With their recent public ‘conscious uncoupling’ from Marvel, Netflix has had to use search for different source material to satisfy the public’s current thirst for superhero stories and characters. Their first attempt comes from former Good Charlotte emo goth leader Gerard Way in the form of “The Umbrella Academy”.
On October 1st 1989, 43 women gave birth even though none of them previously showed signs of pregnancy. The Umbrella Academy consists of seven of those children; The White Violin, Spaceboy, The Kraken, The Rumour, The Séance, The Boy and The Horror with The Monocle as their adopted father, trainer and guardian. Each of the seven has a unique talent that can be used to fight crime and disorder. There’re the standard tick boxes of superpowers on show such as strength, time travel and mind control but there are a few unique and interesting twists like talking to the dead or summoning monsters from a different dimension.
However, before we get started let’s get one thing out of the way, this season’s story isn’t original and even lesser experienced comic nerds will identify with the obvious similarities between it and “The Dark Phoenix Saga” with sprinklings of “Doom Patrol”, “The Terminator” and “The Incredibles” for good measure. Unfortunately, it’s this lack of originality in storytelling that is a huge problem for the season and significantly spoils it, which is a shame as there’s genuine heart and scale to create something truly dark and unique that has been missing from the superhero TV fodder created recently. It’s clear that the show’s writers (Steve Blackman and Jeremy Slater) have been significantly influenced by the likes of Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan and that is definitely a good thing because it blends perfectly with the source material giving it a sepia-like visual palette.
The use of largely unknown but semi-recognisable, quality actors was a bold decision for a new show and it has proven to be a masterstroke because it allows the budget to be spent where it should be: on visual effects and set pieces. It is this approach has been so successful for Marvel, and the opposite for DC, because it allows the viewer to invest in the characters more with a fresh palette.
Although Ellen Page struggles at times to keep up, delivering a largely restrained performance, possibly due to the story, Robert Sheehan (“Misfits”), John Margaro (“OITNB”), Tom Hopper (“Game of Thrones”) and Cameron Britton (“Mindhunter”) are superb, with the latter proving he’s not a one trick pony after his perfect debut as serial killer Ed Kemper in “Mindhunter”, providing genuine heart as one of the time travelling assassins tasked with stopping The Boy and ultimately the Umbrella Academy.
The dynamic between the seven heroes, one of the keys to ensuring this becomes a successful franchise, definitely works and the actors inject genuine heart into the backstory whilst carrying their own demons from their broken relationship with The Monocle. The romance, though, between two of the adopted siblings feels distasteful and misplaced, especially in one scene which homages “Beauty and the Beast“. Eurgh.
This is a solid first attempt from Netflix to tell stories for comic book characters that viewers may not immediately recognise. But it’s the lack of originality in the storytelling that ultimately causes the show to represent more of a “Howard the Duck” than a “Blade”. With a better story for the season, the introduction of a menacing villain and the removal of the technical incest this will be a spectacular triumph. Sham the opportunity was missed to do this right from the start.
Watch this if you like “Doom Patrol”, “Heroes” (season 1), “Marvel’s The Defenders”.