Possible spoilers ahead!!
Netflix’s “The Umbrella Academy” is based on the Eisner-winning comics by My Chemical Romance lead singer Gerard Way and Brazilian artist Gabriel Bá. Both the comics and the show takes dysfunctional family drama and mixes it with the world of superhero action thanks to a cool concept:
On October 1, 1989, 43 women around the world give birth simultaneously, despite none of them showing any sign of pregnancy until labor began. Seven of these children, Klaus (Robert Sheehan), Luther (Tom Hopper), Diego (David Castañeda), Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman), Ben (Justin H. Min), Vanya (Ellen Page), and an unnamed Number Five (Aidan Gallagher), are adopted by eccentric billionaire Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore).
The series then shifts to the funeral of the eccentric entrepreneur, years after the sibling team has broken up. While it’s not immediately revealed what caused them to drift apart, it’s clear the siblings’ didn’t exactly care for their adopted father. This becomes clearer as the series goes on, but that’s just one issue the family has to deal with. When Number Five, (who’s been missing for over a decade), returns as his 13-year-old self, a new set of earth-shattering problems arise.
Wow, I did not expect “The Umbrella Academy” to blow me away the way it did. My wifey and I started watching on Friday night and ended up finishing the entire series by Saturday morning, it was that good. I knew a little about the concept, having read a couple of issues of the comic in early 2008. But to be honest, I didn’t remember too much about it.
That was probably a good thing though because the Netflix show kept surprising me over and over again with its mix of vigilantism, time travel, necromancy, and pop music. If that’s not enough craziness for you, the series also includes an anthropomorphized chimpanzee named Pogo (Adam Godley) and a malfunctioning robot matriarch named Grace (Jordan Claire Robbins), who the kids refer to as “Mom.”
Another cool thing about “The Umbrella Academy” is that the show doesn’t shy away from showing superpowers in action. Throughout the series, we get to see characters time-travel, teleport short distances, conjure up dead ghosts, increase in size, throw very accurate knives, and even plenty of hand to hand combat. All of the CGI looked great, and the way scenes are shot helped the overall product.
Something else “The Umbrella Academy” has plenty of is humor. Some of my favorite moments came courtesy of Klaus (Robert Sheehan). One sequence, in particular, features Klaus’ conversation with several of the victims of time traveling assassins Cha-Cha (Mary J. Blige) and Hazel (Cameron Britton). The scene was so funny, it left me with tears in my eyes.
Speaking of Cha-Cha, Mary J. Blige is phenomenal in the series. Her character is a workaholic who loves the killing aspect of it, but she also has some very funny moments. Blige was even great in the fight scenes and she more than held her own in this crazy super-powered world. I’d go as far as saying this might be the best work she’s done outside of music career.
Number five also delivered some great comedic scenes, and how could he not? A 58-year-old man stuck in his 13-year-old body is bound to bring up some issues. Not to mention his many years spent as a time-traveling assassin, who knows what other secrets Number Five is keeping to himself.
Played by an ever-so-serious Aidan Gallagher, Number Five quickly became my wife’s favorite character. Gallagher does a great job acting out the trope of the old man stuck in a kid’s body. My only question is why did he keep the school uniform on the entire time?
The humor isn’t limited to Cha-Cha and Number Five, each member of “The Umbrella Academy” gets a moment or two of lighthearted fun. I liked this because it made me care more about these people so that when something dramatic did happen, it had much more of an impact.
Also on the main cast, Tom Hopper plays Luther, Number One, who has a small head on a huge hulking body after a mission went bad. Luther is the leader of the seven, but he often questions whether he should have that role. I liked how Hopper played the character like a gentle giant, one who seeks out conflict, but someone who will defend his family when the situation calls for it.
One of my favorite subplots was Luther’s affection for Emmy Raver-Lampman’s Allison. Maybe I liked this plotline because Allison turned out to be my favorite character in the “Umbrella Academy.” The way I saw it, out of all seven, Allison had the most to lose if they failed on their mission. And I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but in some ways, she became the mom of the group looking out for the other. As for her affection with Luther, keep in mind they may be siblings, but technically they are not related.
Then there’s Ellen Page’s Vanya who lacks any powers, and her family is always there to remind her of it. For much of the 10 episodes, Vanya comes off looking pensive and sad while playing her violin. But Page delivers one of her best performances yet, giving Vanya multiple layers to play with.
Finally, there’s Diego. He is “The Umbrella Academy’s resident knife-wielding vigilante played by David Castañeda. He wants to be the leader of the group, but his temper and violent outburst made that impossible. However, despite his anger, Diego does seem to genuinely care about his siblings, even if he won’t admit it.
The main story of the season builds slowly, making ample use of flashbacks (and some flash forwards) to tell the main story. To my surprise, these flashbacks and forwards never got old because they turn out to be essential in their respective episodes. Plus it was cool to see the siblings when they were young and the hell their adoptive dad put each of them through.
Something else I loved about the show, was the clever use of music. Every episode seemed to have one of two breakout scenes set to music. There’s one scene in which all the siblings retreat to their own rooms after their father’s funeral, a record starts playing Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now” and everyone starts dancing to the music. It’s a simple scene, but a poignant moment nonetheless. One that shows viewers that despite their many quarrels, these extraordinary people are still family.
If I have one complained about the show it would be the character of Leonard Peabody (John Magaro). He plays Vanya’s love interest, and his character’s build up was so great, I was expecting big things towards the end of the season. But what ends up happening was somewhat unsatisfying.
But that’s a minor complaint. The fact is, the “The Umbrella Academy” was a joy to watch. In fact’ I’d say season one was better than some of the Netflix Marvel shows put together. Academy had something for everyone, super-heroics, music, time, travel, mannequins, donuts, bird watching, you name it. Whether you know the comic or now, “Umbrella Academy” is worth your time.
“The Umbrella Academy” score: A-