Even during my peak My Chemical Romance fandom back in highs school, if you had told me that Gerard Way would come out with one of my favorite comic books and adapted Netflix series, I would’ve said “what’s Netflix” and then I would’ve said “no way!” But, here we are.
As is personal tradition with most comic book adaptations, I went in as spoiler-free as possible for the Netflix show. The most information I received about The Umbrella Academy were two billboards ominously looming over the Fanbyte office. I have found with zero expectations comes insulation if the series turns out to be hot garbage. The Umbrella Academy was not hot garbage. It was the opposite of hot garbage. It was cool and fresh.
The quirky comic book has grown up and aged into one of the best superhero shows on Netflix; hell, it’s one of the best shows period on Netflix. As an avid fan of all things Marvel, it even knocked Jessica Jones season one out of that coveted first chair spot. It’s that good.
The Power of the Weird
In a shock of body horror straight out of the gate, The Umbrella Academy opens with forty-three normal non-pregnant women inexplicably giving birth to children in the span of about five minutes. Yep, in this world weird shit just happens and no one really bats an eye. 1989 was a hell of a year, I guess. Seven of these miracle children were adopted by an eccentric billionaire and (for reasons that aren’t immediately clear) possess incomprehensible abilities.
Expect a lot of inverted tropes and metaphysical bullshit to just happen without much of an explanation. There’s beauty in that, though. I don’t want (or need) a fifteen minute scene of Tony Stark explaining how Marvel’s newest MacGuffin works. I want to just live and breathe in their world where the extraordinary is understood.
Being weird is one of The Umbrella Academy’s biggest strengths. The narrative is not afraid to play around. It’s not afraid to mess with timelines. It’s not afraid to show the darker moments of being a superhero. Though it does end in roughly the same fashion as the comics, it deviates where it needs to in order to tell a better story. In a sea of bland superhero movies, The Umbrella Academy stands out as a bizarre diamond in the rough.
Hargreeves’ School for Gifted Youngsters
One of the highest praises I can give The Umbrella Academy is that it left me wanting more. I wanted to see more of the characters doing mundane tasks like washing the dishes. Vanya, the “unextraordinary” member of the titular group, has a day-to-day life I actually want to see. I wanted to see more of the world and the people in it. I wanted to know about every single character, big or small. Hell, even the mannequin (named Dolores) that The Boy (#00.05) carried around had an interesting backstory!
Exposition is light. Very light. It’s mostly a credit to the writing staff who understand the characters are inhabiting a lived-in world. It’s a nice change from pace from other superhero franchises that feel the need to spell everything out for you. It’s largely up to the audience to infer how this world works. Cell phones? Nonexistent here. Internet? What’s that? Automatic weapons? Time travel? Androids? Space colonization? Check, check, check, and check. The Umbrella Academy’s show-don’t-tell philosophy might cause some folks to bounce off. I recommend you watch closely if you’re unfamiliar with the source material.
The cinematography is often breathtaking. Scene composition tells so many micro-stories moment to moment. Gorgeous and frequently soul-crushing, scenes of physics-bending gravitas left me tongue-tied. Just imagine me doing a chef’s kiss three or four times per episode. Great stuff.
The decision to keep the action exposition-light has an immediately-noticeable consequence: some awkward early pacing. It takes a few episodes for The Umbrella Academy to get comfortable with the strange table it sets. Once I hit mid-season, the pacing issues dissipated for me.
I recall sitting down with friends who had never seen Game of Thrones before and having answer a million questions in the first 45 minutes. The Umbrella Academy shares the same blood type, in this regard. The show ties things up rather nicely, though. Give it time.
Though it is slightly marred by pacing issues, The Umbrella Academy was a breath of fresh air in the super crowded superhero genre. It is unapologetic about bending the strict set of superhero tropes and rules and will consistently entertain and surprise you. Without a doubt, if you’re a fan of the Marvel and DC Comics adaptations, especially ones with darker tones, check out this show!
The Umbrella Academy (Season One)
The Netflix adaptation of Gerard Way & Gabriel Bá's comics series strikes a lot of weird chords mostly to its credit, though some up-front inaccessibility might cause some bounce right off.
- Incredible cinematography
- Use of music is notable and relevant
- Even outside the core cast, the characters are unique and memorable
- Early pacing is a bit stunted
- The setting is great, but doesn't make a lot of its rules clear from the beginning