On October 1, 1989, forty-three children were born to mothers who hadn’t been pregnant at the start of the day. This crop of kids were gifted with extraordinary powers and drew the attention of Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore) – eccentric billionaire, explorer, Olympic gold medalist, entrepreneur, and space alien. Hargreeves adopted seven such children and raised them to fight crime as a superhero team entitled the Umbrella Academy.
On February 15, 2019, the Netflix series that tells this story premiered and experienced massive success. The Umbrella Academy is a television adaptation of the comic book series of the same name, written by Gerard Way (yes, that one) and illustrated by Gabriel Bá. The premise is largely the same, as are the characters’ names and superpowers, and the overall tone of wackiness and insanity. Other than that, the graphic novel and TV show could not be more different.
The seven children adopted by Hargreeves are the main characters that anchor this fun superhero comedy slash family drama. Their father addresses his adopted children only by numbers and they aren’t given names until later in their childhood by their robot mother, Grace (Jordan Claire Robbins).
So, bear with me for roll call – Number One, or Luther (Tom Hopper), has super strength and has spent four years collecting data on the moon after an accident left him disfigured. Number Two, or Diego (David Castañeda), can manipulate the trajectory of weapons, although knives are his trademark, and uses this to fight crime as a vigilante. Number Three, or Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman), can control minds, actions, and reality itself as long as her command starts with “I heard a rumor…” and is a famous Hollywood actress who recently lost custody of her daughter.
Number Four, or Klaus (Robert Sheehan), can convene with the dead and his aversion of this power has led him into an addiction to drugs and alcohol. Number Five (Aidan Gallagher) has the ability to move through time and space, and goes missing at thirteen, either before he receives a name or after he rejects Grace’s choice. Number Six, or Ben (Justin Min), has access to intergalactic monsters and their powers through his stomach and died in a mysterious accident years before the series begins. Finally, Number Seven, or Vanya (Elliot Page) is shy, adept at the violin, and the only of her siblings to possess no powerful abilities.
The remaining siblings, now thirty, reunite for their father’s funeral and are confronted by the reappearance of Number Five, who hasn’t aged a day since his disappearance but claims to have been lost in time for forty-five years. He has returned to warn his siblings of a rapidly approaching doomsday that only the Umbrella Academy can stop.
This show is at its most entertaining when it lets the siblings bounce off each other because it tends to spur either comedy or conflict, due to their wildly different personalities. This is a family dramedy first and a superhero show second, after all. It would be an understatement to say the Umbrella Academy had an abnormal childhood. They “were never just kids,” as Reginald himself puts it, when he lectures Klaus during a shave in the afterlife. (I told you, this show is crazy.) And yet, despite the bizarre and unbelievable circumstances the characters were raised in, the family dynamics and drama feel very grounded.
The siblings’ reunion at their father’s funeral in the pilot is fraught with tension because of unresolved issues from childhood. The chemistry the actors have with one another is so specific because they have to portray a complicated dynamic with siblings who grew up together but also have not seen one another in a long time, nearly the entirety of their adult lives.
Umbrella Academy‘s cast is great at bouncing between throwback sibling teasing and outright disdain, the latter because the Hargreeves children just don’t like each other very much. (Except for Allison and Luther, who like each other a little too much.) This allows the show to explore the awkwardness of family interactions as well as superpowers and the end of the world, mixing relatability with the extraordinary.
Despite all the praise I’ve been heaping on the Umbrella Academy, I’d hesitate to call this a good show. It’s a lot of fun, I can promise that, but I wouldn’t call it quality television. It has a lot of hokey dialogue and tedious subplots that go nowhere, but it also has cool action sequences set to a killer soundtrack. This show revels in its own weirdness, but also often doesn’t make any sense, especially when multiple timelines and other complicated storylines arise.
The premise of this show is interesting, which is why it’s such a disappointment when it often stumbles on the execution. There is a lot to like here, the most obvious being the actors’ charismatic performances, but the writers often rely on its talented cast too much to carry the show so audiences won’t inspect the plot holes.
The Umbrella Academy is a good, fun time just for the sake of it. So, if you’re intrigued, you can check out the first season on Netflix – just don’t think too carefully about the plot or the cracks will show. These days, though, pure entertainment fluff is usually more enjoyable and accessible, and this show is very much that.
Image courtesy of Netflix
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