3.5 STARS OUT OF 5 (Want to know exactly what our star ratings mean? Check out our explanations here.)
Steve Blackman and Jeremy Slater’s Netflix showThe Umbrella Academy is based on a comic series of the same name which was created by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá and was published by Dark Horse Comics.
The Umbrella Academy begins with 43 women giving birth — even though they hadn’t been pregnant just that morning. Of those children, seven were adopted by renowned eccentric billionaire Sir Reginald Hargreeves. Hargreeves grooms six of the children into a team of superheroes, as each one has a superhuman power, but the seventh, Vanya, is raised as ordinary. These are by no means angelic superhero babies — they are children created by their environment; if Professor X had been a rather cruel narcissist, the members of the Umbrella Academy are what the x-men would have been like.
As a fan of the source work, I was excited to see Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá’s work brought to life. At first, I wasn’t particularly impressed, but as episodes progressed it steadily improved. The series has a slow build, and initially it felt like many actors weren’t using their full range — in particular Mary J. Bilge, Ellen Page, and Aidan Gallagher. Fast forward six or seven episodes and that plodding pace starts to deliver, in particular in the character of Klaus Hargreeves (Robert Sheehan), the druggie medium struggling with his ability to talk to the ghosts of those he loves.
Familiarity with Gerard Way helps in appreciating the nuance of the family dynamic the Hargreeves children have. Way’s band My Chemical Romance paved the way for self-aware musicians; being in a successful rock group in the early aughts is probably a lot like being in a dysfunctional family of famous superheroes. We are our least honest when we’re being watched — be it by the general public, the media, or even those we love — and both the source creators and the show creators understand that.
The use of music in the show is especially appreciable. With Gerard Way at the helm, we know music selection will be key, and it’s not surprising that few of his songs make it into the season one lineup. They Might Be Giants, Woodkid, Gin Wigmore and Queen also can be found on the producers’ well-rounded and perfectly-used playlist. I both jammed to known music and sought out unknown tunes enthusiastically.
Some of the early dialogue is cringe-worthy, especially between Diego Hargreeves (David Castañeda) and his friends in law enforcement, and again I wish the talents of Ellen Page and her fellow actors had been better used. But more importantly, dialogue grew on me, characters developed nuance, and the story drew me in. The show takes an especially sharp turn for the better at episode six — so good that I’d say it was definitely worth making my way through those initial episodes. Knowledgable as I was of the original story, the season finale still floored me: this show is worth the episodic commitment. The source material also allows for several more seasons, which I would love to see.
Overall I was disappointed by a stiffness in early episodes. However, as a unit, this season is watchable, relatable, and has known character actors. I was not let down by the finale. I hope Umbrella Academy fans will be able to continue enjoying this show in subsequent seasons.