Last year, Netflix released the first series of a TV show called The Umbrella Academy (hereafter referred to as TUA). It is an adaptation of a comic book series written by a man named Gerard Way (frontman of the band My Chemical Romance). I didn’t know much about it when it was announced, but I decided to give it a watch. My wife and I binged it the first weekend it was available and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was definitely one of the best new shows I saw last year.
Netflix is going to release season 2 of TUA on July 31st. To get ready for it, my wife and I just rewatched the first season. I enjoyed it yet again. I’d like to recommend that you watch it as well, in the first entry of our You Should Watch series of articles.
This article will not spoil anything beyond what is found in the very first episode of the show.
Content warning for younger readers: The show contains a few scenes of graphic violence, including some blood and gore. There is some profanity as well.
What is it about?
TUA takes place in a fictional universe much like our own, but not exactly. There are some technological differences (most obvious being that they don’t have cell phones). More than that, however, is the existence of some remarkable people. In 1989, 43 women around the world gave birth on the same day, despite not having been pregnant the day before. It was a bizarre and (so far) unexplainable event. The children they spontaneously gave birth to would go on to develop superhuman abilities.
There is an eccentric billionaire named Reginald Hargreeves who travels around the world collecting as many of these children as he can. He acquires 7 of them. He takes them home and raises them. He forms an organization called The Umbrella Academy. With this, he trains these children to hone and use their powers. He believes that the end of the world is coming and he must prepare these children to help prevent it.
Six of these children have remarkable powers including super strength, teleportation, and mind control. Each of the children possesses one of these gifts. The 7th child does not have a gift. They are ordinary. They are excluded from the Academy.
This is the basic setup for the story, but don’t be fooled. There is so much more to this, as you’ll see in a moment.
What makes it good enough to recommend?
The thing that is remarkable to me about this show is that it isn’t about superpowers. Are there people with superhuman abilities? Yes. Do they use them to fight crime? Well, really only 1 of them does that and it isn’t doesn’t really have anything to do with the plot of this season. Are they trying to prevent a world-ending apocalypse? Of course. But it isn’t actually about any of these things.
This show is about family. These 7 children were adopted and raised by Reginald Hargreeves and he is one of the worst fathers I’ve ever seen in fiction. Although he has a worthy goal (to protect the world from devastation), his behavior is appalling and inexcusable. He is cruel, manipulative, and severely narcissistic. The show itself takes place when the children are 30 years old. But throughout the course of the show, you’ll learn about how they were raised. Reginald inflicted immense trauma upon these children.
When the show begins, Reginald has just died. Because of this, the children return home. They’ve all gone their separate ways as adults, as they each try to deal with both their trauma and their powers. This first season is about them confronting their painful past. It’s about the conflicts and challenges that arise between these siblings as they try to process their pain and grief. This is the heart of the story.
The show also does a very good job of world-building. There is a fascinating universe to explore here. Many compelling mysteries are set up that kept me watching.
I have to mention that I just absolutely love some of the characters. Five is awesome. Ben is cool (though not as big a part of the show as I’d like). Klaus is the standout. I won’t spoil anything about his story, but he is a very complex and sympathetic character. The actor who plays him (Robert Sheehan) brings an incredible humanity to the role. It’s a standout performance, to be sure.
The show has a dynamite soundtrack. It also has a couple of amazing dancing scenes.
Lastly I’ll just mention that the season finale is pretty awesome. It has an exciting climax. The ending leaves the series open to go many different directions in the future. It left me hooked and eager for more.
What are the flaws?
Just like any other show, this series is not perfect. First and foremost, it’s a slow burn. The first season is 10 episodes. You don’t really even start to get answers to your questions until the 5th episode, and the reveals still come slowly at first. You’ll have to be patient if you commit to watching this. In my opinion, most of the answers to the questions you’ll have are worth taking the time to discover. Most of the big mysteries introduced are resolved by the end of episode 10.
Occasionally, some of the acting isn’t amazing. Some of the hair and make-up leave something to be desired. Ultimately, the villain of this season isn’t great. They don’t have much of a plan and they’re not particularly menacing. But as I said above, the show isn’t really about that.
Should I watch it?
Well, if you read the title of this article, you know that I think the answer is yes. If you are even a little bit interested in the superhero genre, it’s worth your time. If you’re interested in stories about complex family dynamics, it’s worth your consideration as well.
With season 2 about to launch, this is a great time to dive in if you haven’t already. My wife and I plan to watch it the weekend it releases. I plan to write a spoiler-filled review of Season 2 after we watch it (unless it’s somehow so terrible that we don’t even make it through, which I find unlikely). I hope you’ll join us again after you watch the second season!