The Umbrella Academy Season 1 purposefully hones in on the dysfunctionality of the family, which entices in other themes to make an almost complete story.
This review of The Umbrella Academy does NOT contain spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the first episode by clicking these words.
After Netflix relieved their efforts on the Marvel content in drips, with The Punisher suspected to be dropped soon, The Umbrella Academy is precisely what the platform needed: material that is disconnected from the two major superhero publishers. The story is based on the popular, Eisner award-winning comics and graphic novels created and written by Gerard Way (My Chemical Romance), and after watching the set of 10 episodes, The Umbrella Academy earns the time investments. Season one is a genuinely well thought-out effort.
The premise establishes itself on a group of adults, all connected by adoption. In 1989, forty-three infants were inexplicably born to random, unconnected women on the same day. None of the women were pregnant, prompting billionaire Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore) to adopt seven of the children; The Umbrella Academy was born, with the group all carrying special powers and their father tasking them with world-saving missions. The story is based some years later, with the family torn apart, but the death of their father brings them all back together at the mansion to deal with their loss.
The central theme is dysfunctionality; even the Netflix post sells the idea – “Super. Dysfunctional. Family”. The Umbrella Academy wants enjoyment to be born from family issues and the friendship between characters more than the awe of seeing the characters perform their abilities. The story purposefully shows a gulf between the family members and their father, especially Vanya (Ellen Page), otherwise known as “Number 7”, who was deemed not special by her dad for not holding any powers; her character portrays a case study of a lack of parental love and bitterness.
The seen-before theme is the pain of growing up and becoming less of a superhero, distancing yourself from your powers. Klaus (Robert Sheehan), for instance, can speak to spirits but uses his time consoling himself with hard drugs. It is clear from the offset that this character is trying to mask his past.
There is a core objective in The Umbrella Academy led by “Number 5”, who did not give himself a name. He disappeared for years due to his ability to time-travel and returned to his family to claim that the apocalypse is coming in eight days. “Number 5” looks like a child, but due to tinkering with time, he is 25 years older than his siblings, offering a superb performance from Aidan Gallagher who somehow manages to place an older man in his eyes, mannerisms and general speech.
So while the impending apocalypse is ticking, each episode offers a calamity of family arguments, amusing action scenes led by funky music and a tendency for everything to feel random and pointedly a mess. And I believe that is the point of Netflix’s latest series. The Umbrella Academy is not designed to be a stale structure based on superheroes determined to save the world. Their problems take precedence over the primary objective, giving each episode depth and a function to develop the characters. While the superhero story does delve into flashbacks, the presentation of their abilities and the logistics of the apocalypse, the series is 90% character-driven, removing the aura we find ourselves facing with the likes of a Marvel or a DC character.
Admittedly, The Umbrella Academy does get burdensome with the number of episodes, with a couple feeling heavy, resorting to filler rather than an insightful bite into the story. Luckily, these episodes are in no way terrible, but Netflix may have been tempted to commission eight rather than ten to make the series feel like a complete package rather than an overstretched concept.
There are many twists and turns to be enjoyed in The Umbrella Academy with a highly driven cast, plus a welcome and consistent appearance of Mary J. Blige, and I’ve purposefully stripped a lot of details from this review so audiences are ultimately surprised by many elements. I think ultimately the series will be a success, and hopefully, a second season will be commissioned. The Umbrella Academy is a good idea.
As part of our coverage, we have a binge-guide, giving you a summary of what to expect, the characters and more. Check out the binge-guide by clicking these words.
Daniel Hart is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has operated as Editor-in-Chief since 2017.