REVIEWED: SEASON 1 (ALL EPISODES) | WHERE TO WATCH: NETFLIX
US writer and comedian Sara Benincasa described Netflix's adaptation of the Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba comic The Umbrella Academy as being like "if X-Men and Watchmen and then also Gossip Girl with a side of One Tree Batman got together and fucked and now here is a show. You can also watch it as a surprisingly poignant primer on dysfunction and addiction but also there is time travel." She's not wrong. Fans of the comic know that there's a lot of dysfunctional family dynamics going on, in addition to time-travelling hitmen and a possible impending apocalypse. If you're the sort who enjoyed the comic, the show is likely to either draw you in with further absurd interpersonal relations and crazypants dynamics, or utterly repel you because it changes quite a bit from Way's original storyline.
The long story short, plotwise, is this: on one day, at exactly the same time all around the world, infants are born to women who'd previously not been pregnant. Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore) ‘adopts’ (buys) seven of them, six of which have powers. They become a kiddy fighting force. One member dies, another disappears travelling through time. Flash forward almost a decade later, and the surviving members of the now-defunct Umbrella Academy reunite to mourn Hargreeves' death. That's the story for both the original Apocalypse Suite run of comics, as well as Netflix's series. The details which change in between the two are what make the series' ten episodes so compelling: how Spaceboy / Number One (Tom Hopper) gets his rather-jacked body is especially interesting and novel, for instance, and even has resonance in a later plot point.
Now, granted – there's a lot of groundwork to be laid down, and the first couple of episodes are almost all character-building, which requires a certain amount of patience to get through, especially for those who already know what's up. It's the bane of adaptations: while fans are excited to see these characters on-screen, letting all the newbies in on the secret takes a little while. In this case, it's worth being patient. Characters are given more full-rounded details and backgrounds, making them more than just cranky comic book archetypes. Even the time-travelling hitmen Hazel (Cameron Britton) and Cha-Cha (Mary J. Blige) are given faces and backstories, as opposed to just strange masks and witty banter – although that's still extant and wonderful.
The Umbrella Academy is definitely not for everyone. There's a lot more in the realm of interpersonal relations than full-on superhero shenanigans, and waiting for the potential end of the world gets a little rough during the last two episodes, which feel like they're being stretched out as much as the first few feel like they're trying to cram a bunch in. However, the fights – when they happen – are visual delights, soundtracked with some amazing pop songs.
The expanded character development also allows for episodes like Number Five, telling the story of how the Aidan Gallagher's fifth member of the Umbrella Academy became lost in a post-apocalyptic future, as well as The Day That Wasn't, which sees Klaus (Robert Sheehan) get an incredibly moving time travel storyline of his own. These middle episodes are anything but middling, and the end result is that, when the characters are tested and need to come together at the end of the storyline, viewers really are pulling for the Umbrella Academy to once again save the world.