Now that some time has passed, I feel comfortable sharing some of my more spoilery thoughts on Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy. On the off chance that you are reading this and are actually interested in watching the series, but have your doubts, then stop reading this and check out this non-spoilery review. Of course, after you have checked out the series, please do come back to this post and share with me if you too had some of the same opinions.
1. Umbrella Academy is Not Derivative
The obvious comparisons have been made to the X-Men and Teen Titans with The Umbrella Academy, because it is a group of children superheroes, especially with Dark Phoenix on the horizon. I have even seen a lot of comparison made between Vanya Hargreeves and Jean Grey, referencing their uncontrollable powers. Besides the obvious difference in powers, I find that Vanya is not driven or cajoled to “the dark side” by good intentions handled poorly, but is forced into her powers by a misguided sense of self-preservation. Vanya feels ill equipped to handle her new found powers, whereas Jean Grey already had her known powers in grip and turned down a path of destruction after discovering her hidden powers. Most of the negative effects of Vanya’s powers were purely accidental.
2. Vulnerable is vulnerable for a reason.
I don’t know if this is covered in the comics at all, but I actually love that fact that we have no idea how Ben Hargreeves died, only that it must have been tragic for them to build a statue of him in their courtyard. I believe it was also the straw that broke the camel’s back, finally breaking up the team. Initially, you think that Diego would have been the first to go, seeing as he’s just really good at throwing sharp pointy objects, unlike Ben would could morph (grow?) strong tentacles capable of tearing people apart. It’s not until later that you realize there is a lot more to Diego than good aim. Ben also was the most hesitant about their profession, compared to the rest of the children, possibly making him the most vulnerable. Hence the first to go.
3. Klaus the Ghost Avoider
My favorite of the Hargreeves super children would have to be Klaus or Number 4. First, I love his name, secondly, I find the actor is really talented, and thirdly, I would most like to have his power. Initially, Klaus comes off as a damaged, drug-addicted, selfish flake. But once you find out more about his childhood under the tutelage of Sir Hargreeves, you can hardly blame the guy. Toss in the fact that their little family fell apart when they all went their separate ways, it’s easy to understand why Klaus uses drugs. It’s not at all for recreation but to dull his powers and keep from being bombarded by the spirits of the dead. Klaus’ gift is the ability to speak with and be a living conduit for the dead. This is represented throughout the series by the interactions Klaus has with his deceased brother, Ben.
While I can certainly see how it could be difficult to deal with the recently departed, as someone who recently lost both maternal grandparents, I would love to be able to speak with loved ones no longer with us.
4. Luther does what now?
I do have to say that I really didn’t understand the extent of Luther’s power, Number 1. Maybe it’s something that a rewatch could resolve. But I got the sense that he was just really strong...and a good leader? Or at least the most willing to follow orders. Later, it’s more obvious that his strength is his power, with his massive body size and gorilla chest (literally). I guess I just didn’t find his power that impressive, given what the others can do. But I did like his relationship with Allison. Their puppy love as children which sprouted into romance despite their separation was sweet.
5. Poor nameless Number 5
Now, let’s get to Number 5 and the apocalypse. He had the misfortune to disappear before the children were all named by their android mother Grace, played by Jordan Claire Robbins. Number 5’s power is teleportation but he quickly figures out that this could also lead to time travel. In a moment of defiance and to show it to Sir Reginald, 5 jumps ahead to the moment after the world ends and gets stuck there. He later explains that he messed up the math equation, and that’s why it’s important to stay in school kids. So you don’t wind up accidentally stranding yourself in a future apocalypse.
Number 5 is easily my second favorite character of the group, and possibly the most entertaining. He figures out a way back, but only after having spent decades by himself in the desolate future. And again, due to a miscalculation, he returns as a child with all the wisdom and sarcasm of a middle-aged man. We see the effects of his isolation and his profession as a time assassin, in the form of his relationship with Dolores, the bust of a department store mannequin.
6. Siblings be siblings but Assassins be assassins
With how fractured the Hargreeves siblings are at the beginning of this series, it makes sense that Number 5 initially refuses to accept the help of his siblings, in order to stop the end of the world. He is set to correct things on his own, because that’s what he was used to. But because of his obsession to save the world, he’s now at the top of the hit list of his “former” employer, and the target of fellow time assassins Hazel and Cha Cha, played by Cameron Britton and Mary J. Blige respectively.
What was supposed to be an easy hit for Cha Cha and Hazel, turns into a botched job, and they spend most of the time searching for their lost time travel briefcase and fighting each other. The two of them make for some funny scenes throughout the show, both with each other and various secondary characters. Although,when stuff hits the fan, you end up caring more about the coming together of the siblings and the fallout with Vanya than anything having to do with the weird Time Agency that Number 5 was recruited to work at. I didn’t really care much for that part of the plot. The show could have easily just been about 5 finding out about the end of the world and trying to figure out how to stop it, without the mysterious organization that wishes for the end to happen. Who would want that? In the grand scheme of things the assassins and their organization were the least necessary things in the series.
7. Unnecessary Tech
Another thing that was apparently unnecessary to the series, was any sort of modern technology. I’m not sure if that was on purpose and if that is the same in the comic, but I thought it was odd that the timeline of the show would place it in modern times (if all the children were born in 1989), and yet no one has a cell phone. There were no laptops, or tablets either. Twice in the show a payphone was used, even inside the Umbrella Academy HQ! It seems like a lot of things could have been resolved with the use of modern technology. Then again, maybe that was the point?
8. Who broke my heart?
A talking chimpanzee with a British accent.
In addition to their robo-mom, the children also grew up with a talking chimpanzee named Pogo, voiced by British actor Adam Godley. Part caretaker and part butler, Pogo assisted Sir Reginald with various things. You really get the sense that Pogo loves the children like a father, or like their father probably should have, and he would do just about anything for them. Unfortunately, he was also very loyal to Sir Reginald and was ordered to keep secrets from the children. One such secret being Vanya’s powers. Of course, this leads to a heartbreaking scene, where Pogo is killed by Vanya in a moment of uncontrolled rage, impaled on Sir Reginald’s stuffed horned animal. I gasped in shock, the moment it happened, clutching my hand to my mouth. Not poor Pogo! My least favorite scene, not because it was a bad scene, it was well done, just so sad!
9. Not Constantinople
It’s Istanbul, not Constantinople. This is the musical history lesson we learn from They Might Be Giants. This is also the song that plays at the end of the first episode, during a fight scene between Number 5 and a squad sent to kill him. It’s upbeat and fun, with some great lyrics and just really meshes well with the chaos and rhythm of the fight. But They Might Be Giants is only the tip of the music iceberg for this show. The soundtrack is fantastic and well chosen. Also in the first episode, you have “I Think We’re Alone Now” by Tiffany playing during a scene that focuses on the odd and funky dance moves of the Hargreeves children. You also get “Saturday Night” by the Bay City Rollers, “One” by Three Dog Night, and “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen, to name a few. This show is easily worth it for the soundtrack alone, and to make things even better, Netflix created a Spotify playlist of 20 songs from the show!
If you agree with some of my musings, or disagree, let me know, I would love to hear about it. Mostly, I think we can all agree it is an entertaining show despite or because of it’s short comings.