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What We’re Not Watching: Doom Patrol

We’re not watching Doom Patrol for the blog, because this is a family-friendly blog and Doom Patrol is a quite fantastically family unfriendly show. But over the last few weeks, after our eight year-old has gone to bed, we’ve been enjoying the daylights out of it. It may have more four-letter-words, gore, and nudity than anything else we watch – mainly four-letter-words – but it’s pretty honest. If I were in the sort of situations these heroes face, I’d swear about like they do, too.

The original Doom Patrol series was published by DC in the sixties. It was written by Arnold Drake and drawn by Bruno Premiani. DC has revived it several times since, never to any earthshattering sales numbers, but Grant Morrison and Richard Case’s run, from 1989-93, has been a cult classic that has inspired and informed almost every subsequent revamp. It’s one of my all-time favorite runs of any American comic, and I honestly can’t think of any long-form run on any DC property that I enjoy more.

So the television series, which is available to stream on the DC Universe service, cherry-picks characters and situations from the books up through Morrison’s run, and gives them a TV twist. It’s full of kisses to the past and addresses the strange way that certain funnybook characters never seem to age. Timothy Dalton plays a mad scientist who has brought a group of misfits together over the course of several decades. Matt Bomer is a former USAF pilot who had a freak accident in the upper atmosphere, April Bowlby a glamorous fifties film star whose body shifts and blobs and morphs when she isn’t concentrating, and Diane Guerrero is a badly-damaged young woman with multiple personality disorder, only each of these fractious personalities comes with its own power.

And then there’s Cliff Steele, a former race car driver who’s now a brain in a should-be indestructible, clanky robot. Cliff is voiced by Brendan Fraser, who occasionally appears in the flashbacks, some of which are hysterical. The story goes that at the height of his eighties fame, Cliff appeared as himself on a soap opera. The characters dig up that clip online, all washed-out colors and bad tracking, and we can enjoy the all-too brief spectacle of Brendan Fraser playing a character who cannot act. At all.

For a show full of very dark character beats, high stakes, and ugly surprises, Doom Patrol is also amazingly funny. They did a great job balancing the humor, because otherwise this would be a pretty painful show. But it’s so deliciously weird that it’s worth coming back to, because stuff happens in Doom Patrol that doesn’t happen anywhere else. After Dalton is kidnapped by a reality-altering supervillain played by Alan Tudyk – who knows he’s in a TV show and wishes that he was in a better one – an up-and-coming “real” superhero, Cyborg, played by Joivan Wade, arrives to help whip our four oddballs into a fighting force. But Cyborg. who’s used to beating up muggers, didn’t count on the sort of incredibly strange obstacles and situations these four deal with. Phil Morris has a recurring role as Cyborg’s father; always nice to see Phil on TV.

Anyway, the show’s a huge pleasure from start to finish. It really captures the beautiful oddness of Morrison’s run, adapting some incidents – not slavishly – and finding quirky and weird takes on the sort of situations that he might have written in his wonderful series. Diane Guerrero is absolutely captivating in a role that should be barely sympathetic, and Tudyk is having more fun than the law should allow as a villain who is way above these misfits’ weight class.

I haven’t seen a whole lot of chatter about Doom Patrol, and I think only one of my pals watched it (he loved it, happily). But don’t let the show’s low profile prompt you to overlook it! If you’re in the market for fifteen incredibly fun and freaky hours, then DC Universe is definitely worth the subscription for this show. I hope we’ll hear word about a second season in the near future.

We’re going to take a TV break for a few days, but we’ll be back with a classic movie this weekend. See you then!

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Even before Rogue One reached its amazing final half-hour, it had become my favorite film in this series. The sense of dirt and desperation and real, terrible danger is just so engrossing that I was as captivated as could be. I started worrying, pretty early on, that nobody was getting out of this one alive. When Forest Whitaker’s character becomes collateral damage to the Death Star’s first test, I was riveted in a way that Star Wars movies, no matter how entertaining they’ve often been, rarely demand of their audience.

A second pass revealed one or two dents in this movie’s armor. I didn’t like the “no, I have to stay in this exploding base cradling dead Mads Mikkelsen while someone shouts ‘we have to leave him!’ at me” scene. They could have cut five minutes, easy, if they’d just had the Rebel Alliance agree to attack the planet Scarif, which they ended up doing anyway. But these are minor, and the film remains amazing.

I asked our son “So what’s the best Star Wars movie?” and he said “This one.” He’s right.

One of the most remarkable moments came when Donnie Yen’s character, a blind monk called Chirrut Îmwe, finally meets his end. Our son got upset with the death of a heroic character, for probably the first time since he saw the death of Jaime Sommers more than a year ago. He wasn’t bothered by the deaths of Han Solo or the Fourth Doctor, but when Chirrut dies, he was trembling and clutching his security blanket.

There’s so much to like in this movie already. I liked seeing Richard Franklin for about two seconds, and I thought the CGI Peter Cushing used to bring Governor/Grand Moff Tarkin was impressive and wonderful. Forest Whitaker’s character, an extremist so ruthless that he frightens the rest of the rebels, deserves a movie or two of his own, and there’s a droid called K-2SO, voiced by Alan Tudyk, who I like almost as much as I like R2-D2. Almost.

Then we get to the finale and when K-2 goes down and then Chirrut goes down… the lump in my throat got really big. The outer space stuff remains as exciting and wild as ever, and there’s a brief respite when one of the alien admirals (Raddus, possibly) orders a “hammerhead” ship to ram a Star Destroyer that’s lost power and plow it into another, which might just be the most wonderful and air-punching special effects moment in any of these movies.

But the cost of those plans… there’s a line in the first movie about how a lot of lives were lost getting those plans. Seeing it happen was beautifully heartbreaking. I loved Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso. I don’t need a pile of cartoon TV series or novels to expand her story. These two hours were all I needed. Erso is a very good character in a fantastic story. And the best stories have endings.

Speaking of which… as if this film wasn’t already my favorite, director Gareth Edwards waits until the last three damn minutes to calmly play his masterstroke. In the first three movies, Darth Vader was more evil and menacing by reputation than by action, unless you were a back-talking Imperial officer. Unless you’ve been reading the many comic books that have been published, you never got to see the character engage in the kind of brutal butchery he doles out at the very end of this movie. It’s remarkable.

Rogue One is a great film, and my favorite of the ten by some measure. I’m glad my kid agrees.

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