The Umbrella Academy

Over the last week or so I’ve been watching The Umbrella Academy (2019-2022; Netflix; three seasons; 10 episodes each). Speaking as someone who is beyond being over live-action superhero stories, I rather enjoyed it. Enough that I plan to check out (in both senses of the word) the same-named graphic novels the show is adapted from.

And that right there says even more about my enjoyment of the series. How many times have I written here that doing a live-action adaptation of comics or animated shows is a mistake that usually ends badly? (A lot is the answer.) And it’s a Netflix show to boot.

Yet, despite some small annoyances, I found it quite engaging.

It also says something that I was engaged enough that I never even thought about grabbing a pen and taking notes (usually a sign a show has thoroughly disappointed me). I just wanted to sit back and watch.

I found it easy to binge watch. I watched the first five episodes in one sitting (had only planned to watch one, maybe two) and watched the other five episodes of the first season the next night. I consumed the rest of the series in large chunks, too. I think it took me only five nights to burn through all 30 episodes.

That all said, I give the series only an Ah! rating (rather than a Wow! one) because: [A] it’s an adaptation (making for a very high bar); [2] it’s a superhero story (and those are just a bit silly no matter what you do); [iii] there were, as I said, some small annoyances. So, I liked it a lot but not to gush levels, is what I’m saying.

Most of those annoyances have to do with times when the story requires otherwise smart and capable characters to be stupid or inept. Because script. And some of the friction between characters seems less organic and more related to moving the plot along (an all-too-common failing in storytelling). I would also fault the show (slightly) on skipping over plot points I wanted to know about. (Like how Luther got to and from the Moon. Never explained.)

The seven members of the Umbrella Academy present day. Left-to-right: Allison, Five, Diego (and knife), Luther (back), Vanya/Viktor (front), Klaus, and Ben.

There is also that, despite being set in the real world, the show is definitely fantasy rather than science fiction. What little science there is (the kugelblitz in the third season, for example) is laughable. But we’re talking superhero powered humans, so, yeah, it’s total fantasy (and part of why I’m so over superhero stories).

None of these annoyances — for they were only annoyances, not issues — took me out of the story or ruined my enjoyment. They were just things I (mentally) noted along the way. Bottom line, if you like superhero stories, I think it’s worth checking out.


Warning: Spoilers follow. If you don’t want to know, skip down to the end (or just stop reading now).


The premise of the show is that, on October 1, 1989, 43 women around the world give birth. As the narrator goes on to say, this in itself was not unusual. What was unusual is that none of them were pregnant when the day began. The opening scene shows us one such birth. A young woman at a swimming pool in Russia, obviously not pregnant, suddenly has a nine-month belly, goes into labor, and shortly thereafter produces a child.

The narrator goes on to say (and, unlike many, I don’t object to narration on principle and think it’s an often entirely appropriate way of moving a story along; art does not have iron-clad rules)…

Sorry, that was a bit of a digression, but it’s a minor sore point with me. Anyway…

The narrator goes on to say that eccentric billionaire Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore), apparently so taken with this unusual event, determines to purchase as many of these special children as he can. He manages to buy seven of them. (Which is framed as that’s all he could get but we’ll find out much later he only needed seven.)

He raises and trains these children, which turn out to have superpowers, as a crime-fighting team called “The Umbrella Academy” (a name that’s latter accounted for by Sir Reginald’s backstory — as an immigrant to America he purchases an old building that used to house an umbrella company).

The Umbrella Academy back when they were still a team. They are pictured, left to right, in numerical order. Vanya, of course, isn’t included. They’ve just stopped a bank robbery, which is why Ben is bloody.

Which, two points. Firstly, it makes the name arbitrary and quirky. It doesn’t mean anything. Not complaining, really, but I found it mildly unsatisfying as we never really see what happens with that old building or why he would be taken by the name.

Secondly, we never find out what happened to the other 36 children. Do they also have superpowers? Their existence is ignored. (There is a final season coming. It’ll only have six episodes, and I suppose it might address them, but at this point in the plot, I think it’s a moot point.)

[Another minor sore point: It is a moot point, not, as some say, a mute point. Moot: Having no practical consequence or relevance. Mute: Silent or incapable of speech.]

Just to jump ahead to the third season, that one opens with a nearly identical sequence, but the narrator says that 16 women gave birth on October 1, 1989. Which, I have to say, really threw me. I had to stop and go back to the first episode to see if I’d misremembered the number of women who gave birth. I did not. The smaller number reflects something important.


Meanwhile, back in season one, Sir Reggie has given the children numbers (1-7) rather than names as part of his attempt to create a selfless fighting team. He turns out to be a horrible father; one who doesn’t even like children. He’s a martinet focused only on their training. As one of the characters says much later, “He puts the dick in dictator.”

Their mother Grace (Jordan Claire Robbins), who is revealed to be a human-looking robot, did give six of the children names. The seventh was lost in time by that point. In fact, he inadvertently jumped to the future and discovered the world destroyed by some kind of apocalypse. He remains stuck there, the only living person on Earth, for decades. Throughout the series, he is only known as Number Five.

Speaking of the seven children:

Number One: Luther (Tom Hopper). He has super strength. When the series begins, he’s living alone on the Moon performing an unspecified mission for Sir Reggie. He’s a gentle giant type, and we later discover that, to save his life after a mission that went horribly wrong, Sir Reggie injected him with a serum that turned his torso into a gorilla’s.

Number Two: Diego (David Castañeda). Something of a batman type mindset. He has a mild telekinetic power that allows him to control the paths of bullets and, especially, his throwing knives. He’s a major hothead always spoiling for a fight.

