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Doom Patrol review: season 4 may not be all that super-heroic, but it’s still entertaining

A few nitpicks aside, HBO Max's Doom Patrol delivers the goods—and leads to a thrilling mid-season cliffhanger

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Doom Patrol season 4 part 1 review
Doom Patrol 

Isn’t it just like the Doom Patrol to make the season when they finally decide to become superheroes the least super-heroic one yet? Sure, the gang never had the greatest grasp of their abilities to begin with, but in part one of season four, they are particularly de-powered. (Part two kicks off sometime next year.) It’s not a good time for them to be slacking on the job, either, as the team finds themselves staring down the barrel of not one, but two apocalypses. But that’s a big chunk of the problem: Whether they decide to call themselves the Doom Patrol or not, the apocalypses start coming—and they don’t stop.

Our heroes–now including Laura De Mille (Michelle Gomez)—are as charmingly irreverent and enjoyable to watch as ever. But the fact that they don’t really do anything can be frustrating. Vic (Jovian Wade) has traded in his Cyborg tech to try on being normal, yet for some reason, he’s decided to stick around to be the team’s IT guy. (A meetup with Vic’s estranged middle-school friends is both touching and provides the most natural opportunity that this version of the character has yet experienced for him to say “Booyah.”)

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Similarly, Jane (Diane Guerrero) is aimlessly searching for a purpose that doesn’t involve protecting Kay (Skye Roberts)—nor does it involve much super-heroics from her other personalities. And Larry (played by Matthew Zuk and voiced by Matt Bomer) not only struggles to effectively put his new negative spirit into action, but actually spends much of these episodes separated from it. (You will tire of Larry plaintively calling, “Keeg?” as he searches for his missing adolescent spirit-child.)

Rita (April Bowlby) and Cliff (played by Riley Shanahan and voiced by Brendan Fraser) are similarly lost, but their goals are at least a bit more clear. (And notably, they’re the only ones who, besides Laura, remain most in control of their abilities.) Rita discovered a sense of self with the Sisterhood of Dada that she struggles to regain back with the team, which is made all the worse by the presence of her nemesis, Laura. Meanwhile, Cliff’s grandson Rory remains his north star, but he’s torn between making himself or the world better for his family. (If he improves the world through violence, how can he become a better man?)

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Doom Patrol season 4 review
Doom Patrol

Setting aside a lack of superpowers, the fact that these characters never grow up starts to get old, too. Then again, them being stuck in perpetual arrested development is central to the season. The Chief’s (Timothy Dalton) experiments imbued the original members of the team with immortality, and there’s a new big bad on the rise looking to steal their longevity. Alongside the prophesied rise of Immortus comes a slew of minor antagonists, including the very welcome Sendhil Ramamurthy (although his chemistry with Larry, the character with whom he shares the most screen time, isn’t quite up to snuff).

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This batch of episodes caused us to nitpick a few tiny plot points as well. (So how did Rita figure out that particular use for a jellyfish? And how did Cliff and Jane enter that particular pocket dimension?) But it still manages to reward the viewer by weaving in bits and pieces from previous seasons into an engaging tapestry. Or perhaps we should say butts and pieces, because those darn derrières are still making trouble, and this season they’re taking an even more central role. What’s more, the show makes great use of other characters and threads in ways that are not just satisfying, but also feel reminiscent of Doom Patrol’s comic-book roots.

Doom Patrol Season 4 | Official Trailer | HBO Max

All in all, part one of the fourth season will certainly please fans, just as surely as the mid-season cliffhanger will leave them itching for more. Doom Patrol is consistently solid and knows how to play to its strengths, which are making fun of any and every thing (there’s a clever Riverdale bit that delighted us) and narrowing in on the team relationships. The best scenes take place between pairs, like the always-great Jane-Cliff friendship or the Rita-Laura rivalry (Jane-Vic and Laura-Cliff have some ace side quests as well). If the group scenes don’t have the same depth, well, this season and the team itself are still works in progress.

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Doom Patrol season four, part one, premieres December 8 on HBO Max.