The Umbrella Academy

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ based on 2 reviews.

tl;dr: A surprisingly original take on a superhero team, paired with a weirdly wonderful time-travel-apocalypse plot that keeps you guessing, and some utterly brilliant performances creates the best superhero show since Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Season One

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

When I first saw the trailer for The Umbrella Academy I was sold on the cast and a bit wary of everything else. Robert Sheehan has been a personal favourite ever since Misfits, Mary J. Blige is generally awesome, and Ellen Page, of course, is just magical, and none disappointed at all. I've got to say though, whilst everyone involved gave some really great performances, Aidan Gallagher absolutely ran away with the show as Number Five. Dude's 16 years old and is running circles around everyone else on set. How do you cast a role for a character who is a 50-year-old man suffering from PTSD and trapped in a teenagers body? Well, they nailed it.

They also nailed the plot... pretty much. I've never read the books so I can't speak to authenticity, but they did justice to the old trope of apocalypse-preventing-time-travel and threw in just enough weird new stuff to make it feel fresh. Pacing was excellent for the most part, though I did feel it slightly lag around the 70% mark, and the reveal that Vanya was the cause of the apocalypse (and that her new boyfriend was a creep) all felt a little too obvious. I'll give them serious props, though, for switching expectations at the final minute and having the family choose not to kill her, but rather try and help her instead. Also for, y'know, actually allowing the Apocalypse to happen. It sets up a much more interesting second season than I had expected.

Going back to the weirdness, a lot of it was great. I really enjoyed the family-not-family vibes and would love to know more about both Mom and Pogo, but not too sure that Hargreaves needed to be a semi-immortal alien (or whatever that sequence was). Similarly, I thought the whole concept of the time agency was brilliant and I loved the dynamic between Cha-Cha and Hazel (Hazel was one of my favourite characters, actually), but it annoyed me that Five never questioned whose timeline they were protecting. They make this whole deal (Doctor Who style) about how certain events must happen and he questions so much about those procedures, but the big obvious question is: who decides which events are fixed and which aren't? Who is running the agency? I'm sure it's a question we'll come back to, but for such an intelligent character it felt like a clear miss not to at least ask once and get rebuffed. I also wish someone, at some point, would ask where all the other miracle children are and what powers they have... (again, it's probably a later season thing, but come on!)

That said, the whole season was extremely well directed, brilliantly acted, and incredibly written. The characters are interesting, both at a human and superhero level, and there's enough originality at play that obvious similarities with series like the X-Men or Titans are pretty much null and void. I really enjoyed the first season and I can't wait to see where it wanders to next.

Season Two

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

The first season was a surprisingly nuanced and novel take on the whole "superhero misfits" trope, backed up by some incredible acting and solid storytelling. Season two pretty much sticks all the same landings, whilst building on the original dynamics nicely, giving each character a little more time to shine, and concluding a lot of the plot threads that were still left open. For those reasons alone it would be an instance must-watch and a great second outing, but it also manages to expand the world-building nicely and – once again – somehow manages to do time travel in a way that feels really fun.

Straight away, we discover that 5's portal didn't quite work as expected, teleporting the team to the same location but separating them over about four or five years in the early 60s. It's a great period to have picked and a fun initial set up, allowing us to see how each sibling adapts to the new timeline they find themselves in, unaware of the fates of each other. Allison probably has the roughest ride, suddenly finding herself square in the middle of segregation America and embroiled in the Civil Rights movement, though Klaus' cult was an equally brilliant stroke and a lot of fun to watch unfold. I was less sold on Diego's slow descent into a comedy idiot and don't quite feel that his unending desire to stop JFK's assassination made a huge amount of sense, but the way it wove in and out of their father's history was a useful method for plot exposition and allowed us a much greater insight into his character and purpose.

Of course, it also led directly to the new cliffhanger ending, which I feel could be a huge amount of fun. I'm glad that we get more Ben in season three (please be greenlit!) too, even if his "death" (can ghosts die?) was a really fitting end to his arc this season and felt like a really solid moment for the series as a whole. I'm also glad that it looks like we're moving away from the whole "Vanya is the problem" plotline. Once again, TUA got me with a story that felt like it was blindly following stale tropes and then inverted them, making her sort of the issue for this season but ultimately then leaning on that plot element to instead progress her past that point and prove that she is now a solid member of the family. I was a little disappointed that Luthor wasn't the first person to get in the car, given that he was the only one not shown in close up turning her request for help down, and he probably has the most reason to want that redemption in the first place considering the whole locking her in a cell thing from season one, but I also like that it gave Klaus the moment to hear Ben's final words.

Speaking of Vanya, I also really like that she got to have another, better, romantic plotline, particularly one which allowed them to equally shine a light on homophobia (something Klaus got to touch on as well). I feel like season two helped humanise her character a lot and let Ellen Page show a bit more emotional range, whilst also allowing her to be the solution to both Harlan's power overload and the attack by the Commission. I'm also a fan of the way they wrapped up the Commission, putting Herb in charge, giving us a little more insight into how they work, and putting a full stop on the story of the Handler.

On the other hand, I'm annoyed they killed off Hazel immediately as he had become a firm favourite character (though I guess that now the timeline has been changed Cha-Cha might still be around?). I also hope that we return to the Commission at some point to discover why they exist in the first place. Right now, with the exception of 5, they appear to be the only people capable of time travel, which suggests that they inadvertently cause all of the time anomalies that they then fix. My personal pet theory is that we'll discover 5 actually created the Commission in the future to try and set the timeline right after the Umbrella Academy (and possibly other powered individuals, now that they're confirmed to exist) have screwed it up so much. There would be a neat circularity to that.

Still, these are extremely minor quibbles. Sure, we don't get all the answers, and yes Diego's character development feels a little strange. There are also a few parts where the characters seem to ignore bits from the first season. Overall though, it's a solid second outing, a huge amount of fun, and an absolute rollercoaster ride to watch. I still reckon it's one of the best superhero TV shows and probably the most refreshing entry to the genre for some time. Long may it continue!

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