July 31, 2020

“The Umbrella Academy” Season One Review: Addictive, Fantastical Hero Drama

Weird is the new norm for television. And while the first season of Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy is certainly not as outlandish and far-reaching as the comic series it’s based on, it certainly (rather gleefully) buys into the strangeness that the world offers.

Set contemporarily (though the timeline is ambiguous, and full of anachronisms), the superbly styled first season picks up thirty years after a number of women around the world mysteriously gave birth, despite having never been pregnant in the first place. Eccentric billionaire Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore) manages to purchase seven of the children, and he raises them to be a profitable team of superheroes (given that, aside from one of them, the children all have extraordinary abilities).

Now, in the present, the children have grown up and are leading lives of their own. Ellen Page stars as Vanya Hargreeves, the “normal” one of the bunch, who always felt like an outlier because of her lack of powers. She joins the rest of her siblings as they are all called back to the Hargreeves mansion in response to a familial tragedy, and as they are visited by someone from their past, they get the feeling that something’s not quite right.

The show’s ensemble cast is a major strength. Every character is fleshed out and given their time to shine, and while some may not get the spotlight they deserve (for now), we see enough of each to formulate our opinions. Luther (Tom Hopper) was always the leader, and was the only Hargreeves sibling to stand by their father after the others left; Diego (David Castañeda) is good with knives, but doesn’t want anyone to see his sensitive side; Allison (Hamilton original cast member Emmy Raver-Lampman), who can manipulate people by using the phrase “I heard a rumor,” a power that would surely go to anyone’s head; Klaus (an incredibly talented Robert Sheehan), a flamboyant junkie who will most likely become your favorite character; and Five (Aidan Gallagher), the long-lost member of the Academy who is able to jump through space and time. He’s the only main cast member to be stuck as a child, for reasons that become clear in the very first episode.

Even though everybody gets their own storylines throughout the season, Ellen Page is the standout as Vanya. She’s the unreliable narrator of the group, and as we learn more and more about her, we begin to get a clearer view of the other characters and the world they inhabit. Even though it may not seem like it, we’re seeing this story through her eyes, and we’re left to formulate our own opinions and interpretations as to what we see.

The first season also has a remarkable supporting cast, including Cameron Britton as a sweet (yet cruel) temporal assassin, Adam Godley (of Breaking Bad fame) as the Hargreeves’ well-meaning caretaker Pogo (a monkey that Reginald gifted with human attributes) and Justin H. Min as Ben Hargreeves, the deceased member of the Academy who Klaus can interact with, due to his abilities…among others. You’ll wish you saw more of these characters in the first season, but hopefully the second season will give us the fix we deserve.

Throughout the first season we get carefully crafted commentaries on parenthood, loss and corporate control, all tied together through one character. Every plot point affects the other (as they should), and it’s very fun to see where the story will go next.

All of this praise can’t come without a few criticisms, though. As fantastic as The Umbrella Academy is, it’s still holding back. It doesn’t take the big risks. Granted, it’s only the first season, and freshman shows usually play it safe, out of cancellation risk. However, it may be a little jarring for fans of the comics to see a relatively toned-down version of the world they undoubtedly love. As I mentioned before, the season is no stranger to the absurd, but it feels oddly held back, especially in its first half. However, I have a feeling that Season Two, after the massive success of the first season, will be much more liberal with the craziness.

I couldn’t recommend The Umbrella Academy enough. It’s exciting, funny and addicting, and features a wickedly talented cast playing fun characters. Watch it while you can…before the Apocalypse arrives. [Grade: A]

Showrunner: Jeremy Slater
Starring: Ellen Page, Tom Hopper, Emmy Raver-Lampman, David Castañeda, Aidan Gallagher
Rated: TV-14 (violence, language)
Available: Netflix
Fun Fact: Aidan Gallagher was not allowed to be on set during any gun fight scenes because of child labor laws. Instead, a body double was used.

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