Greetings, my fellow bloggers! While biding my time over the next installment of “Stranger Things” to hit our Netflix screens on 4th July, I am currently biding my time streaming other Netflix original shows to fill the void until that date. One strong contender for this position is the new hit show “The Umbrella Academy”, which debuted on the platform in February 2019. Based on the comic books penned by Gerard Way of “My Chemical Romance” fame, who previously “Welcomed us to the Black Parade”, this show is pretty surreal, but once you get past the initial strangeness, it’s a compelling Superhero/Family Drama series, in the vein of “X Men” or “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”.
Straight away, “The Umbrella Academy” draws you right into its wacky premise. On October 1st, 1989, there were 43 cases of women giving birth all over the world. What was so extraordinary about these births were that none of these women had been pregnant seconds prior- they just jumped straight into the delivery process! After hearing about the mass immaculate conceptions, eccentric billionaire and adventurer Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore) set out to adopt as many of these miracle babies as possible, ending up with seven, under the belief that they all possessed superpowers. And wouldn’t you know it, the old geezer was right, and trained them to be an unstoppable teenage crime fighting team!
Unfortunately, he proved to be a less than stellar parent to his seven charges, numbering them from 1 to 7, testing them past their limits, and scarring them well into their adult years. Upon Hargreeves’ death years later, the now estranged siblings must reluctantly reunite to solve the mystery behind their father’s death. However, they must also contend with the sudden reappearance of their long lost time travelling brother, Number Five, who returns from the future with a message- the world will end in 8 days. Now, our dysfunctional group of washed up heroes must grudgingly band together to prevent the apocalypse, but there’s many twists and turns to this story…
Despite the oddity and the quirkiness of the show, what really makes it work and stand out from all those other superhero themed properties is the characters themselves, specifically the seven siblings and their powers. In order, there’s Number 1, Luther , (Tom Hopper) who has super strength and a huge secret under his overcoat, Number 2, Diego (David Castadena) , a police academy dropout turned masked vigilante who can manipulate the trajectory of any objects he throws, particularly knives, Number 3, Allison (Emmy Raver Lampmann), a famous celebrity who can warp reality by using the phrase “I Heard a Rumor” , Number 4, Klaus (Robert Sheehan), a wacky medium who uses drugs to cope with the ghosts he’s constantly tormented by, the previously aforementioned Number 5 (No Alias), (Aidan Gallagher) who can teleport, spacial jump and time travel, Number 6, Ben (Justin H. Min), who is sadly dead by the time our story takes place, but who could conjure up monsters from other dimensions from inside his stomach, and finally, Number 7, Vanya (Ellen Page), who despite having an affinity for playing the violin, is a completely ordinary woman who has absolutely no superpowers of her own (OR DOES SHE?!)
Due to the ensemble cast , the plot focuses equally on each sibling,as they nativate their own personal story arcs. Naturally, as is the case with many ensemble casts, some stand out more than others. In this case, the standouts for me would be Klaus and Five. Klaus is extremely endearing, despite his many traumas, despite being written off as a lay about junkie by the majority of his siblings. Sheehan plays him with appropriate vulnerability and likability that you can’t help but root for Klaus, even as he goes through some tough times, and loses someone close to him. I also liked his bond with his dead brother Ben, who can only be seen by Klaus due to his ghost seeing abilities, and hope that we find out what led to his mysteriously tragic death in the upcoming second season.
Five (unlike the others, he’s the only one who seemingly doesn’t have a name) is a middle aged man who is trapped in a teenager’s body due to a mishap with the equations of time travel . He spent many years lost in an apocalypse wasteland after overestimating his time – travelling abilities, and was forced to become a killer to get back to his family. Gallagher, who is only 15 years old, does a remarkable job of acting like a grumpy old man, which is a tricky concept to make work, but BOY does he ever pull it off well! Vanya, the “normal sibling” (OR IS SHE?!) has an interesting plot, as she gradually discovers more of her potential, after having spent her entire childhood alienated from her superpowered siblings, and made to feel less than special.
Also involved in the story are Hazel and Cha Cha (Cameron Britton and Mary J. Blige) a pair of assassains who are after Five to stop him from halting the apocalypse, and who add some slight comic relief to the proceedings. There’s also Pogo (Adam Godley) the family’s long-serving butler, who nobody draws attention to the fact that he’s a talking chimpanzee, and Grace (Jordan Claire Robbins), their Stepford wife inspired robot mother, who has a fantastic, loving bond with the otherwise tough, brooding Diego.
On another topic, while most of the characters are well liked, Luther appears to be the most hated within this fandom. I can understand WHY this is the case, (Namely, his feelings for adoptive sister Allison, and his actions against Vanya in the last few episodes) but I personally didn’t mind Luther that much, and sympathized with him . He spent his entire life groomed to be the leader of the Academy, and lived in denial of just how AWFUL a person their father was, and how he damaged the entire family. I still think that he has potential to grow as a person, and to become MORE than just Reggie’s toy soldier. In regards to Luther and Allison’s romantic subplot, while I found it to be easily the least interesting plot, “Games of Thrones this is not, since they never considered each other brother and sister, nor are they actually related, unlike Jaime and Cersei.
Aside from the fabulous cast, the cinematography and the soundtrack are also amazingly well selected. In fact, arguably one of the best scenes involves the siblings dancing to Tiffany’s 1987 hit song “I Think We’re Alone Now”, while all are in different rooms, and unaware that the others are also dancing. The camerawork for this scene is especially effective, particularly when the camera pulls pack to show the entire house. While the show CAN get rather graphic and bloody with its fight sequences, they are usually softened by catchy tunes playing over the action. The highlights include Five single handedly killing some armed gunmen to the sounds of They Might be Giants’ “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)”, or when he leads Hazel and Cha Cha through a brawl in a department store, with Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” playing in all its glory.
So, is “The Umbrella Academy” worth checking out? Most definitely! It has mystery, drama and intrigue, and an interesting, complex ensemble of characters. My only issue with the characters is that due to being emotionally closed off from each other, they never talk things out together, which can be frustrating to sit through moments where someone keeps a vital piece of information from another until its dramatically convenient to do so. A second series is in the horizon, which will be released next year, so hopefully we’re not in for too long of a wait. “The Umbrella Academy” earns a total of 4 out of 5 stars.