Back in 2018, Netflix released its highly anticipated Titans series. With young Robin himself dropping the f-bomb in the trailer, this looked to have a darker, adult twist. But within the series there was an episode named, funnily enough, ‘Doom Patrol’ which introduced the Titans and the world to Beast Boy (Ryan Potter) while he was holed up in a mysterious manner, being taken care of by a certain Dr Niles Caulder (aka the Chief).
This manor was home to the Doom Patrol – a dysfunctional group of ‘loser’ superheroes whose powers were uncontrollable. Fast forward to 2019 and our super-losers had a series of their own developed by Jeremy Carver and shown on the streaming service STARZPLAY in the UK, which made Robin’s f-bomb look like a cute curse word compared to the sea of profanity and R-rated goings-on that was about to come our way.
In Doom Patrol, we have Rita Farr or Elasti-Girl (played by April Bowlby) – a beautiful actress who, after an unfortunate dip in a contaminated river, found that she couldn’t hold her pretty looks for long. As soon as her emotions flare up, so does her control over her features, which melt to eventually reveal a disgusting blog.
We also have fighter pilot Larry Trainor or Negative Man (played by Matt Bomer when he’s human and Matthew Zuk wrapped in bandages when he’s not) whose skin became burned and radioactive after another unfortunate accident (this time involving radiation while flying on a mission). Not only that, but there is a mysterious being who lives inside him that flies out once he was unconscious…
There is also Cliff Steele or Robotman (played by Brendan Fraser in human form and Riley Shanahan in robot form) – a Nineties car racing legend who also had a liking for his nanny. When he’s involved in an horrific car crash, his brain gets transplanted into that of a giant metal robot. Also along for the ride is Jane (played by Diane Guerrero) whose 64 separate personalities all have weird and wonderful (generally scary) powers of their own.
Joining them is Vic Stone aka Cyborg (Joivan Wade) – who’s not quite one of the loser Doom Patrol, as he’s actually – as they refer to him a lot – a superhero and is usually seen with that other ragtag DC crew, the Teen Titans. That’s not to say Cyborg doesn’t have a few issues of his own… suffering from PTSD and with more than a few daddy issues thrown in for good measure.
They’re all looked after by Chief (Timothy Dalton) who has them live with him in his mansion until they come to terms with their new life. Which, as it turns out, may take a long time to come.
You see, these aren’t your average superheroes – they hate their so-called powers and pretty much everyone around them. “We’re these messed up superheroes that don’t want to be superheroes, we don’t like superheroes,” says actress April Bowlby who plays Rita when we speak to her.
Indeed, Season One of Doom Patrol took everything we expect from a comic book show and gave it the middle finger. Its episodes ranged from the weird (a vortex emitting from a donkey’s arse to suck in an entire town), to the astonishing (there’s a scene where an entire town climaxes all at once due to a misplaced flex of a muscle), to the heart-breaking (pretty much everyone’s backstory will make you shed a tear). It also has its own gender-neutral, living, sentient street called Danny… we said it was wonderfully weird!
Not only that but the show pushed boundaries – focussing on homophobia, sexual exploitation and abuse. It’s a really complex merry-go-round of heart and humour, and we love it. “We’re exploring real issues like abuse, PTSD and body image,” Bowlby continues. “I don’t think that any other show goes as wacky or as grounded as we do in the human condition. I think it’s a really special thing.”
The first season followed the band of misfits after Chief is kidnapped by the gloriously meta bad guy Mr Nobody (played by Adam Tudyk), which pushed the reluctant heroes to not only come together as a group (not just in the aforementioned unfortunate muscle flex scene) but to grow to accept their lot in life.
Yes, the first series of Doom Patrol was a rip-roaring adventure and now Season Two is on its way and we’ve been promised that it’s even crazier – seriously?!
“Season One was so wacky, wild and so unexpected and creative that you kind of worry about having to match that again, but our showrunners and our writing team are amazing,” actor Joivan Wade who plays Vic reveals. “Season Two knocks it out the park and the feedback from the people that have seen it so far in the US has been phenomenal; everyone loves it and it’s really strong and a cut above Season One.”
Our super-losers faced a lot in Season One – coming out of the safety and comfort of the manor to rescue the Chief has forced them into learning a lot about themselves and their powers, which has resulted in the crew being in very different places in this series. “In Season Two it’s really exciting because Rita is learning to express herself and her emotions,” Bowlby tells us. “She’s trying to learn to be a superhero so she starts to lead missions and she’s taking lessons from Vic. Throughout the season you’ll see, instead of melting when Rita gets distressed she actually starts stretching and she begins to use her anger and her emotions to grow. And become a whole person that we all are rooting for her to become!”
In fact, growth seems to be a big theme for the next season: “It’s all about growing up really for all of the characters,” Wade agrees. “For Cyborg, what growing up means to him is handling himself and handling his PTSD and having to confront everything which is holding him back as a superhero.
