Posts Tagged ‘Neil Reynolds’

When is a step out of the nest anything but?

How about — when a TV series does an “offbeat” episode (a very relative term here, I realize, as the entire show is “offbeat” in the extreme) where no one leaves the house?

Which isn’t, mind you, to say that “not a lot happens” — or your preferred alternative turn of phrase essentially describing the same thing — in “Therapy Patrol,” the seventh installment of the DC Universe original streaming series Doom Patrol. Quite a lot does — in terms of development, disintegration, and re-development of team dynamics, fleshing out key character “backstories” even more, etc. There’s no visible villain on offer, though (even if Mr. Nobody’s presence continues to loom large and, in a very real sense, informs everything that happens), Timothy Dalton’s “Chief” Niles Caulder remains conspicuous by his absence, and yeah  —  more or less everything takes place within the confines of “Doom Manor.” And mostly in just one room, at that.

The “action” in Neil Reynolds” script (who’s now written more episodes than “showrunner” Jeremy Carver) starts focused on April Bowlby’s Rita Farr, who’s having a (literal) morning meltdown, but mainly this is a Cliff Steele-centric episode, with Riley Shanhan’s movement and Brendan Fraser’s voice making it damn clear something’s wrong with Robotman — or should that be making it clear that something is even more wrong than usual? His endless cajoling finally gets everyone to agree to an impromptu “group therapy” session — if only to shut him up — and then it’s “deep dive” time, as the inner fears and tragedies motivating Cliff, Rita, Joivan Wade’s Vic Stone, Diane Guerrero’s “Crazy” Jane, and Matt Bomer/Matthew Zuk’s Larry Trainor to action (or, as is more frequently the case, inaction) play out in both flashback and discussion form, thus saving director Rob Hardy from having to set everything in the dilapidated mansion’s sitting room. If you’re “into” these characters — and, by now, you either are or you’re no longer watching — you’re gonna be glued to the screen, trust me, even if we re-visit a fair amount of familiar territory.

Seriously, though, I kept coming back to the fact that there’s something very wrong with Cliff here. His bizarre affect keeps on working away in your skull, a pestering but fascinating nuisance, and Jane in particular is reacting pretty poorly to his erratic behavior — not that she’s one to talk. There’s an explanation for all of this, of course, but given that this is one of those rare episodes that doesn’t specifically reference any particular storylines, or even issues, in the team’s comic book history, it’s entirely safe to say that you will absolutely not see said explanation coming.

And, of course, it’s awesome. Way out of left field. Fiendishly clever with an emphasis on the “fiendish.” And it’s pulled off with aplomb to spare. I was ready to give this one a “pretty good, not amazing” verdict, but the last five minutes or so propelled this thing into the creative stratosphere and ensured this show’s “every episode is better than the last” track record remained intact.

Of course, if you need guest stars to make your happy, you’re SOL here — apart from recurring semi-regulars like Phil Morris’ Silas Stone and Kyle Clements’ John Bowers it’s the principal cast only carrying things this time out — yet never once does this story feel claustrophobic of even limited. Yup, the possibilities within the “core group” itself are endless enough in and of themselves, not much more — not much else — is even necessary.

But then, the minute I say that, I see that next week we’re going to get Danny The Street, and yeah — we do need us some Danny, don’t we? Bona to vada, folks!

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Those who know far more about the craft (we’ll stick with that term given that it seldom rises to the level of “art’) of television writing tell me that second episodes are the trickiest wicket of all — at the starting gate you simply lay enough of your cards on the table to grab peoples’ attention, but not so many that they’ll walk away figuring they’ve got the whole show sussed out; with episodes three on out you’re essentially preaching to the choir; but episode two is the one that has to turn the casual viewers into die-hards, has to keep the butts in the seats. The “insta-fans” are already on board, but the “take it or leave it” crowd — the really fickle folks — well, they’re looking for a reason to take it. This is your one and only chance.

“Showrunner” Jeremy Carver turns the writing chores for this crucial installment of the DC Universe original series Doom Patrol over to the tandem of Neil Reynolds and Shoshana Sachi, and their script for “Donkey Patrol” (“Puppet Patrol” is next, so you can already see a pattern developing here) more than does its job — following, as most shows do these days, directly from the previous episode, the vortex created by Alan Tudyk’s narrator/villain Mr. Nobody has swallowed whole the town of Cloverton, Ohio, and with it Niles “The Chief” Caulder (the role that Timothy Dalton, I’m already convinced, was born to play) , but that farting donkey we “met” last time? He’s more than a gasbag, he’s a portal into whatever realm the Doom Patrol’s de facto “leader” has been whisked away to by this guy who hates his guts for reasons we’re still not privy to.

Diane Guerrero’ s”Crazy” Jane leaps in for an attempted rescue, but her visit proves to be a short one, the donkey hee-hawing her back out when her insanity proves to be too unpalatable even for a creature that’ll probably eat anything. This commotion’s not the only show in town, though, as alternating scenes in the early going introduce us to the team’s final member, Vic Stone/Cyborg (played by Joivan Wade), a Detroit-based hero aiming to work his way up to Justice League membership by busting small crimes such as ATM robberies. His roll-out proves to be a complete (I say that with zero hesitation) “win” for Carver, his writers, and director Dermott Downs, who alleviate all concerns about what the fuck a character best known for his turns with the aforementioned League and the Teen Titans is even doing in this show within a matter of minutes — hell, they even manage to tick every box on the “pedantic fan” checklist by directly addressing the continuity issues that arise from Vic appearing in this series this year, but in the Justice League movie last year.

Making perhaps an even more distinctive debut, though, is veteran actor Phil Ford in the role of his father, robotics genius/overbearing prick Silas Stone, a “second voice” in his son’s mind who simply won’t shut the fuck up and always has a “better” idea about what the kiddo should be doing with his extraordinary powers. There’s a tragedy at the heart of Cyborg’s origin story that no doubt has resulted in much unspoken tension between progenitor and progeny, but positioning Caulder as a secondary “father figure” in Vic’s life going back quite a few years not only helps ameliorate some of that, it also provides a perfectly logical explanation for why the half-robotic teen decides to hook up with the Doom Patrol in the first place.

In short, then, shoe-horning this character into this show probably shouldn’t have worked — but damn, it sure does.

“Shippers” — as well as regular people — will probably be gratified to see the bonds between Brendan Fraser/Riley Shanahan’s Cliff Steele and Jane deepen in this episode, fans of the freakish will get a kick out of April Bowlby’s Rita Farr being “squeezed” down into the donkey, and it’s a safe bet that everyone will find the “confronting their past demons” scenarios that she, Vic, and Matt Bomer/Matthew Zuk’s Larry Trainor are faced with on the “other side” of the most deliberately absurd dimensional doorway ever envisioned compelling in the extreme. Unlikely heroes emerge from this already-unlikely crew as they make their escape, but rest assured no one is left unscathed from their experiences in the (let’s just call it what it is) Twilight Zone.

Oh, and The Chief? Spoiler alert — by the time the end credits roll, he’s still stuck there.

Another good episode, then? Nope. Another great one, anchored by strong performances from one and all, well-paced scripting, smart and reasonably stylish direction, and a generous smattering of “Easter Eggs” (including, as you’d expect, any number from the Grant Morrison/Richard Case era of the comic — and one you probably would never expect featuring Curtis “Booger” Armstrong himself) for the observant and/or obsessive. It’s still too early to call this the best super-hero TV show of all time (even if most of the competition for that title is pretty weak), but it’s in no way too early to say that it’s well on track to be.

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