TelevisionTalks: Umbrella Academy
This is going to be as spoiler free a review as possible. I might slip up, but I’m going to try really hard not to do that. I’ll likely be doing another post later with some spoilers and speculations and more details as to what I really like or didn’t like in the show. I will also say that episode one is fair game in this article. By that, I mean I might mention big things that happen in there to help develop the context for the whole show, but I won’t be talking about how it unravels.
Umbrella Academy was originally a comic book series that ran from September 2007 to 2013, and since then has come back in October of 2018. The series is written by Gerard Way, whom you might know as the lead singer for My Chemical Romance. So it isn’t a series created by your typical writers of super hero comics.
Umbrella Academy focuses around a family of adopted children. They were seven of forty-three children born to mothers who weren’t expecting until the day and moment that they gave birth to these children. Reginald Hargreeves, an eccentric entrepreneur adopts seven of these children, Luther, Diego, Allison, Klaus, Ben, Vanya, and Number Five – Hargreeves referred to the children by number versus by a name. It was a tough life, but it turned out that most of the kids that he adopted had powers. Luther was extremely strong, Diego could control knives, Allison could plant suggestions in peoples heads, Klaus could see dead people, Ben could summon tentacles from another dimension or his chest, and Number Five could teleport. As children, Hargreeves honed their abilities and turned them into a rag tag team of super heroes who were loved and could stop crimes. But as they grew older, they all left and went their separate ways. Number Five disappeared, and something happened to Ben. It wasn’t until much later when Hargreeves passed away that the five remaining children that he’d adopted came back together to lay him to rest but there are suspicions that his death wasn’t naturally caused.
The story focuses both on the larger plot of what happened to Hargreeves, but in many ways it’s more about what happens when a dysfunctional family comes back together. Can they work together, or have they become so separated and jaded from their horrible childhood that they can’t work together? It’s very much a character piece focused show where at times you really delve into one characters background and them overcoming a demon or figuring out why they are the way they are, and in another episode it’s another character. I think that they give Allison, Klaus, and Luther good room to grow that way. Diego and Vanya are given less room, though some of that with Vanya is that Ellen Page doesn’t do a great job portraying her, and isn’t given the best writing to work with.
I will also say that I think the show is at times rocky with it’s acting. The actor who plays Klaus steals the show, and the actor who plays Number Five when they were kids does a very good job. I’d also put that a fair amount on the writing that the acting is rocky, because there are times where the writing is a little bit hacked together. Not really cliche or trope filled, but it just lacks the polish that you kind of expect to get in the show. This takes what could have been a great show and moves it down to a good show. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some trope heavy parts of the show. There are a couple of tropes that it relies too heavily on, mainly the abusive father and it makes some parts of a pretty complex and interesting story seem a little bit lazy. It takes a story that has a bunch of depth and makes it a bit simplistic.
With that said, I do think there are enough strong characters in it, and while the first episode itself focuses on the death of Hargreeves and the characters coming back together and it is a bit slow, the rest of the series runs at a much better pace. I would say by the time you’re done with episode three, you’re most likely going to be pretty invested in the show. And if you aren’t invested in the show at that point, and the characters in the show, it’s probably going to be a case that the show isn’t for you. If I were to compare to to other shows, I would say it reminds me of a blend of Watchmen (a movie), Dark, and Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. It really tries to lean into that slower moving plot like Dark does, but it just doesn’t jump into it quite quickly enough, so the story struggles to gain traction. I do really appreciate a good show that has that slower build like it is going for though.
Now, it seems like I’m knocking it a fair amount, and I have been a bit harsh with it. I did watch it through, and towards the end, it was hard to stop and not just binge it. So it does develop into that sort of show that keeps you guessing and wanting more. It also really does make you care about at least some of the characters a lot in the show. And again, I can’t get into too much because of spoilers with what I consider stronger. It is a show that you’ll need to give a few episodes too first before it will really get going, but once it does, it’s worth it. I’d recommend checking it out on Netflix, and hopefully if enough people enjoy it, it’ll get a second season as there is more to explore in the world.
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