“Vic is forced to confront his fears and go in to try and work out how to get a grip of who he is and what he’s been through. So you go on this journey with Vic where basically he goes back to Detroit at the start of Season Two to try and find out how to tap this issue that he has. Throughout this season you see that developing and Vic’s dating issues will get explored again in Season Two which is fun. He’s just trying to grow up and these are the things that it means to him to take up that journey.
“But what I’m really excited about Season Two is really focused on Vic Stone as opposed to Cyborg. We’ve seen so much of Cyborg but what we get to see in Season Two is really stripped back, human side of Cyborg and that is Vic. It’s been great to perform on that level and really have access to the human side of Vic Stone.”
“I think the exciting evolution of our show throughout Season One and Two and hopefully Three is that we’re beginning to understand that the powers that make them feel bad about themselves and they don’t want at all – they start to realise that it elevates them and that they can help people and change the world and start becoming better people by actually using the gift that they’ve been giving,” Bowlby adds.
Indeed, these reluctant heroes may seem light years away from the superheroes we know and love. They’re certainly not clean-cut and they have plenty of flaws but they’re loveable and iconic nonetheless; a feeling that Doom Patrol’s cast clearly share: “I love playing Rita because she is so complex and I think every human is so complex,” says Bowlby. “We’re all wounded and we have fear and we’re lost and we have optimistic moments in our life, so I just try to really put the humanity in her. You have to find a way to justify the character’s flaws and I think basically everybody just wants to be loved and they’re hurt and they’re disappointed. So bringing that vulnerability and that level to Rita, I think has really helped her to become a whole person. You don’t hate her and occasionally you’re rooting for her and every time she falls you’re like “get back up!” or “stay down” – either way you have an opinion!”
“It’s been amazing, just having the privilege of being able to play the most iconic black superhero for one was a dream for me and being accepted into the DC family,” Wade adds. “It’s been phenomenal just being a part of it all and being attached to such an iconic character. I’m just enjoying being Vic in Doom Patrol. It’s been nothing but love and you just want to take that energy and keep working hard. Keep delivering.”
There is certainly is a giant, beating heart that runs through Doom Patrol. They’re a family – a very dysfunctional one – but family nevertheless, and it’s clear that this family vibe is felt behind the camera as well as in front. Speaking to the cast, it’s clear they love this crazy, emotional show and each other: “It’s a little like coming back to your wacky family. Everyone is there, we’re all in the same situation it was just a great reunion and we just hopped right back into it!” says Bowlby when we asked what it was like heading back on set for Season Two. “Season One has been amazing and incredible and we all keep in touch which is so nice because it’s such a special experience that no one else has. So It’s nice to call each other up.”
“As a cast and crew, everyone’s like one big family. You couldn’t have asked for a more tight-knit community in terms of filmmakers which we’re so privileged to be part of,” Wade agrees. “Having the opportunity to do it all again is one of the biggest things worth putting your hands together for and being back with the family and knowing that we have a second chance with it all.”
However, with the show having some of those wackier elements, being on set is also a rather strange affair… “There are things every day where you read a script and you’re constantly shocked at what or how things are going work,” laughs Wade. “And then you get on to set and you get told that there are going to be sex ghosts and you’re like ‘what do you mean?’ and they say ‘okay in this scene, just imagine that there are people up there just doing doggy style’ [haha]. Yeah in Season One there are talking butts and in Season Two there are sex ghosts. We’re in a world of craziness. That’s what’s so exciting. Every time you go on set, you just don’t know what to expect. It’s really a playground and it’s a great opportunity for us to be as creative as we can and let our imaginations have no limit because this is that kind of show.”
“So you kind of walk on set with a little trepidation, like: ‘What is behind door number one?! What do we have here?!’” Bowlby laughs. “We do the best to prepare and then the day comes and you don’t know what’s going to happen because there are men flying from the sky and there’s a smoke machine… you just don’t know! I think one of the things that makes the show so much fun is that you really don’t know, every day is completely different.”
Season One ended with the majority of our crew being shrunk after leaving Mr Nobody’s vortex so they begin Season Two with an air of The Borrowers – if the Borrowers said fuck a lot obviously… “It was exciting to walk on the set and see the miniature everything, well miniature to us I guess, we’re miniature but everything on the set was super large because we’re shrunk,” Bowlby tells us. “And there’s a giant pancake and what does it taste like? Is someone gluten-free, can they eat it? So that was super fun.”
Speaking of special effects, with episodes featuring giant pancakes and…er… sex ghosts Doom Patrol has certainly crafted a unique look. Furthermore, with characters such as a half-man, half-machine and a Hollywood starlet who can also turn into a hideous blob, the makeup department needs to be top-notch too.
