‘The Umbrella Academy’ far surpasses the average superhero story

Image from IMDb
Image from IMDb

by Emily Worrell

Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers for the show The Umbrella Academy.

As someone who believes today’s media and pop culture is far  oversaturated with superheroes and superhero films/shows that frankly  start to blend together after a short while, I was not expecting much  out of Netflix’s new show, The Umbrella Academy. I was expecting a  bunch of superheroes with virtually the same character traits running  around, making quips and killing bad guys. However, The Umbrella Academy far exceeded my expectations by crafting a unique story with characters who made the superhero genre feel fresh again.

The Umbrella Academy follows a family of superheroes as they  come together after their father’s death. When their brother who has  been missing for years suddenly shows up and reveals that it is up to  them to stop the impending apocalypse, the family must put aside their  grievances with one another and work together to save the world.

Lifelike characters with human problems

Image from IMDb

What sets The Umbrella Academy apart from other superhero  shows more than anything are the characters. None of them had the  annoying, brooding-yet-quippy stock personality that Marvel and DC have  branded just about every character they’ve ever made with; they were  each their own individuals and had problems and personality defects that  made perfect sense based on their backgrounds. For example, Diego  seemed unnecessarily hostile at first, particularly towards Luther, but  how could he not be when his entire childhood was spent being told he  was second best after Luther? Of course he’d have an unquenchable thirst  to prove himself. Meanwhile, Luther, who grew up being only referred to  as “number one,” feels responsible for everything that happens to him  and the people around him. All of the characters and their problems make  perfect sense and demonstrate a strong understanding from the writers  of how childhood trauma affects people differently, which is beyond  commendable. The audience never has to sit through any drawn-out,  melodramatic “let me tell you why I am the way I am” scenes; the answer  for every single character is clear within the first two episodes.

Additionally, the ensemble of actors in this show are certainly a  force to reckoned with and do a fantastic job bringing these characters  to life in a very real, vulnerable way. The biggest standout was Aidan  Gallagher as Number Five, who has time traveled so much that he is now a  58-year-old consciousness in a 15-year-old body. In other words, this  teen actor is tasked with believably playing a cynical 58 year old with a  massive superiority complex, and he does it incredibly well. Robert  Sheehan is also strong as Klaus Hargreeves/Number Four, a drug addict  who uses his constant humor as a coping mechanism. However, the  strongest part of this cast is not the individuals, but how they blend  together to create deeply believable family relationships and craft the  intricate and nuanced world of the Hargreeves family. The ensemble of  heroes is rounded out with Tom Hopper, David Castañeda, Emmy  Raver-Lampman, and Ellen Page, who each deliver their own fantastic  performances.

Clear identity as a show

Image from IMDb

From the very start of the first episode, The Umbrella Academy establishes  a very unique and specific tone. It’s clear that everyone involved in  the production of this show completely understood the show’s identity  and intent, which makes all the difference. What other show would have  an intense fight scene set to the song “Istanbul” by They Might Be  Giants, or have a talking, suit-wearing chimpanzee named Pogo be the  family’s closest friend and assistant? It’s a blend of quirky fun and  emotional honesty that stands out from anything that has come out of the  superhero genre before, and the fact that it focuses more on family and  relationships than superheroes running around being super is extremely  compelling.

The show’s plot adds to its compelling nature; the idea of having  eight days to stop an oncoming apocalypse while also running for your  life from time-traveling assassins keeps viewers on the edge of their  seats. The time crunch also makes the show’s stakes super high; there’s  always a clear objective for the characters and the actions they take  make sense. This remains true right up until the point where it matters  most: the season finale.

Huge build-up to a giant disappointment

Image from IMDb

The final episode of this season went completely off the rails, and  not in a good way. It literally felt like a different show from what I  had invested nine hours into, and I was extremely frustrated with the  way the tone and identity that the show had meticulously crafted seemed  to be thrown out the window on this final episode. The whole Luther and  Allison storyline in this episode was ridiculously overplayed (it seemed  like realistically they maybe should have been a little more focused on  the fact that the world was going to end in about an hour rather than  arguing over something astronomically stupid, but to each their own, I  guess). Also, Vanya’s change in physical appearance just came off as  ridiculous rather than making her feel more intimidating. All of the  emotional honesty disappeared in this episode, which I can only hope  will not continue into the second season. Frankly, I left the show with a  bad taste in my mouth, especially at the implications Number Five made  that the character with the worst mental health (who was completely  demonized in this episode) could simply be “fixed” by all of them.

Images: IMDb

Featured Image: IMDb

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