“If you’re raised to believe nothing about you is special, if the benchmark is extraordinary, what do you do if you’re not?” – The Umbrella Academy

Of the many superhero related movies and TV shows currently available on Netflix, The Umbrella Academy is perhaps the weirdest and the most compelling. The opening lines of the show clearly lay out a simple, if undeniably strange, premise. On one day in 1989 43 women around the world gave birth. What was particularly unusual about this was that none of these women had been previously pregnant. Famed billionaire Reginald Hargreeves resolved to adopt as many of these children as possible. He acquired seven of them and named them after numbers. In their early years all but one of the children began to exhibit unusual abilities: Number 1 was incredibly strong, Number 2 could curve the flight path of anything he threw, Number 3 could make anyone believe anything she said, Number 4 could speak to the dead, Number 5 could part the fabric of space-time at will, and Number 6 could become a monster.

From left to right: One, Two, Three, Four, Five, and Six

Reginald Hargreeves took the seven children back to his mansion and established what he called “The Umbrella Academy”. He would train his wards in their extraordinary abilities, forging them into an unstoppable crime fighting machine, albeit at the expense of giving them a normal childhood. Or so he thought. Unfortunately, during their childhoods the children suffered two devastating tragedies. Number 6 died a horrible death, and Number 5 accidentally became stranded in the far future. When they became adults many left to live lives of their own, spreading out across the world and slowly losing contact. After many years the seven Hargreeves siblings, still traumatized by their unusual upbringing, are reunited by the unexpected, and somewhat mysterious, death of their father. On the night of the funeral, Number 5 returns from the future not having aged a day. He brings with him a message: The end of the world is coming, and it will happen in eight days.

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If The Umbrella Academy were to be described in a single word it would most definitely be surreal. The show is compelling partially because of its anachronistic aesthetic. While The Umbrella Academy is set in 2019, the characters spend much of their time driving around in old-fashioned cars or making calls from public pay phones. In addition the writers of The Umbrella Academy know how to use music to dramatic effect. First, most of the battle scenes in the show are set to oddly cheerful and un-suspenseful soundtracks, lending even the most high stakes fights a distinctly surreal aspect. Second, the music of The Umbrella Academy often seems a character in and of itself. The first episode of the show contains a distinctive cutaway shot of the Hargreeves mansion, five of the siblings completely alone in separate rooms but united in dancing to the same song.

The Umbrella Academy also skillfully walks a fine line between serious drama and an entertaining superhero adventure. Despite the apocalyptic plot, much of The Umbrella Academy is about the seven siblings struggling to simply live normal lives when confronted with the responsibility of being, well, superheroes. At the same time, The Umbrella Academy also recognizes and embraces the most entertaining parts of the superhero genre. At its heart, the show is about seven uncertain heroes faced with impossible odds, fighting because they believe that if their efforts can save even one life it will all have been worth it.

See The Umbrella Academy‘s official website here

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