THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY is Netflix’s latest binge-worthy gem for those seeking dark comedy and apocalyptic thrills set to an epic soundtrack.
Based on the Eisner Award winning comic by My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way and illustrator Gabriel Bá, the series contains ten, hour long episodes full to the brim with bizarre characters, black humour and suspenseful twists.
One day in 1989, forty-three women gave birth. Not an extraordinary event, but oddly enough none of these women had been pregnant beforehand. Eccentric billionaire industrialist Sir Reginald Hargreeves adopts seven of these babies hoping to create a superhero team that will save the world. After a childhood crippled by pressure, fame, pain and a ‘monster’ of a father - the gifted students grow into broken adults and go their separate ways. Years later, Hargreeves’ death reunites the estranged siblings. That, and the impending apocalypse.
Those hoping for heroic adventures akin to Marvel and DC won’t find what they’re looking for in The Umbrella Academy. These heroes are more than just flawed, and their powers come with a whole host of problems.
It isn’t an overly complicated storyline despite the dipping in and out of time, and it has a fair share of unexpected turns and strange moments. The Umbrella Academy is odd, but it’s a charming kind of odd. Those familiar with Way’s other works will be aware of his fascination with the macabre and the bizarre and will find plenty of both. He has often cited DC’s comic series Doom Patrol as a source of inspiration, and it is noticeable. Eagle-eyed audiences will also spot Way’s name on the back of Vanya’s autobiography.
Standout performances come from Robert Sheehan (Klaus/Number Four/The Seance), a flamboyant drug addict who can talk to the dead, and Ellen Page (Vanya/Number Seven), a perfectly ordinary girl with no powers whatsoever. Altogether now: OR DOES SHE? Page portrays Vanya’s jealousy and self-doubt in such a way that the watcher can’t help but root for her in her quest to feel special next to extraordinary siblings. In contrast, Sheehan brings a vulnerability and a sense of meaning to Klaus’ over the top and scatter-brained character that tugs on the heartstrings.
Fifteen-year-old Aidan Gallagher (Number Five/The Boy) is also worth a mention. He carries a huge amount of plot on his shoulders with poise and intelligence, and has no trouble commanding a scene.
The story has no specified setting and consequently the chosen accompanying songs may seem unusual, but they fit the action well without taking away from it. Memorable scenes include the family dancing to Tiffany’s I Think We’re Alone Now and Five fighting two deadly assassins (one of which is the excellent Mary J. Blige) to Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now. It’s a soundtrack that will get stuck in viewers’ heads long after the show has finished.
Netflix has confirmed a second season is in the works, which will please those viewers enraged by the cliff-hanger they’re left with. Luckily there is still plenty more content to sink their teeth into. The Umbrella Academy already has two volumes released, with another six planned. Viewers should also look at the comic series True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, also by Way, and the accompanying album and music videos that prelude it, Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys by My Chemical Romance.
After all that delicious content has been consumed? The Umbrella Academy definitely deserves a second viewing.
- Watched on BBC iPlayer. 02/03/2019