Following Netflix’s recent cancellations of all Marvel series, it was uncertain what superhero properties, if any, the streaming giant would replace them with. Luckily, viewers didn’t have to wait long as, on Feb. 15, Netflix released its first season of “The Umbrella Academy”.
The series takes place in an alternate universe where, on Oct. 1, 1989, 43 women around the globe gave birth simultaneously despite none of them being pregnant. Following the miraculous births, an eccentric billionaire named Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore) sought out these new mothers and managed to purchase seven of the infants. Shortly thereafter, the children began to develop strange powers, motivating Hargreeves to train the children to harness their abilities and become crime fighters. Over time, the super-powered family became celebrities through their exploits. However, as the kids grew older they also grew to resent their cold and distant foster father. Once they had grown up, all but one of the children moved out and pursued their own, vastly different careers. The family would remain apart until their father’s death in the first episode forces them to reunite at his funeral.
The show, set in the present, wastes no time introducing us to the core cast of characters as we meet each family member the moment they receive the news of their father’s death. From there and over the course of the ten-episode season, the ensemble cast endears itself to the audience as they draw genuine care and laughter for their personalities and exploits. Each character is bizarre in their own way, whether it’s the wild junkie Klaus who can talk to the dead when he’s sober or the hero-turned-movie star Allison who can make people do whatever she says. Every one of the core six family members is given their share of the spotlight, but it is when they pair up that they truly shine. The interactions between siblings are a joy to watch as they never fail to bring laughs but are equally capable of delivering emotional weight as well. In particular, any scene with Klaus or Number 5, the time-travelling old man in a 13-year-old’s body, never cease to amuse as Klaus plays the unpredictable free spirit and Number 5 the cranky old man.
Even the side characters provide compelling performances. The time-travelling hitmen Hazel and Cha Cha’s playful bickering entertains as they insightfully debate the significance of their actions on history. Even the bizarre addition of a British chimpanzee lab assistant adds to the show as he explains the motivations of Sir Reginald. At its core, “The Umbrella Academy” is a spectacular ensemble show that derives its success from the strong performance of its cast.
The plot of the show is relatively straightforward for a modern day superhero show. After being warned of an impending apocalypse by Number 5, the Umbrella Academy must come together to save the world. What the show does differently, however, is inject its own unique and bizarre sense of humor into the story, while simultaneously taking itself seriously. The only noticeable downside of the series is that the ending didn’t quite wrap up things as nicely as expected from its buildup. In fact, the ending does more to set up the inevitable second season rather than conclude the first one. With that said, the show’s plot is fun to watch unfold and combines an original soundtrack from Jeff Russo to keep energies high.
The craziness of the plot and its characters makes “The Umbrella Academy” stand out from the other superhero shows that came before it. The likeability, weirdness and humor of the cast and story makes the show stand out from an otherwise oversaturated genre. The series prides itself on its absurdity and isn’t afraid to bend the rules as every strange and weird addition to the plot feels natural. Furthermore, “The Umbrella Academy” is a clear departure from what Netflix has previously released in the way of superhero series: as the description of the plot and characters should already make clear, this show is nothing like the dark and brooding Marvel series Netflix has previously invested in. The humor and lightheartedness of “The Umbrella Academy” is a much needed breather from the dark and at times depressing street-level heroes that have dominated streaming services, and more than makes up for their absence in light of their recent cancellations.
Verdict: Netflix’s newest superhero show “The Umbrella Academy” is wildly enjoyable, astonishingly bizarre and well worth its 10 hour runtime. The cast of misfits is a joy to watch as they interact in fun and obscure ways.