Written by Natasha Effendy
Edited by Fajar binti Benjamin
Warning: This review contains minor spoilers for Umbrella Academy.
Ever since watching the trailer I’ve been super hyped for Netflix’s latest original series ‘The Umbrella Academy’ – so when it finally dropped after a long month of waiting, I screamed in delight and jumped right into it. Did it live up to the hype?
The premise of the show is simple. One day around the world, 43 women simultaneously gave birth – but none of them was actually pregnant at the start of the day. Intrigued by the abnormality of this phenomenon, a billionaire by the name of Reginald Hargreeves decided to adopt as many of these “special” newborns as he could (he ended up with seven) and took them to his mansion where he “raised” them (to put it kindly).
Fast forward 30 or so years and they’re carving their own paths in this cruel world, but upon the death of their “father” they reunite again under the same childhood roof. From then on things just get mental – and here’s where the show picks up from.
This series has a lot to offer. The cinematography and editing are stunning, the playlist is filled with bop after bop, and the fight scenes are works of art; but to me, the highlights of the show are the members of the Umbrella Academy: adopted siblings each referred to coldly by Reginald by their assigned numbers.
Sibling number one is Luther. Also known as Spaceboy or Number One. Luther is biiiiig, super strong, a little dense but most of all biiiiig. (You’ll find out why in the show). Although his siblings eventually left “home”, he stayed on with Reginald as a loyal son until he was sent away to the moon. Even though they were all born at the same time, Luther carries this self-important older sibling vibe as the first member of the Academy.
While he’s often cited as the most annoying, to me, Luther’s mistakes are just a result of his traumatic upbringing. In the end, he just wants his siblings to be safe – a perfectly relatable goal. He’s really just a gentle giant, surrounded by bad circumstances. #LutherDeservesLove
The second sibling is Diego. Also known as “The Kraken” or Number Two, he possesses breath-holding abilities and knife-throwing skills. That is to say, his knives basically ignore the fundamental laws of physics – he blindly hits his targets from around corners and the like. He and his knives come as a set, what with him always sporting this ridiculous bodysuit armed with countless knives. Out of all the members in the Academy, he has the strongest bond with his mother – Grace – and that makes him a momma’s boy through and through. It’s revealed that she helped him through a childhood stutter, and for me, it was a small revelation that really grounded his otherwise blindly confident character.
The third member is Allison. Also known as “The Rumor” or Number Three, she can manipulate reality through the power of her voice. All she has to say is “I heard a rumour… that you started crying for no reason” and you’d cry for no reason. While Diego is usually hostile in every way, Allison is very caring in nature; she forgives and loves her family. Through the compassion she portrays, she plays the role of being the glue of the family, understanding and listening to their problems and trying to fix them. She’s the shoulder you can lean on, basically.
The fourth member is Klaus. Also known as “The Seance” or Number Four, Klaus can see and interact with ghosts. For the first half of the series, he’s very much not sober, even after returning from rehab. But it’s revealed that the reason he’s always high is because the drugs and alcohol help suppress his powers, which are a cause of fear. He’s pretty crazy and reckless at times, but Klaus’ backstory slowly unravels the tribulations he went through in his life; in the end he became one of my favourite characters in the show because of both his character development and his outrageously entertaining sense of humour.
The fifth member is Number Five, and he can jump through time and space. Other than being called “The Boy”, he doesn’t have a real name. Easily one of my favourites, Five embodies an old man trapped in a child’s body. Not only is he a moody, sassy, coffee-guzzling badass, he also has a pair of super-serum soldiers in creepy animal masks hot on his tail. I really want to commend the actor, Aidan Gallagher for portraying Number Five so expertly. Despite being 15 years old, he managed to somehow channel the more mature, jaded aspects of his personality.
The sixth member is Ben. Also known as “The Horror” or Number Six, he can become any monster from an alternate dimension (usually tentacled ones). Ben isn’t really present in the storyline because he’s (mysteriously) dead, but he appears via his communications with Klaus, who can very much see him. He and Klaus form the perfect duo. Klaus makes a ton of bad decisions (including robbing a corner store at some point) and Ben is always there to see him through it with helpful dry commentary along the way.
Last but not least, we have the seventh member Vanya. Also known as “The White Violin” or Number Seven, she doesn’t have her siblings’ powers and is often left behind. Vanya is a tiny cinnamon roll of angst and sad puppy eyes. Being the shortest of the siblings, she’s the cause of a lot of tension in the family – mainly due to the autobiography she wrote, which laid out the brutal truth of the Hargreeves siblings’ lives under their father’s roof. However, it’s hard to be mad at her – her actions are often justified, especially considering her isolated and lonely childhood.
To put it briefly, I loved the show. It was so good. A part of me was a little skeptical watching it because I’m usually not a fan of superhero shows, but it ended up being entertaining as hell (unfortunately also distracting me from studying).
The series was insane in every way, not least because it was chocked full of epic action scenes that really enhanced the viewing experience. Watching them always gave me a thrill, and they make Umbrella Academy, if not emotionally resonant, at least a fun watch in the comfort of your home. The occasional splashes of humour were also a great contrast to otherwise serious scenes.
Of course, a movie or a show can only achieve true greatness with a fitting and killer soundtrack to boot. One of the best things about the show was its iconic soundtrack. I don’t have much to say here, but I just need to talk about that one scene. We all know what scene I’m talking about – Number Five fighting off a group of assassins with “Istanbul” by They Might Be Giants playing in the background? Probably my favourite part of the entire show.
Besides the amazing production value, I really liked the deeper theme of family. From the beginning it was clear that the Umbrella Academy was a rather dysfunctional family (some even openly hostile with each other), but as the days went on, they grew to cooperate with one another to stop the apocalypse. It warmed my heart to see the little snippets of affection as they subconsciously protected each other, even though they’ve all been affected in the aftermath of an abusive parent. In a way, it teaches us that we can count on our closed ones for help.
The different backstories of all these characters really enhanced the plot as well. Other than adding depth to each character and making them more nuanced, real people, we could see how their lives intertwined with the other.
Unfortunately, the show does have its flaws. The Umbrella Academy leans hard on many common superhero cliches, including “this person being supposedly ordinary” and “miscommunication causing everything to go to hell when a simple conversation could have solved everything”.
Worse than that, a real disturbance is the incest in the show. Even though Luther and Allison had a lot of chemistry, I found it rather unsettling when they displayed mutual affection for each other. No, not in a familial way. They weren’t related by blood, but it was still weird for many people (me included), because they call each other siblings and have a common “father”.
It might also be a struggle for some people to keep up with the overwhelming plot of The Umbrella Academy. On top of having multiple backstories, the show often has a bunch of different storylines developing at the same time, switching between the characters’ plot threads seemingly at random. It can be hard to catch up and keep track of everyone. The scenes are also constantly switching back and forth between the past and present, which can be confusing at times.
All in all, I’d still highly recommend you just watch the show. It’s really good, and I haven’t met anyone who’s watched it and hated it… yet. By the end I’d reached a vital conclusion: sometimes the greatest villain isn’t the one with the greatest power, but rather the one with the greatest hatred.
P.S. By the way, the comic was written by Gerard Way himself, the lead of My Chemical Romance. I bet some of you had an emo phase and adored MCR, so here’s another reason to watch the show!