I’ve made it no secret that superhero shows and movies are one of the few branches of nerd culture in which I have little interest. I couldn’t tell you why, but that’s been my stance for years and I don’t think that’ll ever change.
Enter The Umbrella Academy. Based on a graphic novel series by Gerard Way (of My Chemical Romance fame) and Gabriel Bá, this show stands out in an oversaturated market. Instead of relying on the time-honored good vs. evil story, The Umbrella Academy is a story of emotionally-stunted people trying to conquer issues one step at a time.
The show follows the estranged Hargreeves siblings who are brought together following their father’s death. From there, well, all hell breaks loose. They’re targeted by time-traveling assassins and are threatened by the impending apocalypse. Of course, the siblings need to get past their own bullshit first.
As much as the plot matters and as inventive as the world is, the real draw of the story is the characters. They are deeply flawed and often get in their own way. Luther is well-meaning, but has too much faith in his deceased father and is way too hung up on being “number one.” Diego wants to be a hero, but is rash and volatile. Allison tries to be a good mom and sister, but is haunted by her past mistakes.
Klaus wants to be taken seriously, but is also deeply afraid of his abilities and still within the throws of addiction. Five is determined and goal-oriented, but is closed-off and condescending. Ben tries to help Klaus, but is dead (a pretty sizeable road block). Vanya longs to feel included and special, but is broken down by years of emotional neglect. And that’s without getting into Hazel and Cha-Cha, the wily assassin duo.
Watching these characters work toward overcoming their self-imposed hurtles is just as (if not more) satisfying as seeing them battle their enemies. Especially because they spend so much time resisting change and each other.
The acting is brilliant. I was especially impressed with Robert Sheehan’s portrayal of Klaus (my favorite character) and Aidan Gallagher as Number Five. Sheehan is able to balance Klaus’ eccentricities with his emotional arc very well. Gallagher impressed me because he’s portraying a 58-year-old man in a 13-year-old’s body and it never comes across as caricature. I fully believed all these characters were real people, at least for a few hours.
Let’s talk aesthetic. The Umbrella Academy has a fantastic one. It’s dark and shattered with a touch of whimsy, like the very family it follows. I love when it would change vibes for a spell, like for the two dance scenes. I’m also a huge fan of the use of the “upbeat song playing during a fight scene” trope, which this show borderline abuses. But I was happy every time they used it. And I adored how they worked the titled into the environment after the cold open. This was such a wonderful little touch that really put the show over the edge.
My only real complaint is the relationship between Luther and Allison. They were raised as siblings, so why the hell do they have romantic tension? Why were they into each other as kids? It’s gross and uncomfortable, especially since they both emphasize their fraternal relationships with their other siblings. And everyone else is just cool with it. It’s totally bizarre. At least it fits with the pseudo-noir vibe.
The Umbrella Academy is a superhero show for the disenfranchised. In such a murky world where the lines of good and evil are increasingly blurred, this is just the show we needed. The writers knew just how to unfold the narrative to keep the viewers hooked and the actors did the rest. Everything about this show is absolutely phenomenal. I anticipate this gem making not just my best list, but hundreds of best lists. The Umbrella Academy is truly an extraordinary series.
Speaking of Netflix shows, please sign this petition to save One Day at a Time!
Despite being a critical darling, Netflix canceled it. We’re fighting to get it back. We surpassed the original goal and are now aiming for 150,000 signatures!
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