The DC universe is about to face another massive reboot, with James Gunn and Peter Safran set to unify the DC live-action shows and movies in the same canon and continuity. This means we have to say goodbye to the current era of DC TV shows. The Arrowverse officially comes to a close with the final season of Superman & Lois in 2024, but another quiet, almost unseen era of DC TV came to an end less than a month ago with the best superhero show that no one was watching.
Doom Patrol debuted as part of the now-defunct DC Universe streaming service. DC Universe was an underrated platform that fulfilled the promise of a vast superhero universe full of possibilities, offering a wildly diverse slate superhero shows. Titans was edgy, Harley Quinn was pure chaotic fun, Swamp Thing was scary, and Stargirl focused on legacy. Then there was Doom Patrol, the little show that could. This hilarious, deeply weird, emotional show survived a pandemic, a studio merger, and three different streaming services to become one of the best superhero shows ever.
Mostly based on Grant Morrison's comic book run of the same name, Doom Patrol follows Cliff Steele (Riley Shanahan, with Brendan Fraser doing the voice), Rita Farr (April Bowlby), Jane (Diane Guerrero), Larry Trainor (Matthew Zuk, with Matt Bomer doing the voice) and Cyborg (Joivan Wade). After all suffering freak accidents that gave them powers and stopped their aging, they find themselves living in an X-Men-like manor together, where they get into all sorts of problems.
We've seen the "group of misfits become a found family of superheroes" formula plenty of times before, from Legends of Tomorrow to Umbrella Academy (itself inspired by the Doom Patrol comics). What makes this one special is that Doom Patrol is unabashedly bonkers, with a no-holds-barred creativity that allows it to be as cuckoo bananas as the writers could imagine. But best of all, the Doom Patrol are not heroes. They are screw-ups and losers trying to accept themselves, while being forced to fight villains — most of them created by the Doom Patrol.
Indeed, while we've seen other superhero shows try and break away from the formula, none did so as effectively as Doom Patrol. While there is action, world-ending threats, and known DC characters, the show always remains small-scale. The stakes tend to be intimate until they escalate out of control. Even when the show ties itself to the larger DC universe by referencing the Justice League, or making Cyborg a main character, the show never stops being grounded in its small-scale weirdness. When the show introduces the Brotherhood of Evil in Season 3, it does not build up to a climactic giant fight, but instead to an Evangelion-style Human Instrumentality where every person's subconscious is laid bare for everyone to see — there’s even an entire episode dedicated to a team therapy session like the end of Neon Genesis Evangelion.
That is the kind of bonkers, everything-goes attitude that allowed Doom Patrol to have some of the wildest moments of TV. I'm talking genetically-engineered butts that also start a zombie apocalypse, a cockroach and a rat having a hot make-out session, sex ghosts, and a circus strongman who flexes the wrong muscle and accidentally gives everyone an orgasm. Rather than treat the weirdness as a joke and constantly point out how weird things are, Doom Patrol cares because the characters care. They constantly freak out, then they normalize that a zombie invasion is just another Tuesday.
But the wacky comedy and bizarre creatures work because they balance a rather nuanced and deeply emotional story of messed-up people trying (and failing) to be better. The characters constantly fight with one another, and they mess up more than they actually do any heroics. They'd be the first ones to admit that they kind of suck. Doom Patrol recognizes that change isn't easy. Like Zuko in Avatar: The Last Airbender, the characters slightly improve, then fail, again and again, before finally making some progress. When we do see the characters succeed emotionally and internally, it can be quite moving; like Cliff reaching out to his daughter for the first time in years, or Larry finding human connection again, or Cyborg learning to be his own man. Hurt people hurt people, sure, but scarred souls shine like stars, too. Only together are the characters able to survive and heal.
Doom Patrol was able to make you laugh at something absurd right before making you cry every week. It is also this show that kickstarted the Brendan Fraser Renaissance, with Fraser delivering a phenomenal performance — and also one of the highest F-bomb counts on TV. There was no other show like Doom Patrol, and there won't be another one anytime soon.