REVIEW: Umbrella Academy Season 1

It’s a new era for superhero television at Netflix: Netflix is looking to fill Marvel’s absence with adaptations of indie series from notable names like Mark Millar. The Umbrella Academy, a ten-episode series adapted from the comic book series by Gerard Way, Gabriel Bá, and Dave Stewart, is Netflix’s first foray into this venture. Kade Battles and Shaun Martineau examine the series to see if this a step in the right direction for Netflix.

Spoiler Warning for the entire season.

Elaborate

Shaun: Nice to be back in the fold. Excellent work on The Punisher review with Vincent, I think I enjoyed reading that more than I did the last season of the show.

Kade: Thanks. Let’s dive right in with some questions. Did you have a favorite character in The Umbrella Academy?

Shaun: Ellen Page (Vanya Hargreeves) and Robert Sheehan (Klaus Hargreeves) are two of my favorite actors working today, but it was actually Ed Kemper (Hazel) who stole the show for me. He had the best lines, was in like half of the musical numbers, and Hazel’s ability to appreciate and find humor in the little things was uplifting. I loved his philosophical ruminations. How about yourself?

Kade: Honestly, and I’ve given this a lot of thought, I don’t have a favorite. Each character had big emotional moments, like when Space Boy (Luther Hargreeves/Tom Hopper) found his unread reports to his father or Diego Hargreeves (David Castañeda) found the body of Eudora Patch (Ashley Madekwe). They were all show stealers at one point or another. I loved them all.

Shaun: Speaking of scene stealers, shout out to Pogo (voiced by Adam Godley). That ape is incredible thanks to the fine folks at Weta Workshop (who were heavily involved with the rebooted Planet of the Apes trilogy). His reactions expressed so much without saying anything at all, which is remarkable for a completely CGI character. I was really hoping the first season would end with Pogo being a mentor to evil Vanya, but alas…

Kade: Yeah. Poor Pogo. I dreaded his death the whole time, because it’s one of the saddest in the comics. Vanya was changed quite a bit for The Umbrella Academy. Vanya’s powers remain the same, but the way she turns evil was changed. Are you familiar with the source material?

I Think We're Alone Now by Tiffany Dance Scene

Dancing To A Beat

Shaun: I have never read the source material, but I have heard it’s a little convoluted. It was the first comic from Gerard Way (the lead singer of My Chemical Romance), was it not?

Kade: I’m a big fan of the comic, which was Gerard Way’s first. The series is convoluted and weird. The Umbrella Academy captures the beauty of that strange little comic from 2008. I was so worried they wouldn’t do Luther’s ape arms, but they did.

Shaun: I’m curious about changes, were there any big ones?

Kade: I don’t want to spoil anything for upcoming seasons, but there are some big changes, including the order in which things happen. The Umbrella Academy definitely made it more understandable, and I think everyone gets more background and character development, especially Hazel and Cha-Cha. They are just time mercenaries in the comics and have no character development. Also, the season ends differently than the first volume of the comic, Umbrella Academy: The Apocalypse Suite. Do you have a favorite scene? Mine is in the first episode when the family just dances to “I Think We’re Alone Now” by Tiffany. The metaphor is spot on and the fun dance moves set the tone for The Umbrella Academy.

Shaun: Funny, mine is actually the dance scene in Episode 6 between Allison Hargreeves (Emmy Raver-Lampman) and Luther. I wasn’t into the Luther/Allison romance, despite stellar chemistry, up until that point. I’m sad that my favorite scene got erased from the timeline.

Dancing in the Moonlight by Toploader Dance Scene

Rough Patches

Shaun: Do you have a least favorite sibling? Because mine changed constantly… I thought Diego was bland at first, but then his brotherly connection with Klaus made me like him a lot. Then I hated Vanya for being an… “Emotionally stunted child” was what Five (Aidan Gallagher) aptly called the other Hargreeves. And then Luther makes all the wrong calls in the final episodes and plays a big part in turning Vanya into a super villain. I probably like him least by the end of the season.

Kade: I don’t have a least favorite in terms of not enjoying anyone’s story or how they were written. Luther knocking out Vanya is what I thought he would do. Did I like it? No, but I understand it. The sibling that frustrates me the most is probably Klaus, because I relate to him the most as he was struggling to find himself. He’s possibly the most powerful member of the group and yet he keeps himself in his own little daze because of addiction and drama. I love his scenes, but he doesn’t warn Patch about Hazel and Cha-Cha, and she dies because of it.

Shaun: Patch’s death is my biggest problem with The Umbrella Academy. Eudora Patch dies to save one male and then her death is used to further along the story of two males. The woman dying to further a man’s story is a tired trope, in my opinion.

Kade: Her death does bring about some of the strongest development in the show though, and I can’t fault The Umbrella Academy because that’s how the story plays out. I am excited to see how Spaceboy makes up with Vanya next season, if he does.

Shaun: I do totally agree with you on how the characters behave though, and I think it is one of The Umbrella Academy‘s strengths. These characters make bad choices, but it’s totally in character for them to do so and rather than making me angry, it leaves me rooting that they will grow and make the right choice next time.

Run Boy Run Time Travel Scene

Zero To Hero

Shaun: Here’s a future question before jumping back to discuss the season. Who do you think should lead the Umbrella Academy?

Kade: I wonder who wants to. Diego, Five, and Luther are the only ones I think would even want to, and out of those I think Luther deserves/wants it the most.

