The joy of The Umbrella Academy

Warning that spoilers are discussed in this article.

The Umbrella Academy dropped to a rather mixed response. Fans of the comic were ecstatic, but the show might have passed quite a few others by. It’s no surprise. Unless it’s Marvel or DC, comic stories tend to get overlooked. Yet, this has been the first TV show based on a comic I’ve truly enjoyed and I’m here to hype it up.

The pace is ridiculously fast which can make it a bit confusing at first, but that’s the comic way – and it’s also the TV way now. Filler has sadly died, which is something I hate, but The Umbrella Academy rampages at such an extreme pace that it makes everything actually feel surprisingly good. The scenes aren’t all about power and trying to draw out emotion in such a blunt way that we feel dead inside, like most shows try to do. This is playing up to everything expected of it to heightened degrees: it goes quick to disorientate us so we ask “just what the fuck?”, it plays up the nostalgia vibe for a story rooted in the past of children by including the most outrageous and joyous soundtrack any show has ever used and the cast really deliver in their roles. It knows its strengths and what is expected, and it plays them up as much as it possible can. The characters are often OTT but in their own supremely unique and endearing ways (except for Luther but more on him later). Mary J Blige is particularly strong, as are Ellen Page and Emmy Raver-Lampman.

However, the show does have its issues so let’s address them. The Luther and Allison relationship is not great. It does come off more as childhood sweethearts than a sibling relationship in my opinion, because these were kids just thrown together by a father none of them really cared for (except for Luther) and they were given a robot mother. Not an AI. Just a machine programmed to say nice things. That all comes together to undermine the whole concept that they really are family unless they choose to be. However, on the surface, it’s still weird (although maybe not to Game of Thrones fans), and it’s also not a great relationship anyway. If Luther hadn’t been so egocentric then a lot of the problems could have been avoided if he had just listened to Allison. We’ve got to stop romanticising relationships where men are portrayed as loving women just so damn much they can’t even hear their crush over their own feelings. 

Disability is also used in a really mixed up and trope-like way. It’s hard to define it straight out as a trope. Vanya coming off medication for her mental health only to reveal her powers does look like it is slamming medication for hiding our ‘true’ selves. But on the other side, it could be read as showing that medication can be necessary to stabilise ourselves and our lives which can be good. I say “could be read” as ultimately, the disability reading of it is made instantly harder to draw binary conclusions on because Vanya never got a choice in any of this. She was preyed upon by an abuser who took away her consent and her identity. Drugs were a form of abuse, not something she willingly chose for herself. This again muddies the picture of medication for mental health – which is so often a topic where neurotypical people want to jump in on, despite the fact they rarely have expertise. Whether the story was good or bad can be debated (by those who are stakeholders in the story) but was it a helpful direction the show took? No, not really. 

On the positive though, considering this is a story about a ‘family’ this was not used in any way to enforce an all white cast, and we did get queer representation too through Klaus. It’s a show that very much seems to be trying. It’s trying to be representative. It’s trying to be fun. And it’s trying to make us dance along with it. It falls down, but then it gets up again and tries some more. It’s up to each of us to decide whether that’s good enough. 

It won’t be for everyone – but if you can stick with then it is a joyous experience. Not always easy. Not always the best quality. Yet, even with all of the problems it can just put a smile on your face. That’s usually the sign of a pretty watchable show. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s