Based on a series of comics by Gerad Way and Gabriel Ba, Umbrella Academy looks like a disbanded version of The X-Men. I have not read the comics so I would not be able to say how much of them have been brought to life by Netflix.
Season 1 starts with what we saw in the trailer. A voiceover of R. Hargreeves, “On the first day of October, 43 women gave birth. What was peculiar about these was that not one of them was pregnant when the day began. I adopted 7 of them.” Then we get a glimpse of them, busy with their respective lives. Things change when they get the news of their father’s demise and they gather in the house they grew up in. As the story unfolds, we get to know of an apocalyptic event that is scheduled to happen soon (7 days). The season is about stopping the world from ending. Nothing new there, I know.
If you were hoping for a smash-bang kind of a start, prepare to be disappointed. The first couple of episodes are slow. They get used up in the introduction of the lead characters and their relationships with each other. The season picks up the pace once that is out of the way and from then on, it is totally binge-worthy. I watched the last 8 episodes in one day.
The premise makes for interesting viewing but what really holds your attention is the characters. It is rare to have a show where you get so many memorable characters in a single season. Number 5 is right at the top of that list. Aidan Gallagher plays Number 5 like a seasoned pro. He is a delight to watch and it helps that he has the most interesting backstory. Number 7 aka Vanya Hargreeves played by Ellen Page is right up there with No. 5. Page is splendid and you really feel her pain and suffocation. She has always had the superpower of looking like a school girl and a dork. She brings both these and a lot more in season 1. Then comes Number 4, aka Klaus Hargreeves, played by Robert Sheehan. Klaus is a cross-dressing, gay, drug addict who never seems to be in his senses. He is delightful and irritating in equal measure and makes for compelling viewing. The show also manages to evoke laughter thanks to Aidan and Robert who have electrifying screen presence. Then there are Peabody, Handler, Hazel and Cha-Cha, each one played by fine actors, making sure they are etched in your memory.
The background score for me was serendipity. I did not expect music to be so impactful in a show like this and I was really caught by surprise. All the violin pieces are extraordinary and the show does add a few fun songs during fight sequences. My most favorite is the sequence where Number 1 plays a song on his old LP and everyone starts dancing to it in their own way. It is a beautiful moment depicted with a lot of heart.
There are 2 major things that hamper the show and pull it down a few notches. First, other members of the Umbrella Academy. They don't have a clear objective, nor a good enough backstory. They just act as the situation demands which comes across as very erratic at times. It would have also been good to know a bit more about Pogo, the most basic being Who is Pogo?. The second is the fight sequences. They are not as impressive as they should have been for a show of this scale. The benchmark for hand to hand combat is Daredevil (Netflix), and this barely reaches its shadow, falling way below the benchmark.
Despite these snags, The Umbrella Academy does work. It has an intriguing storyline and loads of cleverly written characters. Now, the groundwork has been done, a strong foundation has been laid, so, the tough part has been done well. They have my attention and now I just hope they are able to follow this up with a bigger and better sophomore season in every way.