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“Umbrella Academy” Excels

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“Umbrella Academy” Excels

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Netflix's "Umbrella Academy" was released on Feb.15, 2019. (Facebook)

Netflix's "Umbrella Academy" was released on Feb.15, 2019. (Facebook)

Netflix's "Umbrella Academy" was released on Feb.15, 2019. (Facebook)


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By Matthew Dillon

The new Netflix original, “Umbrella Academy,” is an adaptation of the comic series of the same name. The 10-episode first season follows seven children with superpowers, raised by a talking chimpanzee, a robotic housewife and a billionaire that is as cold as he is brilliant. Driven apart by their adopted father’s callousness, the now-estranged siblings reunite after he dies under mysterious circumstances. They only stick together after learning they have several days before the world ends.

Using this as a foundation, the show creates a time-travel-centric superpowered family drama that somehow still manages to feel genuine. It has a few tired storytelling tropes and makes some questionable decisions, but “Umbrella Academy” brings it all together by the time it reaches its inconclusive yet satisfying ending.

As interesting as the main plot may be, the show’s strength lies in effective character-building moments and memorable action sequences. It is one of the few shows to rely heavily on flashbacks without distracting too much from the main narrative. The show’s careful use of these scenes manages to develop nearly everyone in its large cast.

“Umbrella Academy” also has a surprising emotional range. Its bleak sense of humor underlies almost the entirety of the plot, but it still manages to present serious and heartwarming moments without seeming too contrived. Most of the actors give strong performances, particularly Aidan Gallagher as the teleporting, doomsaying Number Five. The mature, responsible and intense character is a fairly-tired archetype at this point, but Gallagher steals every scene with his character’s confrontational personality and surprising complexity. The show takes obvious storytelling beats and puts them in a new, interesting context that is strange but not totally unrelatable.

“Umbrella Academy” does not make everything work, and that is particularly evident in Ellen Page’s role as Vanya, the apparently powerless black sheep of the family. While not bad, her performance does not have the same impact as her previous roles. This partly rests on the scripting, which deprives Vanya of the agency and personality she had in the comic. There are similar issues with other characters, notably the drug-addicted, overdramatic medium, Klaus (Robert Sheehan), but they at least get more meaningful development as the season goes on.

Aside from that, the only other issues with “Umbrella Academy” are some of the technical elements. Most of the fight scenes are accompanied by famous songs, though their use fits well with the tone of the show and what is happening on-screen. However, the sometimes-poor sound mixing becomes very apparent when the show practically mutes the music so that the audience can hear the characters speak.

More forgivable are the clumsy visual effects. The CGI may look awkward, but “Umbrella Academy” is a lot more ambitious than most Neftlix productions. The competent and, at times, inspired camerawork also helps make up for it. Additionally, the eclectic but memorable aesthetic makes it hard to call anything out of place. The show’s realism rests solely in the characters’ interactions, so it is easy to overlook some subpar CGI.

While it takes necessary liberties, “Umbrella Academy” remains fairly close to the source material. Choosing to merge two separate plotlines into one, the end result is surprisingly coherent. The choice to develop time-traveling hitmen Cha-Cha (Mary J. Blige) and Hazel (Cameron Britton) into something more substantial than their comic book counterparts rounds out the story.

“Umbrella Academy” is one of the more memorable and enjoyable Netflix original series to come out in recent time.

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“Umbrella Academy” Excels