced in the pilot by Timothy Dalton as The Chief. This replacement is never really acknowledged though it would only be jarring to people who watched Titans, and who watched that, right? Dalton’s performance is serviceable, and never distracts from the proceedings, though it does feel at times as though he’s phoning it in.
This isn’t the only cast change as Larry Trainor, aka Negative Man, is taken over by actor Matthew Zuk. Larry gets little time to shine in this episode, so we’ll have to wait and see how this succession pans out but one would be hard pressed to top Dwain Murphy and Matt Boman’s performance-cooking set to “Thunderstruck.”
The only other change is less major in that Brendan Fraser fully takes over the role of Cliff Steele. Brendan Fraser also gives us a segway to our next entry:
3. Brendan Fraser
Where would anyone even begin with this? Everything about Brendan Fraser’s inclusion in this is outright bonkers. His intro is the moment that tells you “hey, we’re gonna drop f-bombs a lot and show some titties”. If “Fuck Batman” from Titans seemed excessive to you, Doom Patrol doubles down and tells you to, well, honestly I’d be hard pressed to say anything edgier than this series already tries to be.
It’s strange to see Fraser in a role like this. That isn’t to say he is without range, but this feels off-brand even for an actor working hard to reinvent himself by taking chances. His live-action scenes play out like a Lifetime version of Taladega Nights. That said, he does play the Robot-Man character well. Fraser takes to brooding, it suits his approach to the character. He is sullen as sullen can be.
4. A Sense of Humor Helps Here
“Hey what was it like getting buried in a pyramid with your cat?”
Some of Doom Patrol‘s humor really lands, most especially interactions between characters. This series would do best to play to its main strength, its cast. These moments are peppered throughout the episode, but one could do with another round of sprinkling in place of some of the other ingredients that overpower this opening meal.
This reviewer did, by the way, notice the stab at critics. It isn’t subtle, but it is not quite to the level of M. Night Shyamalan obligatory-twist and murdering your film critic character bad. Some of us are watching your shows, DC.
If Doom Patrol is to be successful in its presentation it will need to lean more into the character interactions between Cliff, Larry, Rita, and Jane and less into contrived action setpieces.Continued below
5. Keep Going Cliff
Despite my criticisms, I am anxious to see where this series goes. This is a mildly solid start. Mildly solid? Would that be soft? Firmly soft? Regardless, as pilot episodes go, this could be worse, especially for DC. Doom Patrol has a lot of heart, maybe a little too much grit, and a lot of Brendan Fraser’s forehead.