I was pretty excited when I first saw the trailer for Netflix’s “The Umbrella Academy.” I’m a sucker for misfits turned superhero tropes and this one promised to be a doozy. After watching 10 full hours of Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba’s award winning comic book series, I feel bereft of any emotion other than frustration for everything that this series could have been if only it focused on the right aspects of the show.
Synopsis: Eccentric billionaire Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore) adopts seven babies who were mysteriously born to women who were not pregnant nine month prior to the births. It turns out that the kids are gifted with superpowers and Hargreeves makes it his life’s mission to hone their gifts so that they may be able to save the world from the imminent apocalypse.
This is not the first superhero series with the same premise and it truly is far from an original concept. Studios have rebooted this plot extensively over the years so its really not rocket science to figure out what works and what doesn’t. The challenge for Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy was actually setting itself apart from its successfulful predecessors and avoid the pitfalls of its less than positive counterparts in the genre. Unfortunately for TUA, it leans more towards the latter than the former.
This is not to say that The Umbrella Academy did not try its very best to deliver on its promise to come up with an action packed ten-episode superhero series because it did try — utilizing the old timey coolness that Kingsman had going for it. That much, I got. The Umbrella Academy also used semi goth tone that gave the series an overall feel of edginess as one would expect from a comic book background. The violin concertos were amazing and Vanya’s solo of Angel of the Night from the Phantom of the Opera used at the beginning to introduce her siblings — Luther (Number One aka Spaceboy), Diego (Number Two aka The Kracken), Allison (Number Three aka The Rumor), Klaus (Number Four aka The Seance), Five (The Boy), Ben (Number Six aka The Horror) and finally Vanya (Ellen Page), who was later revealed to The White Violin.
There was a lot going for this series, really but for some reason, I found it hard to connect with the characters because they too, had trouble connecting amongst themselves. They were obviously bound by their common experiences in childhood under Sir Reginald’s parenting but other than constantly mentioning how miserable they were as kids, there really was nothing else. The siblings mostly connected in pairs — Vanya and Five (Aidan Gallagher), Luther (Tom Hopper) and Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman), Diego (David Castañeda) and Grace (Jordan Claire-Robbins), Sir Reginald and Pogo, and later on in death, Klaus (Robert Sheehan) and Ben (Justin H. Min). However, surprisingly, even with extreme triggers like the end of the world, these connections were not enough to get them to band together and work as a team, even though they were training their whole lives to do so.
While I loved Luther’s loyalty to the mission and his pure heart, he lacked conviction and the brains to be the leader of this crew, often relying on impulse and emotion to make his decisions. Diego was a hothead who preferred to work alone, although it was obvious that he wanted to take the lead. Five has the experience and the smarts to make the tough decisions but he is too impatient and used to getting things done at lightning speed that his siblings find it hard to keep up with his plans. Klaus was the most troubled of all the siblings and it was only Ben, in death, that actually understood him and pushed him forward. Klaus was actually my favorite character because even though he was imperfect, damaged and underestimated, he did know how to love — Dave, as well as his siblings and he did his best when push came to shove. Unfortunately, his brothers and sisters don’t really take him seriously enough to take on a tough task that its really farfetched to label himself in a position of leadership.
It was pretty obvious that Vanya was being set up to be something more than the mousy, troubled misfit that had no powers. It should have been an epic reveal to witness her true powers but how it came to be was really a boring journey because of her neverending depression. That, while understandable, does not totally excuse her for being stupid.
At times, I felt like I wanted to tear my hair off because of the amount of issues that these kids had with their father and with their personal demons. I felt like it was a waste to devote so much time to the problems rather than the resolution. The infighting actually took up the better part of the show and their grudge with the so called A-list assassins Hazel (Cameron Britton) and Cha Cha (Mary J. Blige) was quite laughable too. They were presented like Pulp Fiction types but they were more along the lines of gun toting versions of Dumb and Dumber. Sorry, but I still love Hazel.
By episode 6, one would most definitely feel a sense of relief as it seemed like the family drama was finally taking a backseat with some members of the team working together on a common goal but that relief will quickly fade as old grudges are restarted in the next episode. Sadly, this is a trend that continues even up until the final showdown where the guys simply attack willy nilly in an ultimate act of heroism (?) that really does nothing for the show. I am appalled to be presented with the idea that this ill coordinated bunch of superheroes were tasked to save the world from the apocalypse.
All in all, The Umbrella Academy missed a perfect opportunity to get viewers invested in the characters because it failed in establishing a sense of family and love at the core of this series. In focusing on the style rather than substance, it just felt like a bunch of stuff thrown around to present an effort to produce an epic, and edgy superhero series that fans can get behind. Unfortunately, the show remains as a third chair in the genre filled with contenders for first as its crescendo fell way short of a bravo!