Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Umbrella Academy (Netflix)

The Umbrella Academy

Rating: TV-14

Network: Netflix

Language: English

Episodes:  10

Cast: Ellen Paige, Aidan Gallagher, Tom Hopper, Robert Sheehan

Synopsis: Reunited by their father's death, estranged siblings with extraordinary powers uncover shocking family secrets -- and a looming threat to humanity.


The Umbrella Academy asks what kind of adults would be produced from taking a group of kids with superpowers and combing them with a not so nurturing home life. Dysfunctional ones, it turns out, is the answer. The show is an interesting character study combined with the action and excitement of the superhero genre. It also happens to boast some pretty impressive performances by everyone in the cast. 

I recently devoured the first volume of the comic book this is adapted from and fans of the comic will be reassured to know that the show follows the established storyline pretty closely but fleshes out things where it needs to. Characters who were not as developed in the comics get an opportunity to be more nuanced. Plot points that felt glossed over get a chance to linger. I, personally, felt like the changes that were made serviced to make the story even better.

The bonds that exist between the Hargreeves are vital to the story being told. Those connections are this story's heart and it would not work without them. I bought into their history in episode one. The cast has a chemistry together that just works. The family dynamic is complicated, and messy in so many ways. These are all broken, damaged individuals. There is, however, also something hopeful at the heart of their reunion and a genuine love between them. This duality is perfectly captured by one of my favourite scenes in which they all dance by themselves to the same song while in the same house. They could be dancing together but history, time, and their own personalities make it easier for them to be on their own. This is contrasted by how far they've progressed as a unit by the end of the first season. It's a work in progress but this family dynamic feels authentic to who these characters are.

Aidan Gallagher is a delight as Number Five. I don't want to spoil too much about his character so I'll just say that the actor has to nail the portrayal of a fifty something year old man in a teenage body and Aidan Gallagher does exactly that. You fully believe every aspect of his performance. There is a lived in quality to it that ages his character in a way that felt natural. It's not a role that every teen actor could pull off but Aidan manages to make it feel like a second skin. 

Robert Sheehan's Klaus (aka Number Four), in my opinion, steals the entire show. He's a complex character who goes through such growth during just this one season. He's way more developed than he was in the comic (at least the volume I read). He has added layers to him that really worked for me and made him incredibly sympathetic. His powers involve communicating with the dead which results in him self medicating with drugs and alcohol as a means to numb himself and his powers. His outlandish personality belies the heart underneath. Robert Sheehan nails every comedic punchline and delivers the perfect mix of outrageous and vulnerable that the character requires. It may be hard to not love all of the Hargreeves siblings but Klaus easily became my favourite and I cannot wait to see his powers continue to progress in the second season.

Ellen Paige's Vanya (aka Number Seven) has one of the more interesting character arcs. Her arc was also frustrating because her character doesn't really get to have any real agency. It's just a bunch a men continuously deciding things for her without discussing anything with her or taking what she wants into consideration. Often these men are not doing it to be malicious. They think they are doing the right thing and feel they are protecting her. However, we see the toll it has taken on Vanya and the price that is paid as others once again make choices for her instead of with her. I hope the second season dives into this aspect of her story a little more. There are a few times when it was called out by other characters but it feels like excellent material for them to mine from in a deeper, more meaningful way.

Every superhero needs a good villain and The Umbrella Academy is no exception. The antagonists are just as quirky, dysfunctional, and interesting as our heroes. Hazel and Cha-Cha (played by Cameron Britton and Mary J Blige respectively) stand out in particular. This show really is about the relationships that exist between the characters and these two are no exception to that. Their dynamic is not as straight forward as you might expect. The larger reality of the villains in this show serves to add to the world building and tantalizing possibilities for where the show could go.

A solid first season that has made me excited to see where this show, and these characters, could go. I highly recommend this for people who love the superhero genre, quirky characters, and plenty of family drama. Watch it for the superhero antics but stay for the heartbreaking, messy, hopeful sibling dynamic that is the true heart of this show.

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