I was prepared to hate The Umbrella Academy. Something about superhero siblings, blah blah blah. Not all of the superhero attempts are hits, and a bunch of the “expanded universe” ones of late have sucked (I’m looking at you Doom Patrol!). So my expectations weren’t high, although the idea of an “academy” so to speak intrigued me. Like a couple of animated ones where it was about heroes and sidekicks.
Instead, the “backstory” takes all of about 5 minutes. Apparently, all on the same day, 43 women gave birth…which wouldn’t be unusual except they had not been pregnant when they woke up, they got pregnant and delivered all in that one day. You see this for one particular young girl who was fine one moment and then giving birth in a pool 10 seconds later. Enter a billionaire who wants to gather up all the babies and put them in an academy, basically by buying them. Seven mothers say yes, and voila, he has an academy. Which he runs as if he’s the world’s worst father, basically ignoring them as they grow up, but making sure they’re trained as heroes — teleportation, fighting, super strength, mind control, etc. He starts with seven kids, but fast-forward to Dad having died, and there are only four to five kids left. Initially, six of the seven had powers, one was just ordinary. Another one died. And another one disappeared by teleporting through time. So four powered kids return home for the “funeral”, plus the ordinary one who wrote a tell-all book about the whole crew. And then the teleporter shows up later.
Let’s meet the crew.
- Ellen Page plays Vanya, the ordinary one, although you see her at the start playing a violin expertly, so “ordinary” might not be the right adjective…this isn’t exactly Juno, but she is rock-solid in her portrayal as the reluctant outsider who doesn’t know how she fits, if at all;
- Tom Hopper plays strongman Luther, who we see initially at some moonbase (okay, it’s a bit weird)…I didn’t recognize him from playing Sir Percival in the Merlin TV series, but he is pretty good here;
- David Castaneda plays master assassin / mercenary Diego, and does a good job of balancing the menace without appearing campy;
- Robert Sheehan plays the nutbar Klaus, an addict with a revolving door in rehab, which is understandable because when he’s even remotely sober, he can talk to the dead;
- Emmy Raver-Lampman as superstar model / actress Allison, who can whisper a rumour to someone and it becomes true…she may be new to the screen, but she’s fun to watch; and,
- Robert Sheehan plays Number 5 (all the kids were just numbers originally, see how Dad was a bad father figure?), the teleporter who has just returned…still in a 13-year-old’s body, but his consciousness is 50+ years now.
Their brother Ben died at some point but you don’t find out how in Episode 1. What you do see is how dysfunctional they all are. Don’t even get me started on their mother (Jordan Claire Robbins) or the ape/chimp manservant (Adam Godley).
But here’s the thing. It works. The characters jive together. There’s even a scene, amidst all the dysfunction, where Luther puts on a song – Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now” – and the song resonates throughout the house. Each of them, having left the group to be alone, starts dancing to the song. All of them in ways unique to their personality. Vanya dancing in place, very subdued; Luther upright, very large, like a dancing bear; Diego closing the door on the den so nobody can see him busting some serious dance moves, very lithe; Klaus, smoking and drinking, hugging the urn with the ashes of dead old dad, and waltzing around the room; and Allison getting down in her bedroom with a small feather boa, looking every bit the extrovert comfortable in performing.
There are moments in TV and movies that I see as golden scenes. A classic like Almost Famous, where Penny Lane turns around and asks what kind of beer she was traded for with another band…everything you ever wanted to know about how she sees the world is in that one line.
Or even in a show like Republic of Doyle, where he’s in a really complicated relationship with just about any woman he’s been with, he goes to a dinner party with his ex and a new hottie, and after the weirdness expands, he finally kisses the new hottie for the first time as they decide that’s where it’s going. And in the middle of the kiss, her phone rings, and she says she has to take it, it’s her husband. Your mind blows as his mind blows. And it is a perfect example of his character’s life. Everything is always messy.
The dance scene in The Umbrella Academy might rank as one of the best scenes I’ve seen in the last two years. Simple, elegant even, and shows all their characters when they’re not wrapped in their own BS. Just them each being themselves. It’s awesome. It might not mean much if you don’t know the characters, but it has a bit of a Breakfast Club-feel to it if you don’t know the context, and it still works.
Usually when I see something like this and I like it, nobody else even notices. It’s a small scene. But this one went over HUGE, with lots of websites flagging it apparently. So much so, Netflix shared just that piece above. And that scene alone is enough to mean that I’m watching the rest of the series.
I won’t spoil the ending of the episode, but it sets up the plot for the season. I just have no idea where it would go AFTER this season. I’m on the fence for its future, but the dance scene nudges me into RENEWAL on a whim.