This is, quite simply, a show that has no reason to exist. Especially not for four seasons while firmly planted in the weirdest, canon-breaking corner of the DC universe. But Doom Patrol does exist, and heading into its fourth season, remains as gloriously bizarre and compelling as ever.
Much like fellow live action DC series Titans, Doom Patrol can trace its origins back to the short-lived DC Universe streaming service that was eventually shuttered and rolled into HBO Max. But unlike the grim-dark (but still good!) Titans, Doom Patrol has carved out space as a bona fide critical hit during its four-season run. It’s not afraid to take on stories of trauma, emotional instability, mental illness, and what exactly makes us human. It just filters those stories through the prism of a robot man, a woman with dozens of personalities, and an irradiated, gauze-covered Matt Bomer who shares his body with an alien energy force.
Though it started as a backdoor pilot in Titans’ first season, Doom Patrol is arguably the antithesis of Titans. It’s the story of a superhero team so wildly dysfunctional they have no business being heroes, and most of the time get lost in their own dysfunction instead of actually saving the day. The fourth season stars Brendan Fraser (Cliff Steele), Diane Guerrero (Jane), Matt Bomer (Larry Trainor), April Bowlby (Rita Farr), Joivan Wade (Cyborg), and Michelle Gomez (Madame Rouge) as the current iteration of the team.
Though most characters in the series are largely DC D-listers, it’s still wild to think they actually got the approval to use DC heavyweight Cyborg, portrayed here by Wade as a more insecure version of the character still desperately trying to rediscover the humanity he lost when he became a robotic superhero. It’s also easy to forget the Brendan Fraser renaissance actually quietly started a few years ago on Doom Patrol, as the actor (now riding the awards hype for his performance in The Whale) has been portraying the foul-mouthed former race car driver brought back to life as a hard-wired brain in a robot body. He’s spent the years since trying to reconnect with the family, and to become a better man. Even though he’s not technically a man anymore at all.
In its fourth season, Doom Patrol is infinitely comfortable in its weird skin, and if you’re a fan, I’d highly recommend a catch-up on the back half of Season 3 before diving back in. It’s easy to forget some of the more complicated mythology, nuanced dynamics, and supporting characters in the long break since the third season dropped a year ago. This has always been a show that revels in its super-weird canon, and Season 4 takes some of the biggest swings yet.
The big mystery this season revolves around averting a future apocalypse, which the team gets a glimpse of due to some time travel mishaps we won’t spoil. This being Doom Patrol, said apocalypse could involve everything from butt monsters to zombies, which leads to some truly hilarious action scenes and set pieces. But Doom Patrol has always kept the team at its center, and that thankfully remains the case in Season 4. There might be a brewing apocalypse and some magical shenanigans in the offing, but this has always been the story of Jane, Rita, Larry, Cyborg, and Cliff.
Each hero gets their personal journey pushed in new and exciting directions, with plenty of the growth springing from the events of Season 3 as well as that mysterious glimpse into the future. One of the biggest surprises this season is Wade’s Cyborg, who gets a compelling arc this year as we get to see sides to his character we’ve never seen before. But it’s Fraser, as usual, who steals the show. His take on Cliff brings so much humanity, humor and sadness to his performance. Which is impressive, considering it’s almost exclusively voice work through a robot body.
The fourth season of Doom Patrol might be the series’ strongest yet, if only because it’s fully hit its stride and become more comfortable than ever within its incredibly weird little world. It’s a character study wrapped in a comic book drama that’s so bonkers you’d think you could only find it as a back-up story in a dollar box single issue at the back of the comic shop. But here it is, on HBO Max, gloriously riding into its fourth season. It might not fit the mold of your typical HBO prestige series (we admittedly can’t imagine killer butt monsters popping up in Westeros), but there’s no doubt Doom Patrol deserves to be on the streaming scroll right alongside awards contender heavyweights like House of the Dragon and The White Lotus.
This is one of the best shows on TV, and yes, also still one of the weirdest. Thankfully those aren’t mutually exclusive.
Season 4 of Doom Patrol premieres Thursday, December 8th on HBO Max.
Trent Moore is a recovering print journalist, and freelance editor and writer with bylines at lots of places. He likes to find the sweet spot where pop culture crosses over with everything else. Follow him at @trentlmoore on Twitter.
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