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Umbrella Academy Review: A Very Hot Topic-y Take On The Netflix Superhero Genre
by Ariana Romero, published on February 5, 2019 - 5:50 PM
Last year, The Haunting Of Hill House took Netflix by storm. A big chunk of the horror drama’s success is owed to its molecular level similarities to fellow time-jumping family drama This Is Us… only this time with too many ghosts to handle. Well, Netflix is about to premiere another series that runs on This Is Us’-type familial fuel with a bit of a quirk: Umbrella Academy, premiering Friday, February 15. The streaming series is swapping out the horror of Hill House with brooding, hot 30-something superheroes with daddy issues.
With the entire Marvel-Netflix suite canceled saved for Jessica Jones, which continues to hover in limbo, Umbrella Academy now stands as the future of the streaming giant’s superhero world. At least it’s a painstakingly weird world that will seem shiny and bingeable to many — if only it didn’t leave me cold.
The trailer for Umbrella Academy, based on a series of graphic novels co-written by My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way, sets up the dynamics quite succinctly. Thirty years ago, 43 women went into labor on the same day. None of those women were pregnant at the start of that morning. Eccentric billionaire Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore) “adopted” (see: purchased) seven of those unexpected babies. Six went on to have strange powers and make up the Hargreeves-created Umbrella Academy crime fighting crew. The seventh, Vanya (Ellen Page), did not. Poor quiet, anxiety-ridden Vanya constantly felt the sting of her alienation, which her stern taskmaster of a dad only enforced. While No. 7, as Hargreaves named his daughter, is broken due to her familial otherness, her siblings — two of whom have disappeared or died — are all shattered in their own ways.
It’s a sobering look at what growing up with powers would actually mean for adulthood. After dedicating your adolescence to extreme training and near-death vigilantism, no one would be as well-adjusted as corn-fed do-gooder Clark Kent. Instead, you would probably blunt the trauma with constant self-medicating like Klaus (a never not having a blast Robert Sheehan) or reinvent yourself like Allison (Hamilton alum Emmy Raver-Lampman) or lean even harder into your bloody past like Diego (David Castañeda). Even Luther (Game Of Thrones' Hot Dickon, Tom Hopper), No. 1 and the leader of the group, is far more devastated than his soldier-like focus suggests.
The disparate Hargreaves siblings are brought together by the suspicious death of their fearsome patriarch and kept together by the imminent threat of the apocalypse. The group’s return home for their dad’s funeral is when we begin to realize just how topsy turvy this story will get. Hargreaves manor is a cavern of winding, gilded rooms now presided over by Pogo (Adam Godley), the super intelligent, bespoke suit-wearing chimpanzee with teeny glasses Hargreaves scienced into existence, and Grace (Jordan Claire Robbins), aka Mom, the Westworld robot Hargreaves designed to be the picture of a 1950s era domestic goddess. Eventually the series grows to include creepy animal mask wearing assassins (hello, Mary J. Blige and Mindhunter’s creepiest serial killer), a romance with a mannequin, and a tour de force of joyous, intoxicated weirdness from Robert Sheehan.
It’s not shocking that this is a series inspired by the work of the guy who made goth marching band chic a legitimate trend just a decade ago. And before that was really fixated on color coordinated funeral choreography.
Umbrella Academy’s bizarro flights of fancy certainly are fun. Who doesn’t want to see Mary J. Blige shoot up what appears to be a T.J. Maxx? Yet, it might be hard to fully invest in the Hargreeves siblings themselves. Each and every member of the family, save for permatween Five (Aidan Gallagher), is a ridiculously attractive individual. They’re all the kind of people you want to see fight, hook up, and run around doing things. Instead, a baffling amount of the series is dedicated to the siblings sulking around the vast Hargreeves mansion and glowering at each other. There are obvious tensions and jealousies hanging above these gloomy halls, but Umbrella Academy keeps most of them close to the vest to start. It’s difficult to invest in characters one doesn’t totally understand — or worry about their fate in the impending end of the world.
At least the game-changing fifth episode of season 1 pushes everyone out of the house and into some true shenanigans. It’s the closest the first half of Umbrella Academy gets to thrilling, and it rides that momentum into a wild final five episodes. Kudos if you make it that far.