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Feature Article

Umbrella Academy Season 1 (Netflix) Review: X-Men Meets The Royal Tenenbaums


Putting the "fun" in dysfunctional families.

Netflix's The Umbrella Academy is available now in all its wacky glory. Have you watched the full season yet? Let us know what you thought in the comments below, and read on for our review!

It's not hard to draw up comparisons when you're talking about Netflix's Umbrella Academy. Its ten episode season is going to call to mind all sorts of things--FX's surrealist X-Men show Legion for one, Wes Anderson films for another, some Bryan Fuller-flavored flair with just a dash of Tim Burton--and while those comparisons are all earned in their own ways, none of them do the full picture justice. The bottom line is Umbrella Academy really is just that weird--which probably isn't a huge surprise to anyone who's read the multi-part comic book source material by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba. There was no way this show was ever going to angle for your typical superhero fair, which is really what makes it so much fun.

In lieu of villain punching or day saving, this is a superhero show with full on dance montages, hidden in-scene title card reveals, and CGI effects that are just-this-side of retro. The story hopscotches back and forth between past, present and future, sometimes by way of literal time travel, sometimes by way of flashbacks. There's a talking chimpanzee in a suit who wears a monocle and a robot nanny called "Mom" who resembles a prototypical 1950s housewife (designed by a man, naturally). It can be a lot to keep track of, but don't let that put you off--Umbrella Academy throws a lot at the wall, but most everything sticks.

It's difficult to really distill exactly what the show is about in any specific sense without giving too much away, but here's the short version. It's set in a world where several dozen children were born around the world at the same time on the same day to women who were, until that moment, not pregnant. An eccentric billionaire adventurer named Reginald Hargreeves adopted seven--they turned out to have superpowers, and he molded them into a sort of trainee superhero team called--you guessed it--the Umbrella Academy. There's Luther (Tom Hopper), a muscle bound strong man with a leadership complex; Diego (David Castaneda), a Batman-like knife thrower; Klaus (Robert Sheehan), an addict who can speak to the dead; Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman), an actress who can warp reality; Number Five (Aidan Gallagher), a time traveling teleporter stuck in a child's body; and finally Vanya (Ellen Page) an outsider who thinks she's a normal girl; and Ben, who died as a child.

Unfortunately, Hargreeves lacked skills in the fatherhood department and only really managed to produce a group of horribly adjusted, dysfunctional adults rather than a well oiled team of heroes. That's where the show picks up: with the kids all grown up and having long since gone their separate ways only to be brought back to their childhood home after Sir Reginald's untimely and mysterious death, forced to confront their traumatic childhoods and rebuild bridges with one another.

Oh, and the world might be ending in less than a week. There's that, too. So there's a bit of a ticking clock on the whole "reconciliation" thing.

Page's Vanya and Gallagher's Five are ostensibly the "main" characters, but Umbrella Academy is at its best when it focuses equally on every Hargreeves protege, giving them a chance to stand in the spotlight--which happens in a pretty balanced way across all ten episodes. Sheehan in particular manages to steal scene after scene by pouring unexpected layers and emotion into the typically flakey, over-the-top Klaus.

And then there are the villains, a set of time traveling assassins named Hazel (Cameron Britton) and Cha-Cha (Mary J. Blige) who serve to add a whole new level of eccentricity to the mix, peppering in gleeful ultraviolence with sci-fi absurdity. They kill without remorse while wearing cartoon animal masks and are usually flanked by hordes of anonymous foot soldiers as cannon fodder. It really is just chaos whenever they're around--but Britton especially is a grounding force to prevent things from going too far off the rails. Hazel's hilarious, almost Charlie Brown-like depression is a total delight.

Umbrella Academy stumbles a few times in the pacing department, teasing reveals too long before paying them off, tipping hands a bit too soon, allowing certain story beats to occupy moments while other, more interesting beats should be given precedence. Coupled with the already experimental tone and look, that means it probably won't be a show for everyone--but for the people who are down for the ride, it's well worth the time.

The GoodThe Bad
A strong, unique lookPacing could be better
Incredible soundtrackSome unanswered questions are frustrating
Great charactersCGI sometimes looks cheap and dated
A fresh but authentic take on the source material
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