Review: The Umbrella Academy, Season One

Literally everyone I know started watching The Umbrella Academy pretty much the moment the series appeared on Netflix. In fact, one of my friends who works in film even helped make the show (it was filmed in Toronto). Perhaps more importantly, everyone I talked to seemed to like it.

The logo for the Netflix series The Umbrella AcademyAlso, Ellen Page is one of my favourite human beings, so I’m always happy to support her work.

So it didn’t take me long to dive into Umbrella Academy despite knowing very little about it.

Based on a comic book, The Umbrella Academy is the story of a dysfunctional family of superheroes. There were seven adopted siblings in the “academy,” all of which but one (Number Seven/Vanya, played by the aforementioned Ellen Page) have fantastic powers. Their adoptive father trained them to be heroes who would save the world, but after Number Five disappeared and Number Six was killed,* the team broke apart, and the dream died.

*(Like way too many things on this show, what happened to Six is never explained.)

The story begins with the remaining members of the academy reuniting for the funeral of their father. As old family tensions flare, events take a new turn when Number Five suddenly reappears after being lost in time for decades.

Shenanigans ensue.

Basically, it’s one part X-Men, one part Hellboy, one part Sanctuary, and one part Arrested Development without the jokes.

There is a lot that I don’t like about The Umbrella Academy. For one thing, it takes itself a smidge too seriously. I do generally prefer my superhero stories hew towards the gritty and realistic, but that only works so well in a story about a bunch of squabbling siblings whose main parental figures are a super intelligent chimpanzee butler and a robotic 1950s housewife.

The Hargreeves siblings in The Umbrella AcademyAlso, as I said, this show doesn’t explain anything. I get that too much exposition can bog things down, but seriously, WHY DO THEY HAVE A TALKING CHIMP BUTLER.

It’s clearly a show that wants to be taken seriously, which is ironic when you realize Umbrella Academy is actually a very simple story with very few genuine surprises.

There’s pacing issues, too. The early episodes really drag, while the last few are almost rushed.

Despite all those complaints, though, this is still a series that I found more enjoyable than not, on balance. Mainly because it has two big things working in its favour.

The first is the cast. Pretty much all of the characters are compelling, and the acting is pretty excellent. I’m especially fond of Number Five, who is just such a delightful little curmudgeon. A show like this lives or dies by the strength of its characters, and that’s the one thing I can’t fault The Umbrella Academy on.

The other is that I’m a big fan of this kind of story. There’s a reason the X-Men have always been by far my favourite superheroes. Eclectic bands of weirdos trying to save the world despite their own flaws? That’s my jam.

And that, I think, is how I would define Umbrella Academy: It’s good if you’re a fan of this particular subgenre. It’s not the best example around, but if you like these kind of stories already, it’s good enough to satisfy. If you’re not already a fan of these tropes, I doubt Umbrella Academy would win you over.

Overall rating: 7.4/10

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What I’m up to + New Article

I haven’t really done or experienced anything lately that deserves its own deep-dive post, but I thought I might do a quick run down of the various nerdy passtimes I’ve been engaging in as of late.

Official art for the audio drama Welcome to Night ValeFirst, after finishing Limetown, I bounced around for a bit, trying different podcasts before I found one I like: Welcome to Night Vale.

The friend who first recommended Night Vale went on and on about how indescribably weird it was and how I just had to experience it for myself. I thought he was exaggerating.

He was not exaggerating.

Welcome to Night Vale is spectacularly strange. The best way I can describe it is it’s like Douglas Adams on acid, with a hefty dose of conspiracy theories and Lovecraftian influence. It takes the form of a community radio show operating out of a small desert town that appears to exist in a surreal alternate universe dominated by a ruthless totalitarian government and filled with eldritch horrors as a matter of every day life.

I think?

It’s best described as a dark comedy, but it really is unlike anything else. My only complaints are it can be a bit samey, and that the overwhelming scattershot weirdness prevents it from being as relaxing as you might expect from such a silly show. It really demands your full attention.

On the reading front, the most interesting book I’ve read recently is Diablo’s Book of Adria. This continues the series of lorebooks that also included the Book of Cain and the Book of Tyrael.

As with its predecessors, it’s a beautifully made book full of stellar artwork. I was a bit disappointed by the lack of any significant new lore revelations, but it does provide a very interesting insight into Adria’s motivations as a character. I wouldn’t say it makes her more sympathetic per se — she remains a viciously ruthless schemer — but it does provide some nuance to her beyond the power hungry madwoman one might take her for at first glance.

All in all, I’d say the Book of Adria is less revelatory than the Book of Cain, but more interesting than the Book of Tyrael. I’d recommend it.

When it comes to gaming, I’ve little to report. Still messing around with ESO and feeling very ambivalent about it. I’ve been trying to get my consular caught up in the story in SWTOR, and I’ve started running my TSW homebrew mini-campaign in D&D, but I’ll have more to say about both those things later.

Finally, I’ve had another article published at MMO Bro, in which I discuss the importance of stability in MMO design.