Review: The Umbrella Academy – Season One

Producer(s): Steve Blackman, Jeremy Slater, Everett Burrell
Director(s): Andrew Bernstein, Peter Hoar, Ellen Kiras, Stephen Surjik, Jeremy Webb
Writer(s): Steve Blackman, Gabriel Ba, Jeremy Slater, Gerald Way
Composer: Jeff Russo
Starring: Ellen Page, Tom Hopper, David Castañeda, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Robert Sheehan, Aidan Gallagher, Cameron Britton, and legendary R&B singer Mary J. Blige
Distributor: Netflix
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Sci-Fi
Rating: TV-14

The Umbrella Academy is an American Television series created by Steve Blackman and Jeremy Slater and produced by Netflix. The series is an adaptation of the comic book series of the same name created by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba and published by Dark Horse Comics in 2007. In 2011, Universal Pictures acquired the film rights to develop a motion picture adaptation; however, pre-production never began. The film project was eventually shelved until 2015 when a television series was opted for. In 2017, Netflix picked up the series for development to add to its ever growing line up of exclusive content. The first season of The Umbrella Academy was released on Netflix on February 15th 2019 with a talented ensemble cast including Ellen Page, Tom Hopper, David Castañeda, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Robert Sheehan, Aidan Gallagher, Cameron Britton, and legendary R&B singer Mary J. Blige

The series has been met with fairly positive reviews scoring a 76% critic rating with an audience score of 86% on Rotten Tomatoes and a mediocre score of 62 on Metacritic. As more superhero television series are developed, the bar continues to be raised to a point where even good shows such as The Umbrella Academy can fall short. As an influx of team-based super human shows such as Hulu’s The Runaways, DC’s Titan’s and Doom Patrol, and FOX’s The Gifted are developed, Netflix hopes to join the fight with The Umbrella Academy and succeed where their Marvel’s Defenders failed.

Content Guide

Spiritual Content: One of the characters has the ability to talk to spirits who have died. Forgiveness is a major theme throughout the show.
Violence: The series is littered with gun violence and bloody hand-to-hand combat. Many characters suffer from gunshot wounds, stab wounds, and blood loss. Blood is visible through out the entirety of the series. Some scenes showing torture using electricity and water boarding can bee seen.
Language/Crude Humor: Some foul language is peppered throughout the show, including the use of P*ick, Sh*t, A** Hole.
Sexual Content: Men and women kiss throughout the series. Two men embrace and share a passionate kiss. Erotic asphyxiation is suggested.
Drug/ Alcohol Use: Some of the characters indulge in the use of illegal drugs including weed and ecstasy. Multiple characters drink liquor excessively throughout the series.
Other Negative Themes: Multiple characters suffer from severe PTSD, anxiety, and other emotional and mental disorders.
Positive Themes: Although the siblings struggle to reconnect after years of separation, the brothers and sisters come together and look past their differences to forgive their father and each other.

Story

On October 1, 1989, 43 women around the world gave birth at the same time despite none of them being pregnant when the day began. Seven of these children were adopted by Reginald Hargreeves, an eccentric billionaire. Six of the seven children adopted exhibited super human abilities, were trained to harness their power, and formed into a superhero team called The Umbrella Academy. The children are cared for by a robot Nanny named Grace and a talking, intellectually advanced chimpanzee named Pogo. Hargreeves would lead the team of pre-teen children into battle to fight crime for years. After years of crime fighting, the team disbands under the pressures and abuse from their adopted father and the siblings leave the academy one by one.

Now in their thirties, the estranged siblings are brought together again after many years by the mysterious passing of their father. While gathered together at their father’s funeral, a portal opens up in the sky above them. Falling out of the portal is their adopted brother who had disappeared fifteen years ago and seemingly hasn’t aged a day since his disappearance in 2004. Along with the complexities of emotions from the passing of their father, The Academy is stunned to learn their brother traveled back in time from the future to seek the aide of his family in order to stop the impending global apocalypse which is set to occur in eight days. The Academy is reunited to uncover their father’s secrets and explore the mysteries of their dysfunctional family dynamics while they are chased down, shot at, and attacked while trying to prevent the end of the world.

Review

The Umbrella Academy is visually bold and stylized. The production of the series is some of the best on television to date. With bright colors, bold contrasts, and dynamic cinematography, the show is an absolute pleasure to watch. One of the standouts of the series is its retro, funky, quirky soundtrack, which is awfully fitting with the similarly bizarre and off-beat cast of characters. Nothing is more evident of this then a scene in the pilot episode where every cast member can be seen simultaneously in their quarters alone within the family mansion while dancing to Tiffany’s 1987 pop hit single “I Think We’re Alone Now.” Tonally, the series explores dark themes from world ending events, including political assassinations, sexuality, child abuse and isolation, substance abuse, murder, and revenge. However, the series achieves an upbeat and cheery quality in spite of its dark subject matters.The performances from the cast of characters are a highlight of the series. This ensemble expertly portrays a deep and long relationship history among each other. Each member of the adopted siblings present a believable affection to one another with an equal level of distaste. Ellen Page (Juno, Inception) delivers her quirky, fish-out-of-water sensibilities. Page is an expert in exhibiting an odd ball nature and delivers in spades. While Page is the most well known, she is surrounded by a colorful cast of characters. From a fantastic CGI talking chimpanzee to a hardened vigilante, a strung out junky, a beautiful starlet, and an overly sensitive man with the body of a beast, the series is a showcase of excellent acting. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the performance by Mary J. Blige. Although she puts in a solid attempt, many of her shortcomings are evident in the amateur actress when compared to the stellar performance from her co-stars. She comes off as stiff, wooden, and non-believable. Thankfully, the rest of the cast carries their weight and allows one to overlook Blige’s faults and shortcomings.

Where The Umbrella Academy excels in production, tone, and performance, it fails in storytelling, direction, and pace. Though the series comes to the table with high concept ideas, the way it unravels its story and mystery is muddy and at times unwatchable. The pilot and second episode hit hard and captures the viewers’ attention; however the subsequent episodes drag to a stand still. Some episodes explode with excitement and intrigue, but most of the season crawls at a snail’s pace and almost breaks at the weight of its own fantastic ideas. If the cast of characters weren’t as compelling and captivating as they are,  I may not have continued with the series.

Conclusion

The Umbrella Academy has all the factors to be an absolutely extraordinary series. It can easily rival the rest of the team based superhero shows on the market today; however, the equation has yet to be solved. Netflix has another potential hit on their hands. The series’ cast has an overabundance of chemistry among each other. The characters they portray are easily cared for and easy to fall in love with. The story and ideas are compelling, intellectual, and intriguing, but the approach and unraveling of the plot at times is disjointed, unorganized, and hard to follow. There is a lot of room for improvement in the series. Although I ultimately enjoyed the show, in the end I’m left unsatisfied.

Noel Davila

Noel is a writer and performer based out of the New York City area. With a background in acting, theater arts, years of stage and screen writing, composing and scoring utilizing his skills as a singer song writer, Noel looks to be an all around creator in the arts. Many of the films Noel has written have been selected and featured at a number of Film Festivals including The New York International Film Festival, The Hudson Valley Film Festival, The Art is Alive Film Festival, ect and have gone on to be nominated and awarded for multiple awards including "Best Comedy Short" ,"Best Of", "Best make up", ect. Noel continues to perform live original music all across New York City

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