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The Umbrella Academy | REVIEW

On February 15, 2019, Netflix released a brand new superhero series-- #TheUmbrellaAcademy. I was immediately interested-- anyone who knows Area-616 knows that I'm a huge fan of Marvel's movies and comics, but I'd never heard The Umbrella Academy before. The only real reason I watched the series was because I thought the trailer looked like a lot of fun.


Some history on the comics: the first 6-issue volume, Apocalypse Suite, was published by Dark Horse Comics from 2007 to 2008 from writer Gerard Way (former lead singer of My Chemical Romance) and artist Gabriel Bá. The series met much acclaim-- it won the 2008 Eisner Award for Best Limited Series. It's this first volume that the Netflix series is mostly drawing from, to my knowledge. A sequel series, titled Dallas was released from 2008 to 2009, but after that, the franchise went silent for years. It wasn't until October 2018 that a new volume of the series was started (Hotel Oblivion) and word is that a fourth volume is already in the works as well. But, like I said, I wasn't familiar with it personally. So going into this I had no real expectations of it; no knowledge of how the characters should look or act or how the story should play out. I had purposefully avoided researching the series beforehand for that specific purpose. So, any judgments I have of this series are based purely on its own merits-- the writing, directing, the actors' performances... all I really wanted out of this was a good show...


THE PREMISE For those unfamiliar, The Umbrella Academy follows a dysfunctional "family" of (sort of) superheroes. The story goes that in October of 1981, exactly 49 women around the world gave birth all at once, despite having not been pregnant beforehand. An eccentric billionaire named Sir Reginald Hargreeves, played by Colm Feore (Marvel fans will know him as Laufey in Thor) makes it his mission to travel around the world and adopt as many of these kids as he can-- he manages to acquire seven. They all have strange superpowers, so, he decides to train them to harness those abilities for the betterment of mankind. But that's not when this series takes place-- instead, the series takes place decades later, when the kids are all now full-grown, adults. Two of them are gone (one dead, another missing) and the rest are all pretty emotionally unstable. Other shows might focus on their days as a more uniform superhero team, or perhaps play up the "there's 43 other super-people out there" angle a bit more-- but not The Umbrella Academy. No, the series begins with the death of Hargreeves, forcing them all to reunite for his funeral. It's not until the formerly missing member Number 5 (he never got a name) returns and warns of a coming apocalypse that they even entertain the idea of staying together. Things are made yet more complicated when two mysterious assassins -- Hazel and Cha-Cha -- arrive and begin hunting Number 5 down.


IS IT WORTH WATCHING? So, first things first: the cast. As I said before, I have no idea how any of them are supposed to act compared to the comic, but, just based on their performances, it's an excellent cast. Some are stronger than others, but they all play off each other very well, and it's easy to get invested in them.

Clockwise (left to right): Vanya, Diego, Luther, Klaus, Allison, and Number 5

Out of the main cast, the two standouts for me were Aidan Gallagher's Number 5 and Robert Sheehan's Klaus. Five is easily the most proactive character of the cast, he's always got some kind of plan, always on a mission. This makes him the most entertaining, but Gallagher plays him perfectly as well. He's able to pull off the whole "elderly man in a child's body" with the exact right amount of self-awareness (something I think applies to the show as a whole as well). Klaus was a surprising highlight for me-- based on the trailers, I was expecting to be annoyed by him, but he turned out to be one of the most interesting characters of the season. I won't spoil anything, but, his relationship with his powers is very different from the others. For the most part, everyone else is comfortable with their abilities, but Klaus (who can see and speak with the dead) is scared of them, far too much so to try and explore the fullest extent of them. Ellen Page is also fantastic as Vanya, the only member of the family with seemingly no powers at all. Because of this, she doesn't always have as much to do, but Page still gives a great performance. The supporting cast is where The Umbrella Academy runs into some minor bumps. Hazel and Cha-Cha were real standouts to me-- Hazel turned out to be a surprisingly lovable character and the two have a great dynamic. From what I've seen after finishing the series, they apparently upped their roles exponentially for the Netflix series, which I think turned out to be a great move.

(left to right): Cha-Cha and Hazel

Beyond them, we have their monkey butler Pogo, their robot "mother" Grace, and Diego's ex/Commissioner Gordon-figure, Detective Patch. Pogo was great, and the CGI on him was pretty flawless. There was never a moment where I was drawn out of it by bad CG. However, I must say that Patch turned out to be a bit of a drag. She just ultimately feels like a pointless part of the story, someone that didn't need to be there.


The Umbrella Academy's biggest problems come with an all-too familiar Netflix trope: pacing. Be it Daredevil, Dark, or Lost In Space, chances are it's about 2-3 episodes too long, and this certainly applies to The Umbrella Academy as well. The season is 10 episodes long, but it easily could have been 8. Remember when I mentioned that Patch felt pointless in the end? I won't really spoil it, but by the end of the Season 1, you'll find that she never served much of a purpose in the grander story, and if she had been cut... well, not much would've changed. It took several episodes for the plot to really get moving, and it doesn't help that there's a serious lull in the story at the midpoint of the season. However, after that midpoint is when the show really shines, I'd say from episode 6 on, is when the show becomes truly great.


However, that's not to say that the slow pace doesn't serve a purpose. A lot of time is spent with these characters exploring their mental states. They're all broken from this shared childhood under a cold-hearted "father," and the writers do an excellent job of exploring these things. Basically all of the characters are going through something here, and they all get their own chance to shine. Despite an impending apocalypse, the show's main focus is on the characters themselves, and that's a good thing.


THE VERDICT

Is this Netflix's best series to date? No, not even close. It has some real flaws-- slow pacing, bland supporting characters, and most of the fight scenes aren't particularly good. But this show still has a lot to love-- a great cast and a strong emotional core. It's a superhero series that isn't necessarily interested in being a superhero series in the classic sense-- and I appreciate it for that. It's kind of refreshing to have a comic book story that isn't from Marvel or DC-- it's a whole new set of characters and stories with its own possibilities. Should you check it out? Absolutely. It's well worth your time, and it's always good to support the smaller, lesser-known comic book properties. In a world full of superhero movies, TV shows, comics, video games, and everything else, The Umbrella Academy manages to be a breath of fresh air-- a unique, stylish take on the genre. And that alone is worth praise.

But, what do you guys think? Have you seen The Umbrella Academy or read the comics? If so, what did you think of it? And would you like me to start including The Umbrella Academy on Area-616? Let me know what you think in the comments below. Thanks for reading, and I'll see you all next time.

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