Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy provides dollops of mystery, fun and dysfunctional family drama in this new science-fiction original series. Based on the graphic novels by ex-My Chemical Romance front-man Gerard Way, and Gabriel Bá, Netflix expertly adapts the dark and Gothic undertones to create a unique story-world, thanks to Way’s influence as one of the show’s executive producers.
The Umbrella Academy tells the story of seven adopted siblings whom were all birthed in different countries by immaculate conception on the same day, October 1st, 1989. These seven individuals, six of whom are gifted with special abilities, are taken under the care of eccentric billionaire Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore). As children, these super-powered individuals are part of the crime fighting Umbrella Academy, a once famous group of pre-teen vigilantes that wear eye masks and appear on lunchboxes. The 7th, Vanya (Ellen Page), however seemingly does not have a power and is therefore the black sheep of the family, her existence kept hidden from the public eye.
Now in adulthood the show follows this family as reunite under tragic circumstances and come to terms with the dire situation that has brought their once long-lost brother back into their lives, as they simultaneously attempt to prevent a future apocalyptic event. Standout performances come in the form of drugged up brother Klaus (Robert Sheehan), who provides spades of comedic value from his antics, and Number Five (Aidan Gallagher), the sibling with the ability to travel through space-time with some devastating personal consequences. Singer Mary J. Blige also makes a recurring appearance as the cutthroat agent Cha-Cha, who along with sidekick Hazel (Cameron Britton) hunt down the Hargreeves siblings.
The Umbrella Academy has a distinctive aesthetic too, which nicely incorporates elements of other Netflix productions, such as A Series of Unfortunate Events. Much like the Lemony Snicket adaptation the show feels recognizably out of time despite being set in the present day. Vintage cars drive down early-20th century city streets, black and white televisions play in multiple scenes and no one has mobile phones. And yet, at the same time, there is advanced bionic technology, androids and an evolved talking ape, providing evidence that this is a story-world that exists within an alternative timeline. Fans of Way’s disbanded emo-rock band, My Chemical Romance, may also notice similar style choices to some of the band’s aesthetics of the past. Such as the masks donned by Hazel and Cha-Cha being similar to the adversaries seen in the band’s Killjoys era music videos. Speaking of music, the show also boosts an impressive soundtrack of both contemporary hits and 80s pop classics.
Ultimately, The Umbrella Academy is a show that puts family relationships at its core, incorporating some of the familiarity audience members may have with similar groups of super-powered individuals. Bravely dark and daring, the show skillfully establishes its own narrative playground over the duration of its first season. With strong performances by some of its main cast members throughout, this horde of new characters to the mainstream are quickly made distinguishable and easily likable. The show doesn’t attempt to distance itself from its Gothic origins, and yet is brilliantly able to balance brutal violence along with dark humor and emotional character beats.