Shaun: I feel like they would all be bad leaders at this point, but Luther is the only one with the ground work to be a good leader. However, until he gets his shit together, I feel like Five could do the best job. Let Five save the world while Luther gets his head on straight, then Luther can lead the team.

Kade: None of them are ready. They lose at the end of the first season – the world ends. They need to figure themselves out before they stop the apocalypse. Since I know where they might go next, I am curious as to what you want from the next season?

Shaun: I have no bloody clue. Like… Are we going all the way back to them as kids? Because they definitely turn into kids at the end. And if that’s the case, will it be a Wet Hot American Summer thing where the kids see themselves as adults so we can keep our main actors? If they do become kids, I think I’m most interested in Allison’s story, since she will have erased her daughter from the timeline while also remembering her.

Also, Hazel and Agnes (Sheila McCarthy) totally escape before the end, so I am curious how they will return, if they do. Will The Handler (Kate Walsh) be alive again? I’m very curious about how her powers work and if she was one of the 43 children born in 1989. I feel like we have to learn more about those children. The Umbrella Academy leaves me with so many questions and I am so damn excited about a second season that I hope we get a renewal announcement soon.

Stay With Me- Mary J Blige Cover

Fighting To A Beat

Shaun: Steering it back to the show, we have to talk about how good this show looks visually. The showrunner, Steve Blackman, comes from the Noah Hawley school of television, having worked on both Fargo and Legion, and I think it shows. The cinematography is stellar, the costume design is grand (Luther’s especially), and the fights are incredibly stylish. Do you have a favorite shot or visual aspect?

Kade: Pogo, like we said before, is a visual masterpiece. I also love the uniforms they wear as kids, but visually speaking I love Allison’s stuff the most. Her powers are well-realized, and the scene when Alison drives and remembers her rumors is a favorite.

Shaun: Allison is a great choice. All the powers look great. There are movies with $150 million-plus budgets that don’t look as good as The Umbrella Academy. Five’s fight scenes are some of the best I have seen. Five’s fights are an awesome blend of powers and fighting prowess Five gained from a lifetime of being a space-time James Bond. The fights make great use of his small stature.

Kade: I love how the fight scenes only add to the story. All the fight scenes have so much style to them.

Shaun: We have to talk about music choices. Deadly Class and The Umbrella Academy are excellent arguments for music’s use in comic book adaptations. Do you have a favorite song?

Kade: I love the soundtrack so much. Been listening to it non-stop on Spotify since and thanks to my favorite scene, “I Think We’re Alone Now” by Tiffany is one of my new favorite songs, period. You?

Shaun: Same on the Spotify, man. “Dancing In The Moonlight” by Toploader is my favorite, but since I mentioned that earlier, “Run Boy Run” by Woodkid,is the perfect song choice for Five’s time jump to the future.

Mary J. Blige, who plays Cha Cha in the show, is also an executive producer on The Umbrella Academy. I am curious if she had a hand in the song choice. Gerard Way has mentioned that his input was minor on the song choices for the first season, but that will likely change, so I am curious what he’ll bring to a second season.

Kade: “Dancing In The Moonlight” is gorgeous. Kudos to the choreographer Emma Portner, who is also the real-life wife of Ellen Page. I didn’t know Mary J Blige could act, but she is spectacular as Cha-Cha.

Istanbul (Not Constantinople) by They Might Be Giants Fight Scene

Capitalism Survives the Apocalypse.

Shaun: This show does an amazing job of balancing multiple villains. The show balances Hazel and Cha Cha, The Organization, Leonard/Harold (John Magaro), and Vanya well. At times, some are working with the Hargreeves. Each antagonist spends time as a backburner villain but also has time in the spotlight as the primary antagonist. The villains sort of bleed into each other; Cha Cha and Hazel set up the Organization, while Harold makes Vanya. It’s masterful. The Umbrella Academy perfectly paced out its 10 episodes, and it’s one of the strongest superhero seasons ever because of it.

Kade: In one timeline Harold makes Vanya, in another Spaceboy hugs her into it. That said I totally agree and  I love The Handler, who was perfectly evil.

Shaun: I audibly said “Oh, that’s fucking evil” when Hazel and Cha Cha first get a letter from The Organization telling them their pay and per diem has been reduced.

Do you have any complaints? I think the twists are not surprising. Vanya clearly had powers. Leonard was clearly bad. Allison was clearly nicer to Vanya because she had erased her memories of powers.
And while at first I thought Diego was going to get a villain reveal, I knew one of the Hargreeves was clearly going to be a villain. The only twist that caught me fully off guard was Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore) killing himself.

Kade: I think it could’ve been weirder. There were points that felt like they worried too much about it being realistic.

Don't Stop Me Now by Queen fight scene

Final Thoughts

Kade: I love this superhero, sci-fi, supernatural, dramatic adventure wrapped around a dysfunctional family and will give it a straight up 5 out of 5.

Shaun: I love how you’re always so succinct. I feel like this is an amazing new direction for Netflix to take now that they’re moving past being an arm of Marvel. Despite a few shortcomings, I loved this season and have been pretty obsessive over it. I want another season of this so badly because I want to see this amazing cast grow as the Hargreeves family. This season tells a pretty great story in and of itself and I’m giving it 5 out of 5. How could you not give this show a Five? He’s literally part of the cast.

Shaun Martineau is a young Canadian father and undergraduate with a BA in Cultural Theory and Creative Writing. He has reviewed Marvel titles for nine years but broke away in 2017 to focus more on smaller publishers like Aftershock, Black Mask, and Action Lab.

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