The Umbrella Academy

The Umbrella Academy is Netflix’s dark take on the X-Men. You see, when you think about it, the X-Men should be a dysfunctional bunch of maniacs, given what Professor X puts them through. And that’s exactly what the Umbrella Academy members are.

The show is based on a comic book series, which I haven’t read, so I can’t really base anything on that. But I loved the Boys, which has a similar dark-superhero vibe.

The plot

In 1989, a number of women around the world suddenly gave birth at the same time. The thing is, they were not pregnant. Sir Reginald Hargreeves collected seven of these babies for his Umbrella Academy of superheroes, somehow predicting they would evolve superpowers.

Fast forward to the present. Hargreeves dies, alone in his mansion. His former students only grudgingly show up for the funeral. If at all. One of them is dead, one of them has vanished, and the other five are barely on speaking turns. All of them hated their foster father.

Then, the missing student returns. It turns out Five — the children were only given numbers, not names, and he was fifth — got stuck in the future. His ability to time travel allowed him to go forward, but not as easily back. A problem, given how his jump forward showed him the apocalypse. He has finally found a way to return to warn them: the apocalypse is coming in a week.

The characters

The Umbrella Academy members are a varied bunch, but all pretty damaged.

Five — Aiden Gallagher — is a time-traveling teen, who spent a lifetime in the future, before traveling back in time and reverting to a teen. A lifetime spent in a post-apocalyptic world was not good for his mental health, as were some… other things he ended up doing.

Luther — Tom Hopper — has super strength and is fiercely loyal to Reginald Hargreeves. Unfortunately, when the others left, he had to start doing super hero stuff alone. There was an accident that… changed him. And so he spent years on the moon, on a ‘secret mission’, out of a misplaced sense of duty.

Diego — David CastaƱeda — has a superhero complex: his self-worth is predicated on him being a superhero. Unfortunately, the police don’t really like vigilantes. He has trouble fitting in, keeping a regular job, and being a not-so-secret superhero without getting in trouble with the law.

Allison — Emmy Raver-Lampman — has the power to make people do things. Which isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Look at Jessica Jones for one reason why. Contrary to Kilgrave in that show, Allison has a conscience, a career as an actress, and an ex-husband and child. But her family life isn’t going well. It turns out that if you use a superpower to alter minds on a loved one, that isn’t good for your relationship.

Klaus — Robert Sheehan — sees the dead, and where Cole from the Sixth Sense learned to deal with his powers by helping others, Klaus did so by drowning them out with every drug known to man. Sometimes at the same time. He’s a junky, and possibly the greatest character in the show, at least I think so.

Ben — Justin H. Min — is dead. As in: he’s the member of the Umbrella Academy that died. I won’t say anything more, except, well, death is not good for the psyche.

Vanya — Elliot Page — is the powerless seventh member of the academy. Reginald Hargreeves belittled her her entire life, and she wrote a best-selling book about it. The rest of the seven did not take kindly to that, or what was written in the book.

Pff, pretty complicated

Yep, the show is not a simple slapstick comedy, that’s for sure. It’s sometimes hard to follow, at least at the start, and there is a lot of build-up. It’s one of those shows I can’t really binge, but I do keep watching. A kind of slow-cooker.

The thing is, it’s not really edge-of-your-seat exciting, or mindless-fun simple. It takes some effort to watch. I know that isn’t the best endorsement. Yeah, I like the Umbrella Academy, but no, I don’t love it.

Currently, I’m in the middle of the second season, and it’s kind of exciting, but it will definitely take some time to finish. And if I run into too many episodes that are boring or just bad, I could well never finish the second season (or the third, which is coming). But, well, if it can keep walking this line, I’ll probably continue to watch.

That said, I’m pretty critical, and that I stick to it this far, means it’s better than at least half of the rest on Netflix. You like dark superhero shows, this is probably something to at least try.

Martin Stellinga Written by:

I'm a science fiction and fantasy writer from the Netherlands