The Umbrella Academy used to be underrated. Nobody seemed to care about Gerard Way’s graphic novel even if someone actually acknowledged its existence. Now? I feel kind of overwhelmed with the boom caused by Netflix show.
I’ve been always well aware of Gerard Way’s second occupation. All his life he’s been a huge fan of graphic novels and when the time came he tied his life to comic-book business. The Umbrella Academy was his first and very special child. When it was released in 2007, Gerard had already an extremely good year. He was showing off his creativity in My Chemical Romance with their most popular album “The Black Parade”. Their fanbase was growing fast and, I guess, if it wasn’t for that, The Umbrella Academy would have not even sold. No one would care about some geeky kiddo imagining new worlds in the depths of his mother’s basement.
Gladly, the world wanted more of Gerard Way’s creativity. He found time to work on his own team of heroes and collaborate with artist Gabriel Ba to breathe life into them. After the comic-book premiere, it was pretty loud about it. After all, the celebrity’s creation sells. And then suddenly there was silence.
Netflix’s announcement of The Umbrella Academy series came as a surprise. Over ten years passed since the release of the comic and its lack of popularity did not guarantee a huge audience. But this time, Netflix decided to put more green into the project: executive producer known from Fargo and Legion, another one responsible for visual effects in Pan’s Labirynt and the creators of the comic-book as co-producers. What could have gone wrong?
Well… Plenty. Jeremy Slater got a seat behind the wheel of this truck and I reckon no fan of originals shall forgive him his take on “Death Note” or “Fantastic Four”. This time, however, Slater saved his rear.
The Umbrella Academy is a superhero show like no other to this date. Not because it is based on a different idea but because they did it right. This year we already got Titans and Doom Patrol series labelling themselves as heroes yet something else. Not to mention all the previous superhero-based shows that surfaced in recent years. The market is flooded with comics adaptations and the audience requires much more quality than it used to (kind of). Creating another damaged team which is weird but good is not a winning card anymore.
I want to believe that there’s a checklist with guidelines for a good series somewhere and brave travellers that want to create an exquisite show have to run through a jungle and avoid the traps to get it. Like a golden idol from Indiana Jones or something. This time the quest to achieve it ended with a huge success. The series went from zero to a hundred in no time and its popularity ran faster than light on the premiere day. Right now it is close to impossible to buy the comic book.
The Umbrella Academy is set in a world similar to ours but yet the setting gives us a strong, dark vibe. There’s plenty of room for sarcasm and comedy which fails to disappoint. The series tells the story of a few strangely born children gathered in one home by a genius billionaire. The guy being not even close to the father of the year decided to use them and create a team of heroes. Obviously, they were still children then. So eventually everyone left him and met again only because of his funeral.
What is most entertaining is the number of mysteries piling up with every second. Even when some of them are solved, another bunch shows on the doorstep. It invites us to invent some other theory or simply binge another episode. Of course, some plot devices and twists are more or less predictable. After all, it’s still the same genre. But there’s still a great amount of fun in watching the characters dealing with their problems. And there’s a great potential for more stories to tell in later seasons.
Each of the seven main characters is equipped with some sort of power, a strong, unique personality and different dealing with their life. They create a peculiar bunch that can fire at once. The actors weren’t picked lightly, either. Ellen Page, the most famous face of the show, plays Vanya – the insecure and depressed black sheep. And she kind of is one in the matter of the show, too. Her toned depression and dramatic past didn’t make me feel much empathy. There wasn’t much to play for most of the time and yet she seemed to be so one-dimensional, she not only didn’t fit the family but the whole show. Optimistically, I do hope it will change with the second season.
For me, the brightest star is Number Five played by young Aidan Gallagher. This kid already accomplished in life more than I probably ever will. And he’s only 15. In the Academy, he plays fierce old guy stuck in the body of a thirteen-year-old. And he rocks it. I completely bought everything he said and he acts with such wisdom in the eyes. Add to it a lot of sarcasm and being done with every other person in the world kind of describes him.
Another darling of the series is Klaus. Robert Sheehan plays his classic Misfits character but with such grace, I have nothing against it. When you have a queer drug addict that contacts the dead I can think of nobody else for the part. He is simply perfect. No more telling, it has to be seen. If him being at the funeral with transparent/pink umbrella don’t make you check the show, I don’t know what would.
With others, there are some ups and downs but they definitely do their job right. The villains are not just black and white. I believe too many shows deal with too obvious villains and after all, we don’t want them like this. We want to see them as human beings with more to fight for than simply be the pain in the ass for main characters. Cha-Cha and Hazel do it well and even with an initial repeatable storyline, they grow to become more than likeable.
But there’s much more to it than not-so-plain characters. The dialogues are neat, full of sarcasm and dark humour, with really enjoyable wit. Plus I love the backgrounds. Music used in the series is kicking ass and some songs sung by Gerard Way gets really meta. You can find the playlist on Spotify and it’s such a fun one. I believe ‘Constantinople’ is now in my top ten. Also, the whole production design is something. After all, they did plenty of different sets and a lot of them changed because of different timing.
Last but not least – a minor spoiler. But a mild one since it is already discussed in the pilot. They have their take on time travel. But! They don’t try to be stupid and emotional about it. And they don’t use it as the easy way out that turns out to get more disastrous. Travelling through time has its consequences and it’s not as easy as it seems to be in other pop culture acts. There’s still some hidden cards about it. I can’t wait to see them revealed.
What’s bad about it? Not sure just yet. I had what I’d expected and more out of Umbrella Academy and it is definitely some superhero show you shouldn’t miss. Even if you don’t like the genre at all. Some say it is predictable. Maybe it is. But then, life also is. And so is the genre.