With Doom Patrol, it's almost as if DC Universe depicted the (initially, at least) dismissive response to Titans' dark and serious tone, and set out to concoct an antidote. The third original series from the fledgling streaming service is wonderfully bizarre and self-aware, exactly what you'd hope for comic book characters once billed as "the World's Strangest Heroes."
Delightfully narrated by Alan Tudyk's villainous Mr. Nobody -- imagine A Series of Unfortunate Events as told by Count Olaf -- the series premiere serves as an origin for the characters viewers met in the fourth episode of Titans: Cliff Steele (Brendan Fraser), the race car driver whose brain was transplanted into the body of a robot following a horrible accident; Rita Farr (April Bowlby), the Hollywood starlet whose exposure to a mysterious substance in Africa that imbued her body with elasticity; Larry Trainor (Matt Bomer), a hot-shot pilot whose accidental exposure to a radioactive field left him disfigured, and the vessel for a being made of negative energy.
Add to that mad scientist Niles Caulder, aka The Chief (now played by Timothy Dalton), their benevolent leader with a bit of a malevolent streak; and Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero), a troubled young woman with 64 personalities, each of which manifests a different superpower.
Those introductions, and in three cases full-blown origin stories (four, if you count Mr. Nobody), naturally consume most of the first hour of Doom Patrol, leaving little room to do more than tease the looming threat that will drive the first season. But that's fine, because what the premiere really needed to do is make viewers like, if not necessarily identify with, this team of self-proclaimed freaks, and it accomplishes that.
They're as absurd as they are tragic as they channel their comic book counterparts, but they're hardly two-dimensional. It's fitting that our first view of the philandering Cliff Steele isn't his face, or even his race car, but instead his "pale, white ass," as he's shown, in flagrante, with the nanny. Yet, he's revealed to be more than a cheating husband as he struggles to piece together his fractured memories and form a fatherly bond with Jane. The self-absorbed, sometimes even cruel, Rita Farr has a tender heart beneath that rubbery skin. Larry Trainer's bandages hide more than his disfigurement, and an energy being; five decades later, he's still coming to terms with a long-buried secret.
As in the Doom Patrol's Titans episode, Bowlby (How I Met Your Mother, Two and a Half Men), is a joy to watch as Rita, who's so enamored with her own glorious past that she's (literally) undone by a rumor about her post-Hollywood career. Diane Guerrero (Orange Is the New Black) is a revelation, able to transform herself, both vocally and physically, as Jane shifts among her personalities, sometimes in rapid-fire succession. If there were any doubts about how the more, let's say, wholesome 1960s weirdness of the Arnold Drake/Bob Haney/Bruno Premiani Doom Patrol would blend with the 1990s absurdity of the Grant Morrison/Richard Case era, they're put to rest by the premiere, specifically in the initial interactions between Jane and Cliff.
(Those wondering about Joivan Wade as Cyborg, traditionally a member of the Teen Titans and, more recently, the Justice League will have to wait until the second episode.)
But it's Tudyk's Mr. Nobody, barely seen in the first episode, who steals the show. While the Firefly actor is always fun to watch, on Doom Patrol he serves not only as a looming menace, but also as the vicious, omniscient narrator, chewing up lines like, "Our story begins, as such stories do, with a visit to a Nazi -- I'm sorry, cobbler," and “More TV superheroes, just what the world needs," he's more than simply comic relief. He's our essential guide to this strange world of the world's strangest heroes. Bouncing as it does from the 1940s to the 1980s to the 1950s to the present, the series premiere could have been choppy, but Tudyk's biting commentary smooths the ride, and helps to ensure no one takes even the gravest moments too seriously. If Mr. Nobody doesn't do the trick, then the flatulent donkey undoubtedly will.
Doom Patrol's first episode isn't perfect, of course, something perhaps best illustrated by the producers' inability to resist using The Doors' "People Are Strange." But it's charmingly offbeat, alternately funny and heartbreaking, and strangely irresistible.
Premiering Friday on DC Universe, Doom Patrol stars Brendan Fraser as Cliff Steele, Matt Bomer as Larry Trainor, Diana Guerrero as Crazy Jane, Alan Tudyk as Mr. Nobody, April Bowlby as Rita Farr, Joivan Wade as Vic Stone, and Timothy Dalton as Niles Caulder.