The Umbrella Academy is the story of seven special children born on the same day in 1989 to different mothers who were not pregnant. These children were adopted by insane monocled billionaire Sir Reginald Hargreeves, who forged them into a sibling superhero team known as ‘The Umbrella Academy’ through a combination of cruel training regimens and emotional abandonment. This left the group with trauma to overcome as adults tasked with preventing an impending apocalyptic event.
Family trauma for entertainment
Netflix has a penchant for adapting material centered around dysfunctional families with supernatural or superheroic twists. Sometimes they’re tormented by ghosts and demons (The Haunting of Hill House and Locke and Key); other times they’re superheroes as with The Umbrella Academy, the second season of which recently dropped on Netflix. The show follows a family of super-powered children, raised by an emotionally unavailable and even abusive father-figure who trained them to be a superhero team known as the Umbrella Academy. Now grown up, the Umbrella Academy comes to terms with their upbringing and band together to stop the impending apocalypse. There’s time travel, talking monkeys, an old man in a child’s body and the whole package is charmingly odd. However, this weirdness doesn’t feel overused in The Umbrella Academy, which can be a bit of a tightrope. Instead of trying too hard to be whimsical, the show sprinkles the odd factor to add flavour to the proceedings. The way the show leans into its own eccentricity is refreshing and makes it a blast to watch.
The stacked ensemble cast features Ellen Page, Tom Hopper, David Castañeda, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Robert Sheehan and Aidan Gallagher, all of who whom display amazing on-screen chemistry and manage to be convincing as bickering and bantering siblings. Season two provides more of the same key conflicts and story beats presented in the previous season. This isn’t a bad thing. The new set of episodes is tighter in its presentation and storytelling, from its delightful character interactions to the amazing fight scene choreography. Key moments are set often set to popular songs whose lyrics fit the scene.
Backstreet Boys will stick in your head
Speaking of the songs, the musical choices really drive the show’s emotional moments and action set pieces. The songs often feel like they’re providing commentary on the scenes themselves. For example, there’s a Swedish cover of Adele’s ‘Hello’ playing during a Viking funeral for a Swedish inter-dimensional assassin (yes, this show really is weird sometimes). Also the use of ‘Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)’ when the team gets together to fight the bad guys.
The LGBT and black issue representation
The siblings end up transported to the 1960s in order to escape the apocalypse that they were trying to prevent in the first season of the show, only to find there is no escaping it. They find the origin of the apocalypse to be some sort of butterfly effect caused by the assassination of John F. Kennedy. In the ’60s the adopted siblings of various races and sexual orientations find the era’s injustices hanging over their heads. Vanya falls in love with a salesman’s wife. She had an affair with a married woman, which provoked the husband’s ire. He describes their affair as “unnatural” among other things, which shows the era’s prevailing attitudes towards homosexual relationships. Allison finds that being transported to ’60s Dallas has landed her in hostile territory. She, a modern black woman, now has to contend with the segregation, racism and rampant police brutality of the era. It’s interesting to see characters from the modern era travel to a time when certain social injustices were more commonplace. It manages to view the eras issues through a more contemporary lens without appearing preachy. It shows audiences what the characters go through because of the social injustices of the time rather than having them talk about how things should be.
WATCH OR NOT
The show has a formula that repeats itself. The siblings are still working through their family dysfunction and trying to prevent the apocalypse, but overall The Umbrella Academy has all the charm of the first season and improves with more confident storytelling, witty banter and thrilling action sequences.
Creators: Steve Blackman, Jeremy Slater
Cast: Ellen Page, Tom Hopper, David Castañeda, Emmy Raver-Lampman
Seasons: 2 (2019, 2020)
Streaming on: Netflix