TV Review – The Umbrella Academy – Season 1

TL;DR – While the story was a little inconsistent, it an interesting ride from start to finish.

Score – 4 out of 5 stars

The Umbrella Academy. Image Credit: Netflix.

Review

We live in a world today where superhero team-up projects are no longer a rare thing hidden in some comic book store. Today people know and understand the thought of a group of people suddenly discovering powers that they can use for good or evil. So in this world how do you differentiate yourself from all the other shows out there? Well, you focus on one thing, and that is family. Family can be complicated at the best of times, and well when you watch The Umbrella Academy you find that I don’t think there ever was a best of times.

So to set the scene, one day in 1989 a miracle happened (or a curse depending on your perspective) when across the globe 43 women gave birth to babies, the only issue was that they started the day not being pregnant. This drew the attention of Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore) who went around the world trying to buy as many of the babies as he could … he got 7. However, there were not normal children, with all of them, well most of them, having extraordinary powers. Luther (Tom Hopper) has immense strength and take a beating that would kill someone and get back up. Diego (David Castañeda) has the ability to make anything he throws curve through the air, so he is a man who likes his knives. Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman) has the ability to suggest things to people and they are compelled to oblige. Klaus (Robert Sheehan) has the ability to talk to the dead, Five (Aidan Gallagher) can phase through time and space, and Ben (Justin H. Min) can summon tentacles to cause mass destruction. Of the seven, only Vanya (Aidan Gallagher) didn’t develop any powers, being relegated to the sidelines as her siblings go off on missions like stopping a bank heist. All of this is fine but time goes on and families can drift apart even at the best of times. So at the start of the series, many of the siblings have not talked to each other in years, but they are all brought back into the fold when their at best eccentric and at worst abusive father is found dead under less than clear circumstances. Now, for this point onwards, we will be looking at the season as a whole, so there will be [SPOILERS] ahead.

The Umbrella Academy. Image Credit: Netflix.
It is a show about family, and how family can be mess at the best of times. Image Credit: Netflix.

One of the areas where the show shines is in its cast, which all have very difficult roles to play pulling on a lot of different emotions. Ellen Page plays a character that has been worn down by the world, her father, and her siblings. You feel that in her performance, and goodness can I sympathise with it. Tom Hopper is playing the strong man who thinks he is the rock of the family, the one who never left, and oh boy does that crash and burn around him. Or Aidan Gallagher who is a young actor playing a character that is actually an old man at heart, literally. Also, Robert Sheehan who plays someone that spends all their time high or drunk, because it keeps the voices at bay. In a show all about family, it is these family dynamics that make it work.

This is also a show with an absurdly good supporting cast, you have Mary J. Blige & Cameron Britton playing time travelling hitmen here to take out Number Five, but also complain about the state of the hotels the company puts them up in. Kate Walsh is here as a mysterious middle manager making sure the apocalypse happens on time. Sheila McCarthy is here as a doughnut shop owner and bird watcher, and I was here for every scene she was in. This all makes every scene a delight to watch.

The Umbrella Academy. Image Credit: Netflix.
One of the interesting things about The Umbrella Academy is that it slips into the absurd at times. Image Credit: Netflix.

When it gets to the production of the show, one of the stand out moments is the use of music throughout the season. On the one hand, we have the original score from Jeff Russo which is delightful. You can tell it is one of Jeff’s scores because he loves to play around on those high strings to build tension, and it works. As well as this, throughout the show, they use already established songs to highlight a lot of the more touching moments and fight scenes. In here they are a bit more hit and miss, but I really liked the use of  Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now” in the first episode We Only See Each Other at Weddings and Funerals and Toploader’s “Dancing in the Moonlight” in The Day That Wasn’t. The last one I particularly enjoy because that song is very relevant with how the season ended up, but also the two actors in that scene just look like they are having the most fun in the world, and I love that.             

