Network: Netflix Original
Streaming Service: Netflix
Release Date: February 15, 2019
As a long-time fan of Gerard Way’s work in both music and comic books, I was very excited when I heard that the Umbrella Academy, originally a comic book by Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance with art by Gabriel Ba, was going to be adapted into a TV series. The Umbrella Academy is an intriguing, quirky, and visually stunning series that, for the most part, does its source material justice.
Note: this description will contain spoilers, so if you haven’t watched the show, read at your own risk.
The Umbrella Academy is reminiscent of X-men and Watchmen in the way that it delves into the personal and psychological aspects of superheroes’ lives. It tells the story of an extremely dysfunctional family of superheroes: seven children with unusual powers adopted by eccentric millionaire Reginald Hargreeves, who trained the children from a young age to become a crime-fighting force. The family is comprised of the super-strong, self-appointed leader Luther (aka Number One); the brooding, knife-throwing Diego (aka Number Two); the cunning, reality-warping Alison (aka Number Three); the ghost-summoning, drug-addicted Klaus (aka Number Four); the space-jumping and time-traveling Number Five, who disappeared as a child (and who took no other name), and Vanya (Number Seven) who appears to be completely ordinary. Their brother Ben (Number Six), died at a young age.
The family is brought back together by the death of their father and the return of Number Five, who reveals that he had traveled through time and been stuck in a post-apocalyptic world for decades. The show essentially follows the characters as they attempt to figure out what caused the apocalypse and how to stop it, and along the way they encounter time-traveling assassins, shocking family secrets, and a mess of dramatic interpersonal issues.
The first thing I noticed about this show is that it looks and sounds amazing. The visuals are vibrant and aesthetically pleasing, paying homage to the colorful and carefully-planned panels of graphic novels but transitioning well to live action. The sets are wonderful, particularly the Umbrella Academy’s ornate but slightly haunting family home. And, as one would expect from a series written by a rockstar, the soundtrack is INCREDIBLE, ranging from the Gerard Way himself to Queen to Nina Simone and even a Phantom of the Opera medley, each track perfectly timed to accentuate the story. One of my favorite scenes features all the characters dancing to Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now” in different rooms of the family mansion.
The Umbrella Academy’s plot is complex and sometimes confusing. It pulls together elements of time travel, science fiction, romance, family drama, and good-old-fashioned superhero smackdowns to create a story that is a bit messy at times but is certainly unpredictable. The show’s plot was extremely different from that of the comics, which I expected to bother me, but I was pleasantly surprised. Additions such as Klaus’s romance with a Vietnam soldier via time-travel, Leonard/Harold’s manipulation of Vanya’s newfound powers, and (my personal favorite) the fact that Klaus can talk to Ben’s ghost, added depth to both the story and the characters.
The characters and their interactions are the beating heart of this show. At the core of the main conflict is Vanya’s feeling of abandonment and exclusion from her family, which is ultimately what drives her to cause the apocalypse. Each character’s unique combination of faults and virtues is what kept me emotionally invested in the series, and I can’t wait to see how all of their personalities and dynamics with one another are fleshed out in later seasons. The only drawback of such character-focused writing was that there were a few parts of the show, especially the middle episodes, that were quite slow, but I felt that they were made up for by the excitement of the climatic final episode.
I would give the Umbrella Academy a solid 7.5/10. It had its flaws, like the slow pacing and some awkwardly delivered lines. But overall, it was wonderfully entertaining and exceeded my expectations for an adaptation of the comics. There was some fantastic acting from the likes of Ellen Page, Robert Sheehan, and Emmy Raver-Lampman, well-written dialogue, gorgeous visuals and a soundtrack that will stay in you head for weeks. I highly recommend The Umbrella Academy to any comic-book or superhero fan who is looking for a refreshingly weird take on the inner lives of super-humans. If this show continues to meet and exceed the standard set by the first season, it is sure to be a huge success.