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Netflix’s ‘The Umbrella Academy’: Spoiler-free review

An entertaining and meaningful comic adaptation, where the characters shine brightest.

On February 15th, The Umbrella Academy premiered on Netflix. Based on the graphic novel series created and written by Gerard Way and illustrated by Gabriel Bá, the television show is led by Steve Blackman (Altered Carbon). The first season has ten episodes.

Yes, this is a story about superheroes, but it’s nothing like the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The basic premise

On one day in 1989, 43 women, who were seemingly not pregnant the day before, miraculously give birth to children with abilities. A billionaire, Sir Reginald Hargreeves, adopts seven of them, but only six appear to have powers. He creates the Umbrella Academy to train those six children to save the world, while the seventh, Vanya, lives life feeling left out and ordinary.

Image: Netflix

Thirty years later, the estranged children reunite after hearing that their father has died mysteriously. To make matters worse, Number Five predicts the approaching end of the world, forcing them to put aside their differences and work together to stop it.

A super dysfunctional family

Starring Ellen Page an Vanya, and with a supporting cast including the likes of Mary J. Blige and Robert Sheehan (Misfits), there was never any doubt that these characters would be interesting and entertaining. All the siblings are truly messed up from their childhood and maybe aren’t the best people for the job, but they’re all there is to save the world.

Image: Netflix

It’s really hard to pick any one performance as a standout. They all fully embody their characters. Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman) and Vanya’s relationship as sisters is one of the highlights of the story. The heart of the show is the siblings and their love for one another. It keeps the story grounded and relatable, while everything around them is murder and time travel.

There are a lot of different storylines going on, which can sometimes make it slow-moving. Diego and Allison both have storylines outside the family that are compelling, and one of the most important moments for Klaus’ (Number Four) character takes place when he’s on his own. But overall, the show’s at its best when the siblings are together.

A superb cast

Aiden Gallagher should get a lot of credit for his challenging role as Number Five, also known as The Boy, who has the ability to teleport and time travel. His storyline has a lot of different layers, and Gallagher succeeds in making Number Five complicated and unique.

Also, my personal favorite is Justin H. Min as Ben, though I can’t really explain anything about his role without giving away major spoilers. Let’s just say that he has a strong relationship with all the characters, but a surprisingly touching connection to one in particular.

Image: Netflix

Mary J. Blige and Cameron Britton (Mindhunter) as time-traveling assassins Hazel and Cha-Cha have a storyline that’s new for the show, as the two characters don’t even show their faces in the comics. Their banter is truly a joy to watch, and their journey, especially Hazel’s, is unexpected.

Vanya’s journey

Yes, this is a story about the apocalypse and the messed-up family at the center of it, but a lot of tit focuses on Vanya Hargreeves, or Number Seven. She’s always felt left out of her family, seen as the only ordinary kid in a family of extraordinary ones. Vanya finds a passion for playing the violin, and dreams of being first chair.

Image: Netflix

When their father dies, seeing the family back together seems to only bring back bad feelings of resentment for her. Soon, someone comes along and tries to take advantage of Vanya’s need for acceptance and empowerment. Vanya’s journey through season one is complex. At times, she seems to make really naive decisions because of her vulnerability, but it’s understandable given how much her father kept from all of them.

Throughout the show, her relationships with her siblings can be predictable. But when it counts, the show depicts realistically nuanced reactions to what’s going on, instead of just doing whatever keeps the plot moving where they want it to go.

With Vanya, this is most evident in her relationship with Allison, two sisters who grew up surrounded by damaged, bitter, boys. Obviously, all of her siblings are important to her and what she does, but Allison is key to Vanya’s struggle for respect and love.

The Umbrella Academy in action

Just as the family works best together in terms of drama and character development, some of the show’s most exciting moments are when they’re fighting, no matter if it’s with each other or someone else.

Image: Netflix

A few fights to look out for are Number Five versus some assassins in a coffee shop in episode one, a big fight at the Umbrella Academy with Hazel, Cha-Cha, and the family in episode three, and of course, the huge standoff in episode ten.

Last notes

The music in The Umbrella Academy is perfectly chosen. It was obvious how important music would be to the show when “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” played in Number Five’s first fight scene. Another great music moment is in the last episode, featuring Heart’s “Barracuda.”

Also, look out for Kate Walsh playing a strange and manipulative character known as The Handler.

All in all, this is DEFINITELY worth a watch.

Season two?

We are fully wishing for the show to get a second season! If so, we hope The Umbrella Academy moves further away from the mundane and completely embraces the chaos that made the first season so special. Given where this ended, it seems highly likely that they will.

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Devon Forward

Devon is an artist, writer, and current student of film/television development. She loves anything science fiction or fantasy, and her favorite show is Charmed, which kick-started her obsession with powerful yet imperfect female characters. You can usually find her somewhere analyzing a tv show or reading a good book. On Twitter @dev4wrd

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