By Mollie Campbell.
Show: ‘The Umbrella Academy’
Based on: ‘The Umbrella Academy’ by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá (comic book series).
Where to watch: Netflix
Similar shows: Dark, Marvel’s Runways, X-men.
As soon as I started watching this show I was hooked, the way it was put together so intricately yet effortlessly made me realise I had started watching one of the most unique and dynamic shows to be released in years. I can see why it would be very easy for some people to dismiss it as bad, simply because it is different, it can be hard to really sink your teeth into but after a while it all becomes clear. It has a familiar tone to it yet it is also incredibly innovative, although it never feels forced, everything that happens, even the most unrealistic sub-plots are completely believable, and the quality just gets better with each episode, despite the strange discovering’s along the way. Like the family Butler Pogo for example, who turns out to be a literal talking monkey.
Anyway, the show begins in 1989, the day in which 43 women give birth to children at the same time all over the world, despite none of them having shown any signs of pregnancy. Eccentric tyrant Reginald Hargreeves adopts seven of the children and creates the ‘Umbrella Academy’, his very own superhero team. All of the children are either referred to as their numbers or the names that their cyborg mother gave them, and they each have different powers, apart from number 7 who hasn’t shown signs of any powers, yet. This may sound confusing already so I’ll list the main characters, these are the Hargreeves siblings:
Number 1: Luther/Spaceboy, an astronaut. (Tom Hopper)
Number 2: Diego/the Kraken, a vigilante. (David Castaneda)
Number 3: Allison/the Rumour, a famous actress. (Emma Raver-Lampman)
Number 4: Klaus/the Séance, a drug addict. (Robert Sheehan)
Number 5: The Boy, a time-traveller who has been lost in the future since he disappeared when they were teenagers. (Aidan Gallagher)
Number 6: Ben/the Horror (Justin H. Min)…Ben is deceased but often appears to Klaus.
Number 7: Vanya/the White Violin a violinist who has always felt irrelevant due to her lack of powers. (Ellen Page)
After the estranged siblings learn of their father’s death, they return to the house for the funeral, only to find that Number five has returned from the future after all of these years. Slowly, they uncover many secrets from the past and find out that their father orchestrated their whole lives so that they would one day reunite and save the world from an oncoming apocalypse.
This isn’t just another run of the mill ‘let’s group together as superheroes and save the world’ kind of show…whilst that does happen, it isn’t a certainty. It is a very bumpy road and there are some points in which we are led to believe that there is no way in hell that these group of messed up siblings could possibly get over their emotional torture in order to group together and save the world. This whole show is like a cliché without containing all of the plot devices of a cliché, it is in that sphere for sure, but it uses its plot and character ensemble to its advantage, leaning on it as a tool to create something quirky that hasn’t really been seen before. Quite frankly, the siblings don’t like each other all that much, at some points they can’t stand each other but they have one common thread and that creates the connection that they eventually channel in order to succeed.
Whilst it is dysfunctional, family turns out to be everything that it is important in this show. The character development is extraordinary; we get to know these characters within one episode, without the need for an entire origin story which quite frankly we don’t always have time for. This saves us the unnecessary bore of an intricate setup; instead it places us right in the middle of the action. Whilst the timeline could be clearer at some points, the use of a clear narrative would have actually destroyed the show, this is supposed to be bitty. But if you are worried that it won’t be linear enough, don’t worry as it is pretty easy to follow, but you can expect some surprises along the way.
Whilst this show is undoubtedly dark and somewhat sinister, there is a lot of comedy intertwined throughout, really adding to its unique perspective, it isn’t one fixed genre, it’s a whole bunch of stuff moulded together as one super-genre. Think Netflix’s German show ‘Dark’ meets Marvel’s Runaways, but it also takes a few notes from a Stephen King novel. That is the best way I can describe it and even these comparisons took me a while to come up with, mainly because whilst it is similar to shows we have seen before, it is kind of venturing into its own genre as well.
The main aspect of the story is the idea that no matter how much we try to block it out and leave it behind, our childhood and how we were raised will always be a part of us. It is inescapable, no matter how hard we try to leave. And ultimately, despite all of the siblings running in complete different directions in order to escape their father’s psychotic ways, eventually the good they find from their upbringing is found within each other. There is a very raw emotion throughout, this really grounds the show and stops it from venturing too far into a sci-fi spoof territory. It is also light-hearted at some points, for example, in the first episode they are all in different sections of their family home, not speaking to each other and then they all begin dancing to ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ by Tiffany. This is kind of poignant, they are all dancing in unison to the same song, feeling the same memories and emotions/nostalgia, they are all tied together but they are dancing alone, foreshadowing the dysfunctional family you are about to watch unravel even further for the next 9 episodes.
The soundtrack is impeccable, and exactly what you would expect from Gerard Way, it combines classic covers and songs, with new originals composed just for the show. The music is almost equally as important as the narrative, it is what makes the show so unique, using its soundtrack to its advantage and giving us that nostalgic twang we all seem to crave. It is a show focusing equally on the present and times gone by, but it shows us that sometimes despite the flow of time, we are all still in the same place because we will always live as the people we are destined to be. But it also embraces change, portraying the idea that we can step out of what has been controlling us since childhood and whatever stereotypes we have been given, we just have to take the first step. I haven’t been this fulfilled by a show in years, and I have never been so excited to watch a show again in such a short space of time, I would recommend this show to everyone!