Gives the superhero genre a pleasantly kick in the ass.
Adapted from the comic books of the same name, 43 children were born to random women who showed no signs of being pregnant the day before. Sir Reginald Hargreeves (played by Colm Feore) adopted seven of them and bills them as a supergroup called The Umbrella Academy. But as the years go by, the family splinters and eventually the team dissolved. Now as adults, the remaining members return home at the passing of Hargreeve. Not only do they need to solve the mystery behind their father's death, they'll have to deal with the return of a long-lost sibling with a vision of an upcoming apocalypse.
Here be spoilers…
What we like
Superheroes conventions are almost to the point of rote: villain holds the world at hostage, superhero swoops in, punches out the villain's lights and saves the day. Predictable and so very black-and-white. As time went by, the superhero genre got a shot in the arm: stories have nuances, the morality play have grey areas. We see the psychology of what makes superheroes and supervillains what they are, we see other aspects of their selves.
But the hero-worship remains, the conventions hold. The Umbrella Academy tears down that temple.
(To be fair, Timur Bekmambetov's adaptation of Wanted fired that first volley. And there's Zack Snyder's adaptation of Watchmen. Two TV series—The Boys—superpowered vigilantes keep superheroes in line and Doom Patrol, a less aesthetically-pleasing X-Men, will air this year.)
Created and written by Gerard Way (who used to front this little-known band, My Chemical Romance) and illustrated by Gabriel Bá, The Umbrella Academy started out as a limited edition six-parter series. Taking inspiration from Grant Morrison's run on Doom Patrol, Way made The Umbrella Academy into a cult hit. The same spirit continues in the Netflix's adaptation.
One would think that a movie would be sufficient but because it's a 10-episode series, it gives the characters time to breathe and develop throughout the season. The Umbrella Academy's roster is filled with superheroes, yes but they are also intrinsically flawed human beings. You have seven children growing up under the Elm shade of their withdrawn and domineering father.
Vanya (played by Ellen Page) lacks confidence, thanks to Hargreeves' constant reminder of her lack of powers. Diego (David Castañeda) has a sibling rivalry thing going on with Luther (Tom Hopper), who is seen as Hargreeves' favourite. Klaus (Robert Sheehan) takes drugs to dull his powers; Number Five (Aidan Gallagher) has PTSD after a long stay in an apocalyptic future. Despite her power of altering reality, Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman) can't stave off her divorce or gain custody of her kid.
Oh, and then there's Ben (Justin H Min), who is dead.
As adults, they are emotionally damaged. I mean, if your dad chooses to groom you as a superhero team rather than a family or refers to you by a number, rather than by your name, you're liable to have father issues. It's refreshing to see how these people manage and try to move past their dysfunction.
Robert Sheehan has Klaus is campy, really fitting for a character whose flamboyance distracts from his own personal demons. Aidan Gallagher portrayal as Number Five is quite something. There's nothing quite like his performance as an adult psychopath trapped in the body of a teenager.
Given the budget, this show really made it look lavish. The action scenes are almost like music videos, with the soundtrack pulsating with the firing of bullets or the landing of punches and kicks. It's almost operatic in its violence. It's stylised but comical. We love that the whole series rely on a sort of 'magic realism', where everything that happens—no matter how odd—is accepted. Take Pogo (uh, played [?] and voiced by Adam Godley), who is a talking chimpanzee in clothing. There's no backstory, Pogo just is.
And if you've survived on Marvel fare all these years, The Umbrella Academy is a perfect detour that's different, weird and not alienating.
What we didn't like
There is only one quibble and that is that it took a little warming up to get to the meat of the story. This first season consists of 10 episodes that follow the six-issue arc of the comic book instalments so I'd assume, they needed to pad some episodes with fillers.
What to look out for
Any scene that Robert Sheehan is in and the interaction between assassins, Cha-Cha (Mary J Blige) and Hazel (Cameron Britton) is a lovely study in how one can get disillusioned with one's job.
The Umbrella Academy is now out on Netflix.