TV review: You really should be watching ‘The Umbrella Academy’ on Netflix

Normally I’m not much of a binge-watcher when it comes to TV. But last week I was stuck home sick for two days straight, and my only options were A) Spend all day lying in bed, staring up at the ceiling, and feeling sorry for myself or B) Try to distract myself from feeling miserable by finding something interesting to watch on Netflix. I’d seen a trailer a while back for “The Umbrella Academy” that intrigued me, so I thought, “Why not give it a try?”

I ended up finishing the first season in a day and half, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. While “The Umbrella Academy” might not be for everyone, it certainly grabbed my attention, and I found the story and the characters so compelling that I couldn’t stop watching until I found out how it ended.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show quite like “The Umbrella Academy.” Perhaps the best way to wrap one’s mind around it is to think of it as a delightfully eccentric combination of the X-Men movies, “Stranger Things,” “Harry Potter,” “The X-Files,” and a dash of “Arrested Development.” It has some funny, wacky moments, but also some incredibly dark and heartbreaking twists.

To quickly summarize the plot: in 1989, approximately 43 women around the world become pregnant and immediately give birth on the exact same day. A mysterious billionaire named Sir Reginald Hargreeves adopts seven of these children and establishes “The Umbrella Academy,” a school for training superheroes.

Both aloof and exacting, Hargreeves gives the children numbers instead of names and doesn’t hesitate to put them in harm’s way (even though it’s apparently for a good cause, such as stopping bank robberies). He reveals that the children’s strange origins have given them all unique powers…except for Number Seven, who appears perfectly ordinary and is often left out of her siblings’ adventures.

Naturally, this dysfunctional upbringing doesn’t exactly create a warm sense of camaraderie between the siblings, and they eventually go their separate ways. It’s not until the unexpected death of their father that they are reunited and begin to work through some of their past issues. Oh, and they also have to find a way to stop the impending apocalypse.

“The Umbrella Academy” is the perfect sort of project for Netflix to take on. This concept probably would have felt too rushed and unsatisfying as a two-hour film, and I just can’t see it working as a standard TV network drama with 20+ episodes a season. The 10-episode first season feels just right; you get to dive deeply into the characters but the plot keeps clipping along without unnecessary filler.

There’s some really weird/crazy stuff that happens in “The Umbrella Academy,” but what anchors it are the performances. I feel that everybody’s going to come away with a different favorite character, but I actually really liked all the adopted Hargreeves children. They each had a distinct personality, a unique power, and (of course) some secrets they are not necessarily keen to share.

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Luther/Number One tries to be the responsible one, attempting to carry on the mission of the Umbrella Academy long after everyone else has given up and become disillusioned with their father’s original vision. Diego/Number Two is a crime-fighting vigilante with anger issues, while Allison/Number Three is a famous actress with a sunny smile and a good heart…and the power to command people to do anything she wants by whispering the words, “I heard a rumor…”

Klaus/Number Four is a shameless addict who pretends not to care about anyone or anything, but is really just terrified of his power to speak to the dead. Number Five (who’s never given another name) is a world-weary adult stuck in a teenager’s body, and Ben/Number Six once commanded monsters but is now absent, presumably dying in the line of duty.

And finally, there is Vanya/Number Seven, who is unlike her siblings in many ways and was apparently born without a special gift. She has trained to become a violinist and is trying to make peace with her past. Of course, there is far more lurking beneath the surface than the audience (and even Vanya herself) realizes.

These short descriptions don’t really do the characters justice, but I don’t want to give away much of the plot. I loved each of these characters and the journeys that they went on. Even though I did see most of the plot twists coming, that didn’t take away from the impact of the story.

While the Hargreeves siblings are the stars of the show, there are some fun side characters as well, particularly the time-traveling assassins Hazel and Cha-Cha. But to say more about them would, unfortunately, also involve spoilers.

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Another feature that really elevates this series is the cinematography. There are a number of shots that really leaped off the screen; the camera angles, lighting, and even musical choices really made this series stand out to me. I don’t really have any criticisms of the show, though perhaps I might have found a couple if I wasn’t watching it while sleep deprived and running a fever. 😉

I’ve seen a variety of responses to “The Umbrella Academy” pop up online; I’ve heard other people gushing about it, and others say they quit without finishing it. As I mentioned before, this series may not work for everyone, but I think that’s okay.

I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I really like movies and TV shows that inspire a range of strong responses. Some people may really love it, and some people may really hate it. Yet “The Umbrella Academy” is definitely a distinctive story, and it really worked for me. The dysfunctional characters and the contrast between the quirky humor and the darker plot twists felt like a perfect combination.

While the story is definitely going to continue in a second season, it has an ending that is satisfying enough that I won’t be going crazy for a year until the next chapter in the story is released. I highly recommend giving “The Umbrella Academy” a try!

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