“During Season One it took me an hour and a half to get everything done,” Wade tells us, describing his routine to become Cyborg. “This is make-up, not the suit. The suit is a whole different process. So it used to take me about an hour and a half by the time I got my hair cut and then get my makeup and get my mask applied. Then on top of that, I’ve got to get into the actual super suit which takes me another 20 minutes, maybe half an hour, depending on how full it is. I think the full version of the character takes about 40 minutes on top of that. So yeah it’s a process!
“But since Season One we got it right down so just my face mask alone used to take me 45-50 minutes but now it takes me like literally 15-20 minutes. I’ve got an amazing super-suit team – that definitely helps. But yeah the suit is phenomenal. Our super suits team Laura Jean, LJ who creates all the super suits she’s phenomenal, and she’s done and amazing job to create such an awesome suit.”
It’s not just makeup that is put into full force: “Most of the melting is CGI,” says Bowlby. “But there was a time in Season One when her neck blobs out. The blob was something they had to make and create and then glue onto my neck and they took a plaster of that. That took about two hours to put on. It’s not as intense as some of the characters on our show have to be in makeup but it was a little bit of time!”
When Rita isn’t… you know… melting… she’s a glamorous Hollywood starlet, which means that Bowlby had to undertake that oh-so arduous job of watching old movies and TV shows to get that classic Hollywood accent down. “That’s the joy of my job. I get to watch old movies and study the greatest actresses ever! So Bette Davis was a big one. Katherine Hepburn… and there’s a great film called The Star with Bette Davis – that was incredible. I watched Sunset Boulevard with Gloria Swanson. Even Meryl a little. I also watched The Twilight Zone to get an odd, creepy neurosis kind of feeling!”
Like many DC shows, Doom Patrol comes with a rich legacy. First appearing in My Greatest Adventure #80 back in 1963, Doom Patrol was created by writers Arnold Drake and Bob Haney, and artist Bruno Premiani. Since then, they have have appeared in a plethora of media platforms and in different incarnations of multiple comics. In fact, they have never been out of print for more than a few years since their introduction.
This legacy is certainly not lost on the series’ cast, who take it very seriously: “I think it’s different for any actor that comes into any role; there’s going to be a level of pressure to deliver a service and you are just making sure you are giving the people what they want. Let alone being given a character that already exists and already has so many different iterations and is loved by so many! They’re huge shoes to fill and so I definitely felt that pressure of delivering to an audience, and to a fan base that already had a pre-conception of what that character should be and how they want that character to be. But that kind of gave me the energy and gave me the motivation to make sure that I deliver on that.
“At the same time, you have the pressure but you can’t attach yourself to it too much otherwise it’ll drive you crazy and you just have to know that you’re putting your best work out there. I’ve got to deliver on what I know and being the best version of the character I can be and work as hard as I can, because there’s nothing more you can do than that. That pressure was definitely felt but I felt like it was helping me.”
With legacy also comes a wealth of different takes on Doom Patrol, which can be useful when researching a role: “So I was a huge fan of Teen Titans from when I was a kid – the 2003 Cartoon Network [show]; I watched that religiously. That’s when I first came across the Teen Titans and Cyborg. I read a lot of comics also and when I got the role I went back and read everything from all the Cyborg comics, to the New 52, to the Teen Titans – everything he had been involved in just to understand all the different iterations of Cyborg. [I also watched] the live action version, like Ray Fisher playing him in Justice League. So I looked at all the versions and just took everything that resonated with me when I was watching the show and what I wanted to see from Vic and how I most related to Cyborg. I wanted to take those elements from all those iterations and pair it with what I was already going to transfer to the table and therefore creating this version of Vic Stone in the DC Universe Doom Patrol. So yeah I’ve read and seen pretty much everything from Teen Titans, Teen Titans GO, to the comics.”
“The only thing I knew [when I got the part] was that I would get to play Elasti-Girl, which in my mind I’m thinking ‘oh great a superhero, how fantastic and she’s stretchy’,” Bowlby adds. “But then we went in so many directions in the sense that we went down the Grant Morrison road. So I read the comic books and when I read the Grant Morrison version of Doom Patrol I thought: ‘Well how are they going to…? Well this can’t possibly happen…!’ I don’t know – sex men and Doctor Time and what! And Danny The Street. How do they make this street become an alive character? But they did! So it was just a real unexplainable adventure that I got to walk through.
“It was completely different than anything I’ve ever done. I will never do anything like this because it’s its own magical world. It’s really special and there’s nothing like this on television. It’s magical don’t you think?”
We certainly do! Awesome effects, loveable characters, talking butts and a sentient street? Doom Patrol really did bring the crazy Season One and with a weirder Season Two, it looks like our band of super-losers are here to stay and we couldn’t be fucking happier.
The first three episodes of Doom Patrol Season Two are available now on STARZPLAY.