TV TATTLE

The Umbrella Academy is a whirling dervish of fan service for fans of everything

  • The key to the Netflix superhero series' success is that it's a mashup of epic proportions, says Richard Lawson. "The Umbrella Academy is a whirling dervish of fan service that stumbles as often as it sings," says Lawson. "In many ways it’s a deeply cynical show, pandering so relentlessly on so many vectors. Yet its algorithmic assault is hard to resist. The twists tantalize just enough that you can’t help but let the next episode auto-play." Lawson adds: "The reasons why The Umbrella Academy isn’t buzzy are murky; I suspect it has something to do with Netflix not devoting as much of a publicity effort to the show as it has to other marquee series. But its popularity among viewers is pretty easily understood after watching. Do you like Harry Potter? Or X-Men? Or the Avengers movies? Maybe you enjoyed reading the graphic novel Watchmen before it became a lauded HBO limited series? How about Back to the Future, or Stranger Things, or Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, or Kick-Ass, or The Haunting of Hill House? Chances are, most Netflix viewers enjoy at least one of those major cultural properties, and they will find some reflected glimmer of them in The Umbrella Academy. (Homage would be a generous term for the show’s borrowing.) The series, adapted from Gerard Way’s comic book by former Fargo writer Steve Blackman and developed by Jeremy Slater, is a pastiche of sci-fi and fantasy tropes, a busy assemblage of influences and references that make up an erratic but intermittently satisfying collage. While the story is new, there’s something both cozily and annoyingly familiar about The Umbrella Academy. It’s a noisy machine, smashing bits of pop culture together without much concern for originality, and yet it runs pretty well. The product is solid, consumable in large doses and just artistic enough to give it a soupçon of prestige. For season two, Netflix seems to have allocated more money. The series looks sleeker, more vivid. Its set-pieces are more daring, its visual language crisper and more distinct. Which is another indication that the show has a strong viewership—it proved worthy of further investment."

