The Umbrella Academy Solidifies Netflix as a Master of Unexpected Family Dramas

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Is there still room on television for more comic adaptations of the superhero genre?

When it comes to The Umbrella Academy premiering Friday, February 15 on Netflix the answer is yes.

In keeping with recent outings like The House on Haunted Hill and Sabrina, the Umbrella Academy has stepped just far enough away from its source material to engage all audiences and close enough to please those who were already fans.

The Umbrella Academy Kids

I don't know how much the brass at Netflix oversees incoming scripts of new series, but the streaming outlet has managed to master the off-kilter family drama.

The Umbrella Academy is the third series in almost as many months to delve deeply into the characters as they were written to find their most compelling attributes.

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There's always the possibility that a show could alienate original fans of the source material, but that shouldn't be the case here.

Based on the comics by former My Chemical Romance front-man Gerard Way and artist Gabriel Bá, the series introduces a new set of heroes who were born into it and exploited by an eccentric billionaire named Sir Reginald Hargreeves.

Ellen Page as Vanya aka The White Violin

The Umbrella Academy Season 1 never fully explains why Hargraves wanted to round up as many of the 43 children suddenly born to mothers who conceived and gave birth within one day, but given Hargreeves' interest in science, it's easy to jump to conclusions.

Hargreeves managed to "adopt" seven of the 43 children, and through a series of ritualistic training put together The Umbrella Academy and young heroes focused on saving the world.

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Everything we discover about the young children is done through meaningful flashbacks after the adults reconvene at the mansion in which they grew up to mark the death of their benefactor father.

It becomes clear early on that whatever they went through, it was unpleasant enough to send the family in different directions as adults and for them to abandon their duties to the world as expected by Sir Hargreeves.

Robert Sheehan as Klaus aka The Séance

As celebrities in their own right, some grow to worldwide success while others live less prosperous and downright lonely lives.

The examination of how the group grew up together and learned to cope after their disassembly provides significant context to reuniting. It proves that with family, no matter how long you're apart, you'll always be affected by those you love the most.

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The cast is terrific, but the characters don't fall in line with their numerical naming convention. Sir Hargreeves called them all by their importance to his needs from Number 1 to Number 7. While he may have found Number 1 the most useful, Spaceboy, or Luther as he called himself, doesn't prove to be the most fascinating.

Number 1 is Luther aka Spaceboy is played by Tom Hopper. Once the leader of the Umbrella Academy because of his power of super-strength, his life as a solitary astronaut on Mars has made him withdrawn and wary of the others.

Reining In Luther

Number 2 is Diego aka The Kraken portrayed by David Castañeda. Diego is the only adult to remain on the streets fighting crime. Always a bit of a rebel, he has hard time connecting with the others.

Emmy Raver-Lampman plays Number 3. She chose the traditional name Allison and is called The Rumor. Beautiful and full of confidence, her power to prophesize through speech offers her the opportunity to do and be whatever she wants.

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Robert Sheehan is Number 4, Klaus aka Séance, and his power to communicate with the dead sent him into a world of drugs and alcohol to deal with the continuous distractions.

Number 5 aka The Boy is portrayed by Aidan Gallagher. The Boy disappeared years earlier while trying to perfect his power of time travel, and his return is integral to the plot of The Umbrella Academy.

Umbrella Academy Poster

Ben was The Horror and Number 6 but died before the series starts. His power was the ability to call forth monsters from other dimensions to use in combating his enemies.

Ellen Page takes on the role of Vanya, Number 7, the only ordinary girl in the bunch. She considers herself a dud because of how she got treated as an outsider growing up and can't quite perfect her calling as a violinist due to severe insecurity.

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Rounding out the main cast are Mary J. Blige as Cha-Cha and Cameron Britton as Hazel, the villainous threats to adult Umbrella Academy members. Discovering what they're up to is part of their fun.

The clear standout in the cast Gallagher who, as a time traveler, is called on to act many years above his natural age of 13. It's almost scary how well he understands the tone of a man decades older than himself, and watching his performance is fascinating.

Aidan Gallagher as Number Five aka The Boy

As Klaus, Sheehan provides the comedic relief to any scene and his line delivery is outstanding. His interactions with his siblings often fall short of endearing, but they're made up for by the sheer enjoyment of watching.

Emmy Raver-Lampman delivers Allison with a great deal of skill by making a character who could have the world and be full of conceit incredibly compassionate instead. 

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At the heart of The Umbrella Academy is the realization that your family is who you can count on even when you find yourself at your darkest and believe nobody will be on your side. 

Rest assured, there are cool effects and fights break out that take advantage of the Academy members' powers, but Season 1 is the establishment of the world, a well-versed introduction into the family and how they operate as well as an understanding of the big bad who should dominate Season 2.

Cha-Cha and Hazel

While some fans may have concerns over the changes from the source material, they should be happy to learn that from what I can see as someone who didn't read it but researched the differences, they only enhanced the characters to give more context to their history and their family connection.

If you liked House on Haunted Hill and Sabrina and enjoy a more unusual family dynamic rather than a from-the-book story, you'll be pleased with Netflix's latest outing.

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All of this, together with the sibling narrative and end of the world scenario, makes The Umbrella Academy a standout among the throngs of comics and superhero shows on the air today. 

The Umbrella Academy drops Friday, February 15 on Netflix.

Review

Editor Rating: 4.5 / 5.0
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Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Broadcast Television Journalists Association (BTJA), enjoys mentoring writers, wine, and passionately discussing the nuances of television. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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Netflix Quotes

Jonathan: I notice a little bit of dryness on your cheek.
Tom: That’s my Lupus.
Jonathan: Okay, let’s talk about that a little. One thing I know about Lupus is that it’s all about SPF. Like, we have to protect your skin from UVA and UVB rays because sun actually can cause inflammation and flare ups for people with Lupus.
Tom: Right...
[Cut to Jonathan’s confessional]
Jonathan: How you take care of yourself is how the world sees you, and he’s not taking care of himself.

Bobby: We are about to pull in. What’s our mission today with Tom?
Jonathan: We’re gonna dust off these Christmas ghosts’ pasts of these relationships, we’re gonna sort out his closet, we’re gonna get him cuter, we’re gonna get him looking good, we’re gonna get the house fixed up. We’re ready! We cannot wait. Am I right?
All: Yes!