Another area where The Umbrella Academy shows its strengths is in its world-building. The show is based off a comic book (which I have not read) but you can feel that origin throughout the show. For example, one area that you see it is in the mash of time periods. So this show is set in 2019, but from the cars and the clothes, it could be the 1950s or 60s. Now part of this could just be that some styles are eternal, and they do have a very good costuming the team. However, it is more than just that, you have the only modern cars being the taxi service that everyone uses, there is not a mobile phone in sight, but everyone has rotary phones and answering machines. I would say this is almost in the style of say Archer, where there isn’t a clear sense of where the show is set. It is a little off-putting at the start, but then you fall into a grove. This comic origin also allows the show to dip into more surreal moments, like almost a dreamlike reality at times filled with joy and lights or having an umbrella pop up at the start of each episode to chime in with the credits.     

The Umbrella Academy. Image Credit: Netflix.
There are moments of pure joy. Image Credit: Netflix.

It also helps that the show is filled with some fantastic visual effects from in-camera trickery all the way to full-blown visual spectacles. As it is a show based on characters with special powers, you would expect there to be a lot of visual heavy effects in this department, but that is not the case. This means that the show wisely keeps a lot of the effects for big set-piece moments, like gun battles throughout the academy, or doughnut shop explosions, freezing time, oh and of course who can forget when they blew up the moon. This becomes more apparent when Vanya starts manifesting her powers and you see them slowly take shape as getting more and more powerful. I also want to highlight the great work they did with creating Pogo (Adam Godley). You can see the humanity behind the effects, and that requires great acting and a strong effects team to pull off.   

While the story is good, it can be a bit inconstant at times, which does affect the flow of the narrative. This is a story that adds in time travel, multiple timelines, secret organisations, temporal hitmen, a villain with a past, superpowers, and the coming apocalypse. This is a lot to get through and this means that there are a couple of times where it does not quite come together. Where it works is when we get some real character building moments, like when Klaus escapes and is accidentally taken back in time to the Vietnam War where he finds is first true love. Where it doesn’t work is where the show reveals its hand a little too early undercutting the mystery. We see this when early on in the season Leonard (John Magaro) empties out Vanya’s medicine which confirms what you already expect when it comes to the ending. This, of course, all leads to the ending of the series that I think was a good payoff to everything that came before, but it also had me yelling “No!” into my computer screen.      

The Umbrella Academy. Image Credit: Netflix.
There are also some wonderful effects, including the creation of Pogo. Image Credit: Netflix.

In the end, do we recommend The Umbrella Academy? Yes, yes we would. Now, yes, it can be a bit inconsistent at times, but when it is working it is on fire. It takes an interesting look at the superhero genre and what it means to be a hero team raised by a millionaire. It is well acted, with great effects, and a story that made me want to see more, and I really hope we do.         

By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.

Have you seen Umbrella Academy yet ?, let us know what you thought in the comments below, feel free to share this review on any of the social medias and you can follow us Here. Check out all our past reviews and articles Here, and have a happy day.    

Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Credits –
All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Umbrella Academy
Directed by
– Peter Hoar, Andrew Bernstein, Ellen Kuras, Stephen Surjik & Jeremy Webb.    
Written by – Jeremy Slater, Steve Blackman, Ben Nedivi, Matt Wolpert, Lauren Schmidt Hissrich, Bob DeLaurentis, Sneha Koorse, Eric W. Phillips & Steve Blackman.      
Created by – Steve Blackman
Based on – The Umbrella Academy by Gerard Way & Gabriel Bá
Production/Distribution Companies – Dark Horse Entertainment, Universal Cable Productions & Netflix
Starring – Ellen Page, Tom Hopper, David Castañeda, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Robert Sheehan, Aidan Gallagher, Justin H. Min, Colm Feore, Adam Godley, Jordan Claire Robbins, Mary J. Blige, Cameron Britton, John Magaro & Kate Walsh with Sheila McCarthy, Ashley Madekwe, Peter Outerbridge, Rainbow Sun Francks, Cameron Brodeur, Eden Cupid, T.J. McGibbon, Blake Talabis, Dante Albidone, Ethan Hwang, Alyssa Gervasi & Jordana Blake.                    

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