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    • The Umbrella Academy is delivering what the Marvel Cinematic Universe taught fans to expect: "The cinematic story of the seven superpowered Hargreeves siblings has garnered attention for its style, cast, and perhaps most surprisingly, its emotional latitude," say Petrana Radulovic and Susana Polo. "In corners of the internet, fans of the series create GIF-sets of Vanya dealing with childhood trauma and isolation, and write bulleted headcanons about what the Hargreeves siblings do when they hang out. There’s a sense that Umbrella Academy is reflecting something familiar, even under the wildest circumstances. Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe take a similar approach online, reveling in moments of hardship and struggle, but when compared to the canonized moments in the mega-franchise, the remixes exist more to fill in a void. After two decades of the modern superhero blockbuster, there’s more potential in a comic book property than costumes, clashes, and a cosmic beatdown, and one of the keys to the cult success of Umbrella Academy is that it does what the MCU promised, but never actually delivered: heroes interrogating their own emotional ordeals."
    • The Umbrella Academy feels more like a show of the future than perhaps anything else succeeding on Netflix: "Stranger Things is quite literally a work of nostalgia that, in its pursuit of clear, clean-lined storytelling, is a throwback in form as well as subject matter; for all The Witcher toyed with tone and timeline, it basically wants to be Xena," says Daniel D'Addario. "The Umbrella Academy, like other shows on Netflix (Cursed, a Camelot-remixing curio that zoomed to number-one on the site’s daily most-watched list) and elsewhere (Amazon’s ultraviolent, goofy Hunters) seeks to make a lack of control into a virtue, and in so doing attract viewers unacquainted with or unmoved by the sort of TV that is made with guardrails. It is popular for the same reason its popularity has not seemed to meaningfully extend beyond core obsessives: Because it so very badly wants to be different that what it is, moment to moment, is a moving target; its music is of the variety that sounds discordant to all who expect harmonies and who don’t realize that the discord is the point. It’s a cast and crew of adult professionals elegantly pulling off a bratty teenage rebellion. And it’s the sort of show that, when watching, forces the viewer to realize that there will soon be quite a bit more along precisely its same scrawled and jagged lines."
    • The Umbrella Academy is significantly stronger in Season 2: "The first season of Netflix’s Umbrella Academy...was largely about subverting expectations,' says Sam Barsanti. "Its eponymous team of adopted sibling superheroes was raised as hardened, emotionless soldiers in order to save the world, but they grew up to be emotionally damaged adults who mostly hated each other, their obligation to save the world, and especially their adopted father (Colm Feore’s cold and cruel Sir Reginald Hargreeves). By the time they’d all reunited to prevent a coming apocalypse, the Umbrella Academy had not only failed but actually caused the end of the world. Season one was fun, undeniably buoyed by excellent performances from the core cast; but it also had a bad habit of needlessly dragging out every single bit of backstory and every single solution (even the red herrings) to its many mysteries. A key example is how the show behaved like nobody could possibly predict that the guy with super-strength and the body of a gorilla would have some kind of gorilla body, while treating that reveal like it had the impact of Jon Snow’s true parentage. But what better way to subvert expectations than by coming back for a second season that is actually, thankfully, and somewhat miraculously better in almost every single way? Season two of The Umbrella Academy manages to pull that off, and it has become a significantly better version of itself in the process."
    • Season 2 almost finds a satisfying way out of its apocalypse problem: "In its first season, the Netflix series The Umbrella Academy ... followed its source material predecessor and zeroed in on a handful of adopted family members with incredible abilities," says Steve Greene. "Faced with certainty that a cataclysm of explosions and fallout would come to pass if this ragtag group didn’t act as one, wouldn’t you know it, their actions caused the dang thing. Season 2 burdens this misfit family of Hargreeves with the same directive: prevent global catastrophe. What makes this new round of episodes a slight improvement upon those that came before it is splitting these siblings apart. Flung across time by the same gambit that spared them from annihilation in the opening season’s timeline, the quick thinking of Five (Aidan Gallagher) ultimately leads to each of them hurled into the same Dallas alleyway in separate years across the early 1960s. As each of these brothers and sisters adjust to new lives in this timeline, separate from each other, some realize the version of history they’re experiencing is about to veer from precedent."
    • The twists, the impending apocalypse and, most importantly, the feels are bigger in Season 2: "Let’s face it," says Kimberly Ricci, "a lot of things could have gone wrong while adapting the comic book series for the small screen, but somehow, it all worked, down to a fantastically assembled cast: Ellen Page, striking a careful balance of portraying the sibling who was most the instrumental in triggering an apocalypse while being unaware of those powers for most of the season; Robert Sheehan, boosting his drug-addled, sexually fluid character who communes with the dead into fan-favorite status; Mary K. Blige as a hitwoman in what can only be described as inspired casting. I could go on, but it’s time to discuss whether the second season continues the momentum of the first, which was already a rarity in the inertia-heavy streaming era. Hell yes, it does. The show even manages, in a few instances, to surpass the musical interludes of the first season."
    • Season 2 has a lot of characters and storylines to juggle, but everything is kept moving smoothly: "There’s a tendency with many streaming shows, especially as the season progresses, to tread narrative water here and there to fill out the episode order," says Zaki Hasan, "but they find the sweet spot here, with each 45-minute episode feeling like a full meal while still keeping fans craving the next installment."
    • Kate Walsh compares The Umbrella Academy scripts to plays: "The great thing about this show is, not only is it fantastic and the sky's the limit in many ways, but there are rules to the show," says Walsh. "They write almost like plays, so, you get these long scenes. They're not common in television, where everything's kind of keep going, move, move, move. But you get these three and four page scenes that are just so fun as an actor to play. They all have a beginning, middle and end."
    • Tom Hopper discusses the challenges of wearing a gorilla suit
    • Creator Steve Blackman emphasizes that The Umbrella Academy isn't a Marvel show: “It’s not a superhero show set in the Marvel universe, and I’m not saying that to diss the Marvel universe, because I love it,” he says. “You’re watching characters who are heroic and you sort of want to be them in a certain way. But these characters (in The Umbrella Academy) remind us that we’re all sort of fallible and we all have foibles and that even the superheroes among us are struggling with the same issues.”

    TOPICS: The Umbrella Academy, Netflix, Kate Walsh, Steve Blackman, Tom Hopper




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