Let’s see how well I can couch and caveat the following statement: comics-based superhero shows have an advantage doing backdoor pilots. Superheroes have been guest-starring in each others’ comics since 1940; the guest spot has been baked into the medium, whether to bolster a series’s sales with Batman, Wolverine, or Spider-Man or to gin up interest in a B or C-list superhero in hopes of spinning them off on their own (someday).
But “Doom Patrol” quickly surpasses that inherent edge here. Half the episode is about most of the team in purgatory, half the episode is about Matt Bomer and Abi Monterey enlisting the aid of The Dead Boy Detectives to get their friends back. There are two ghost detectives—Ty Tennant and Sebastian Croft—and their psychic human partner Madalyn Horcher, and they solve crimes. They’re from the Sandman comics originally, and since the “Sandman” adaptation isn’t HBO Max, it’ll be interesting to see how they address shared characters if they go to series.
It rarely feels like a backdoor pilot because everything in the narrative serves the “Doom Patrol” plot. Even when Horcher is dumping exposition on Monterey as they bond over tragedies, it’s about Monterey finally having another teenage girl for a friend. While Tennant and Croft are very dry comic relief—they’re all British, after all—Bomer also has a great bonding moment with Tennant. It’s superbly done, and fingers crossed the real pilot goes well.
Meanwhile, Brendan Fraser (and, correspondingly, Riley Shanahan), April Bowlby, Diane Guerrero, and Joivan Wade are all on their way towards the literal light, with some surprises along the way. Actually, not Bowlby, who for some reason doesn’t pass out when she gets across the River Styx. She ends up with the shortest arc, while Fraser, Guerrero, and Wade get much more salient ones. Especially Guerrero—who’s in the afterlife with little kid version Skye Roberts. It’s Guerrero’s best acting on the show. Or at least the best I can remember. Not sure if it’s because she’s speaking Spanish or because she’s not flexing hostile to everyone she’s acting with.
Fraser’s arc offers some quick character development—though, significant trauma, dying and all, so it works—while Wade just discovers he still doesn’t have all the answers to his own superhero origin story. But Guerrero’s section is the most affecting. And Roberts is excellent. The show really lucked out she’s so good when speaking (her part started non-verbal).
There’s some dark humor and bizarre scenes, some more mysteries for later on, and an excellent performance from Fraser. It’s another outstanding “Patrol.”