The new Netflix Show, The Umbrella Academy, is a hit. I rate it 5 stars. The cinematography, the special effects, the storyline, and the acting were all bang-on. The Umbrella Academy is based on the comic books of the same name Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá for Dark Horse Comics, and centers around a family of dysfunctional superheroes. The icing on the cake is the incredible soundtrack.
The show opens with the premise that on October 1st 1989, 43 women around the world gave birth. The odd thing about these births though, is that none of the women who gave birth were pregnant earlier that day. This shocked the world, and one eccentric billionaire by the name of Sir Reginald Hargreeves decided that he wanted to track down and adopt as many of these miraculous children as he could. He found and adopted seven of them. He numbered them One through Seven and trained them to be a family of superheroes known as The Umbrella Academy. Following this opening is one of the best scenes of exposition I have ever seen, where each member of the team is shown using their powers to thwart a bank robbery in progress, and the dynamics between all of the characters that we will come to know and love are shown in a quick but meaningful sequence.
Each episode is impactful, taking great strides in character development and moving the narrative along swiftly. There are a total of 10 episodes, each at regular TV length, which adds up to about six to seven hours of programming. One of the things that sets the show apart however, is the cinematography.
The Umbrella Academy boasts Gerard Way, former lead singer of the 2000s rock band My Chemical Romance, as an executive producer, and his impact on the cinematography is visible from start to finish. His guidance and attention to detail are similar to the likes of Wes Anderson and one of his recent films, The Grand Budapest Hotel. The show has a few similarities to the film, such as a wide variety of shots with a central object in frame. This provides an interesting visual balance as well as many opportunities to use the framing for symbolism, which is used to great effect.
In regard to effects, the special effects were impressive. The CGI quality is exactly what I expect from a show in 2019. Some of these effects are more obvious than others, but none of them stood out from the show. Number One’s body is one such effect that shows the consequences of the narrative and fits perfectly into the visual scheme. Number Two’s scar makeup and Number Six’s tendrils are also masterfully done, alongside some effects that would spoil the show to any who did not read the comics.
In line with the comics, the show follows a different but similar storyline. It uses flashbacks and other events from outside of the main timeline of events, but stays tethered to the present. The story follows all of the children that were adopted by Reginald Hargreeves, but focuses on them as adults except for one. Number Five is in the body of his thirteen year-old self while his mind is twice as old as his siblings of about thirty. The entire plot is weird and twisty, but it always keeps its focus on the family dynamic and the personal struggles of each of the characters.
The characters were entrancing, their personal arcs were compelling, and all that is held up by the acting. Tom Hopper as Number One shows a very troubled and concerned “eldest brother” despite their ages all being the same. David Castañeda’s Number Two is an equally concerned but differently motivated vigilante. Emmy Raver-Lampman’s Number Three is a troubled and somewhat insecure mother and divorcée doing her best to figure out her life and reconnect with her family. Robert Sheehan’s Number Four is an addict struggling with his sense of purpose and identity, but gets stronger and grows a lot throughout the show. Aidan Gallagher’s Number Five is a sarcastic and screws-loose antihero that is doing his best to save the world and his family. Justin H. Min’s Number Six is the most removed from the family drama, but very close to Number Four, and the bond only they can share is one of the strongest areas of the show’s entire acting ensemble. Ellen Page’s Number Seven is an insecure and troubled violinist trying her best to make it in the crazy world she was born into. Colm Feore, Adam Godley, and Jordan Claire Robbins play strong supporting familial roles as Reginald Hargreeves, Pogo, and Mom respectively. Cameron Britton and Mary J. Blige as Hazel and Cha-Cha are a dynamic duo of time-travelling assassins who play an important role throughout the story and even get a good portion of their own screen time.
The Umbrella Academy has been described as the first big hit on Netflix in 2019, and I have to agree. Despite hits like Sex Education and Russian Doll, which are definitely strong contenders, The Umbrella Academy is a refreshing take on the superhero genre that feels like X-Men but weirder, The Avengers but darker, and has a few similarities to movies like Captain America: Civil War, The Dark Knight, and Project Almanac. Overall, watching the show is an excellent experience that shows the value of family and trust, as well as bringing an adaptation of an excellent comic book and graphic novel series to screens around the world. I rate The Umbrella Academy 5 stars. I look forward to the second season.