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Doom Patrol showrunner Jeremy Carver on turning the comic into an R-rated series for DC Universe
In the half-year's existence of the DC Universe, the streaming service's original scripted programming has consisted of modest offerings like the live-action Titans and the animated, Young Justice: Outsiders. But February welcomed Doom Patrol, which feels like it could just as easily live on HBO or FX. It's got an impressive cinematic look and R-rated content, and embraces the absurdity of its character's 'powers' in a way not many other superhero TV shows do.
Doom Patrol's attitude is heavily inspired by Grant Morrison's run with the title, but also by showrunner Jeremy Carver's (Being Human, Supernatural) sensibility for writing about broken characters. And the show has plenty, from Brendan Fraser's encased-in-metal Robotman to April Bowlby's goo-turning-gal, Elasti-Girl. SYFY WIRE sat down with Carver to explore how his lack of experience with the comic helped him craft a series that services both Doom Patrol newbies and longtime DC fans.
Let's start with your experience with the Doom Patrol comic. What was it initially?
I didn't know the Doom Patrol and I haven't worked on a superhero show before. Greg (Berlanti) and Sarah (Schechter) and Geoff Johns brought me in to take my temperature on the project. Greg said, "Why don't you take a look at these comics?" I read as much as I could, and I really loved what I was reading. It was the Grant Morrison one I was predominantly looking at that time. And they said, "Would you mind giving us a take on this?"
What was your idea of a way of turning the stories into a series?
I very much look at the character first rather than the superpower, and the more different, the better. Frankly, the more pain, the better, because that means more pathos, and I actually firmly believe the more humor can spring from all of that. I basically pitched what I was hoping to be a mature, hopefully grounded, yet absurd take on the individuals that was profane, a little bit in your face, but hopefully, it punches you in the heart. They obviously had wonderful additions to make to my pitch, but they completely got behind it. There was a real hunger with the DC Universe app to do something that felt different and unique, and beyond that, something that felt mature and adult, without putting too much of a marketing spin on it. Something that felt premium in a streaming sense.
There aren't a lot of hard-R superhero adaptation out there in film or TV, outside of Deadpool. Were they totally committed to going this direction with a DC TV series?
I needed a couple assurances, but only a couple because I really loved the Universe.
What did you need to know?
The only assurance I needed was, what I'm pitching you is mature and absurd and profane, and I just need to make sure that we're all on the same page. That this is what we want to do. And they said, "Not only do we want you to do it, we demand it. That's what this service demands."
The pilot revolves around Cliff (Fraser), but will the series continue to use him as the narrative spine?
Cliff is definitely our eyes and ears in the pilot , but beyond the pilot, it becomes everybody's story. The mantra for Season 1 was find the Chief (Timothy Dalton); he's been abducted. And in the course of finding the Chief, they're going to find themselves. For me, it was a chance for these people, who had been recluses for the most part, to really take stock of themselves and all the messiness that comes from that. That's where I wanted to go with it. So, it wasn't necessarily about arriving at a happy place.
Let's talk about the very interesting choice to have three of your male leads - Robotman, Negative Man (Matt Bomer), Mr. Nobody (Alan Tudyk) - essentially be faceless characterizations. Isn't that stomping on the Green Goblin learned rule of "No mask work?"
It was a horrifying jump to make for me, having never really worked in that space before. But the project was moving at a pretty fast clip in the beginning. It wasn't until going into production that we were figuring out how it was going to work as we were doing it with the voice acting and the suit actors [on set]. But as I'm writing the script, I realize, 'Oh my goodness. We're going to production and there's a pretty big scene here with a dude in bandages and a brain in a suit, and no mouth moving.
So, the name talent does the voice-over after shooting the physical performances done by their body performers?
Yes, and it was even to the point of, when we were going to record these guys, we decided to do it a couple different ways. And we've been really blessed with the two gentleman playing the suit actors; they are just incredible actors in their own right. And the costume designer, Laura Jean Shannon, who designed our super suits, had a secret weapon in the design of these outfits in that you project what you want on these faces, and it becomes incredibly soulful. But there's no question about it, that between Brendan and Matt, and then Alan as well, we've been blessed that they're such wonderful actors in their own right and are so distinctive. I hope you never, for one second, not think that it's Brendan or Matt. That is a real testament to a lot work behind the scenes.
Does that mean the two female leads, April Bowlby and Diane Guerrero as Crazy Jane, have a unique dynamic in most scenes?
Yes, there's an extra burden on them in this show because of the fact they're two of the actual living, breathing characters. And they're just both phenomenal. They're like the beating lion's heart of the show. I don't think people even realize what they are shouldering because of all that stuff.
What's been your attitude about how much story to tackle in Season 1?
I would say, it's very much a 'smoke 'em if you got 'em' approach to the season. We weren't worried too much about the typical progression you'd see in a first-year show. And when I say that, I mean, structurally, our episodes are all very different. We have some episodes that have more action maybe than the more typical superhero show. We have episodes that are all about group therapy. The teams are sitting around the sofas, and digging into their emotional feelings because if they don't, their nemesis, Mr. Nobody, is going to get the best of them. Then, we have episodes where we go back to 1913 in the Yukon. We're in a The Revenant like setting where we see one of the strangest, yet most beautiful, love stories I've had the pleasure of working on in a while.
For fans of the Doom Patrol comics, which contain many bizarre characters, who can they expect to see show up this season?
People are gonna see Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man. People are going to see Danny the Street. They're gonna see the Beard Hunter. And they're going to see the Bronze Age Lodestone, and Celsius in an incredibly touching story about an early iteration of the Doom Patrol. I'm personally not someone who fixates on doing [introductions] just to do it. But it's part of this wonderful Universe, so let's bring 'em in.
New episodes of Doom Patrol drop Friday nights on DC Universe.