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7 Reasons to Watch The Umbrella Academy on Netflix

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You need to watch Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy

I’ve spent the past couple of days hooked on Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy, a comic adaptation which takes an unusually serious, almost philosophical approach to examining the lives of its band of superhumans.

It’s good, really good in fact, and I recommend it wholeheartedly. It’s got a great cast, goes into some really interesting areas and has a unique, compelling visual style. It’s one of those shows that reveals its secrets gradually, with mysteries built on riddles and enigmas. The best approach is to simply dive straight in but, should you need a little more convincing, here’s a list of seven reasons to watch The Umbrella Academy on Netflix.

The Premise

Based on a cult Dark Horse comic by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba, The Umbrella Academy opens with an extraordinary miracle birth: 43 women around the world giving birth simultaneously on 1 October 1989, none of whom were previously pregnant. Seven of these children were adopted by eccentric billionaire/borderline lunatic, Sir Reginald Hargreeves. Six of them quickly displayed extraordinary abilities and fought crime as The Umbrella Academy, with these pint-sized terrors in school uniform rapidly becoming the scourge of the criminal world.

Fast forward to 2019 and it’s very much the time of solo careers, rehab and dysfunction. The squad has scattered, and they want little to do with each other until the death of Sir Reginald pulls them back together and all sorts of family tensions are brought to the fore. That’s missing out a whole bunch of spoilery stuff – there is a clearly defined antagonist, for example – but that’s pretty much the basic outline. This is a character-driven drama about extraordinary individuals and their relationships with each other are key.

Klaus

Of the seven protagonists, there’s no doubt the highlight is Klaus, a drug addict and prancing, skipping, twirling tornado of camp who steals pretty much every scene he’s in and whose wonderful nonchalance contrasts beautifully with the grim determination of some other members of The Umbrella Academy. Later on, he becomes more fleshed out and is given real depth; his reasons for drug dependence seeming entirely understandable, perhaps even rational, given his unique circumstances.

To tell you his power would be to give away too much, but it’s a very special one that introduces all sorts of exciting dramatic possibilities. He’s played with effortless charm by the Irish actor Robert Sheehan, who’s got form when it comes to superpowered drama – he made his name playing the rather special Nathan in E4’s Misfits.

The Music

Given the The Umbrella Academy comic was created and written by My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way, it’s fitting that music is such an important part of the TV series. This is true in two ways. Firstly Vanya, one of the seven, is an accomplished violinist and her often melancholy playing accompanies many pivotal scenes, giving them a beautiful feeling of grand drama. Perhaps more interesting, though, is the way that The Umbrella Academy uses licensed music. The soundtrack is full of great songs that fit the moments they accompany perfectly, from David Gray’s melancholy folk strains underscoring a tender emotional moment to The Doors providing the backdrop to a 1960s flashback.

If there’s one scene that made me fall in love with The Umbrella Academy though, it’s when a chaotic shootout in a diner was set to “Istanbul” by They Might Be Giants. If you’ve never heard “Istanbul”, it’s a tune inspired by Turkish folk music and a jaunty little number that discusses how Istanbul used to be called Constantinople ad nauseum. It’s therefore an odd choice for an action scene, but given that this particular scene features Number Five (who is discussed in detail in the fifth entry on this list) teleporting back and forth, this almost novelty pop ditty actually fits perfectly with his playful approach and the general sense of chaos and confusion.

Pogo

By now, you’ve probably twigged that the seven children adopted by Sir Reginald didn’t have anything that even vaguely resembled a normal childhood, and this surreal upbringing is exemplified by Pogo. Pogo is a sort of butler figure, one of the few people to show the children any real affection and the closest thing they had to a father.

Well, I say ‘people’, but Pogo is a talking chimp in a suit, brought to life on screen by some truly magnificent CGI. Think Gollum in Lord of the Rings or Caesar in Planet of the Apes, with the graphics conveying every nuance of the actor’s emotion. He’s played as an old English gent by Adam Godley, one of Hollywood’s go-to choices for posh English men whose screen CV spans everything from Breaking Bad to Love Actually. Initially a gentle figure of fun, Pogo develops into a complex multifaceted character as the narrative progresses, occasionally torn between his divided loyalties.e’s a really important part of what makes The Umbrella Academy so interesting.

Number Five

Number Five is probably the most fascinating character in The Umbrella Academy – but since his actions are absolutely central to the overall narrative, I can’t say too much without spoiling the plot. What I can safely tell you is that he can teleport and travel through time, and that for reasons explained in the first few episodes, he is, as he puts it, “a 58 year old in the body of a 13 year old”. This gives him a rather different perspective to the other members of The Umbrella Academy, and it’s a great visual gag that the most jaded and cynical member of the bunch is the one that looks like a little kid.

He’s even still wearing The Umbrella Academy school uniform as he discusses who should live and die with the sort of cold-hearted rationality that comes from decades of experience. Number Five is played with frankly alarming maturity by 15-year-old tyro Aidan Gallagher who effortlessly steps up from acting in a Nickelodeon teen show to deliver a compelling performance that completely nails this contradictory character.

The Visuals

Like the music, there are two aspects to The Umbrella Academy’s visual style. The first is that the show has an undeniable eye for a striking scene. Cinematography duties are split between Neville Kidd and Craig Wrobleski, two experienced pros who know what they’re doing and who consistently make interesting choices. From the frequent use of top-down shots to the way that the camera roves the halls of the academy, the house-cum-training centre where the children grew up and where they return for their father’s funeral; every moment on camera has been thoroughly thought through. The second is the production design. The academy has been meticulously constructed to not only be a striking and often opulent architectural space, but also one that conveys the character of Sir Reginald and the consequent upbringing of these seven extraordinary children.

The varied styles of architecture and interior design are testament to the globetrotting exploits and wealth of The Umbrella Academy’s patriarch, and the path to the children’s bedrooms is lined with colourful illustrations that illustrate how to gouge eyes and otherwise incapacitate opponents. This pastiche of childhood illustrates a vital point: these children were always assembled to be an army rather than any sort of functional family unit. They were cared for just enough to be able to function effectively, but each was fundamentally damaged by the experience and each has emotional problems that compromise their adult lives.

The Pacing

Perhaps the defining aspect of The Umbrella Academy is the time it takes to let its narrative play out. It’s one of the slowest-paced superhero dramas I’ve ever seen and I mean that as a compliment; it’s got the confidence to let its tangled web slowly unravel instead of simply dumping reveals and exposition into key scenes like a soap opera. As much as I love the frenetic action of Marvel and DC movies, this is not The Avengers, it’s a carefully constructed piece of drama that wants you to care about its characters as human beings rather than because the fate of the world is at stake.

Over 10 episodes, the unique character and personality of each of the seven is revealed, through conversation, action and flashbacks, and, by the end, I had forged a real connection with each of them and could understand their actions even when I did not agree with them. That’s not to say that there aren’t great action scenes in The Umbrella Academy – there are several memorable confrontations that are explosive and inventive in equal measure, but each of them serves a real dramatic purpose and is driven by character. Vitally, they never feel forced, instead serving as natural spikes to the slow-burn drama and webs of deceit weaved by the protagonists. It’s the bits in between though, the careful development of its characters and the gradual reveal of all their secrets, that make The Umbrella Academy truly special.

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