Number Three: Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman). A famous actress and divorced mother who lost custody because she used her superpower on her child. That power being the ability to control people by saying, “I heard a rumor that you…” One night, due to her child’s temper tantrum, she says, “I heard a rumor that you went to sleep.” Bad enough, but her husband oversees this.

Number Four: Klaus (Robert Sheehan). One of my favorite characters. He’s wildly flamboyant and a drug and alcohol addict — largely due to his ability to see, manifest, and speak to the dead. Later it turns out he can’t be killed; death has no hold over him.

Hazel (the assassin; now much older) and Number Five witnessing WWIII. In Dallas. Note the Russian tank. In Dallas.

Number Five: (Aidan Gallagher). His time travel accident keeps him the same boyish age during his decades in the future. He’s ultimately rescued by The Handler (Kate Walsh). She recruits him to work for The Commission, an agency charged with keeping the timeline intact. Which they do by assassinating problematic people whose actions would damage the timeline. Five spends decades (now aging) working for them. He later betrays them, and time jumps back to his family, but again is made into a young boy.

Number Six: Ben (Justin H. Min). His superpower is the ability to manifest giant powerful tentacles from his chest. He was killed on a mission, but his ghost hangs out with Klaus and sometimes helps him (he hates being dead, though).

Number Seven: Vanya/Viktor (Elliot Page). Apparently, the only child with no superpowers (or so Sir Reggie says), she’s sidelined from the team and never goes on missions with them. Her exclusion alienates her, and she ends up writing a tell-all book about the family (which alienates them even more). In fact, we find out she’s one of the more powerful of them (converting sound waves to physical force). Early in season three she comes out as a transgender man, Viktor, which echoes Elliot Page’s transition from Ellen Page (who became famous in the movie Juno).

[Apparently, the done thing is to retrofit “he” to all references to Elliot prior to his transition. I’m a-okay with people living whatever lives they choose, it’s their life, but I have major issues with (any form of) revisionism. Sorry, but I just can’t refer to a “he” when she presented as a “she”. Now she’s a “he”, and that’s fine, but let’s not rewrite the past, please. I’m also fine with being called totally out of it on this. My excuse is that I’m old and set in my ways. Deal with it. Or don’t.]


I thought this was going to be a short post (so I could get back to reading P.D. James), but here I am only having scratched the surface. This is all just the framing and characters. I haven’t gotten much into the storyline yet.

Season 3, episode 1, features a Footloose-style dance off between the Umbrellas and the Sparrows. Wild scene that really threw me until it’s revealed as a hallucination induced by one of the Sparrows. In retrospect, it’s really fun. The show can be grim but has a nice leavening of humor.

Season one: Sir Reggie has died. Or possibly been murdered by robot Grace. The children, who’ve dispersed into their own lives after the team fell apart over Ben’s death and Vanya’s book, come together for the funeral. And to investigate their father’s supposed murder. (It turns out Sir Reggie killed himself to bring the team back together.) Number Five returns through a time portal with news about the coming apocalypse. Which is coming in eight days, and Five has no idea who is responsible or why it happens.

Major Spoiler: It was Vanya, who due to a series of betrayals, becomes enraged to the point of apocalyptic fury. At the end of the last episode, the apocalypse happens, and the world is destroyed (Vanya blows up the Moon and a giant piece hits the Earth). Five is able to transport them out just before the place blows up.

Season two: Five, his time travel powers uncertain, has scattered the team across the years 1960 to 1963. In Dallas. Five arrives the latest, on November 22, 1963, the day of the JFK assassination. It turns out that Vanya, with amnesia from the events of last season, caused a massive explosion that’s blamed on the Russians. Kennedy is not assassinated (because the explosion makes the motorcade hightail it out of there) and attacks the Russians in retaliation. This leads to World War III and, again, the end of the world.

Season one was largely about ending the apocalypse in 2019. Season two is about ending the apocalypse in 1963. And it’s an interesting point that, in both cases, it’s the team that’s responsible for it. This time, though, they manage to rescue Vanya and, at the end, use a time travel briefcase from the Commission to return to their own time.

Season three: The team returns together but the timeline has changed. They’d found a younger Sir Reggie in Dallas (mixed up in the assassination plot and more) and tried to enlist his help. But Sir Reggie is so appalled by them that he decides he’ll adopt other children in 1989. So, the team returns to find a different team, The Sparrow Academy, in their place. And the Sparrow team are even bigger assholes than the Umbrella team.

Both teams want to eliminate the other but ultimately (after some are killed) band together to, once again, try to stop the apocalypse This time, it’s caused by the kugelblitz that has appeared because of the “grandfather paradox” created by the team’s time travel and interference with history. They fail and the universe (not just the Earth) is destroyed.

And I think I’ll not spoil the season ending. Suffice to say it does end with major plot points unresolved. Presumably the upcoming season four will tie it all up.

§ §

I really didn’t expect this post to be so lengthy! Funny thing is that I’ve still only scratched the surface of the plot. There’s a lot more going on; the story is pretty densely packed. There are so many things I haven’t touched on (like who Sir Reggie really is or how Grace came about). Or the assassin pair, Hazel (Cameron Britton) and Cha-Cha (Mary J. Blige), in season one (Hazel appears briefly in season two).

I’ll end by saying that, if you like superhero stories and thirst for a change from the usual Marvel and DC silliness, I recommend checking out The Umbrella Academy.

Stay apocalyptic, my friends! Go forth and spread beauty and light.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

4 responses to “The Umbrella Academy

  • Wyrd Smythe

    And now, back to P.D. James!

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Writing this post, I’m struck by certain muddled aspects of the plot. Sir Reggie’s ultimate goal seems weirdly in conflict with what actually happens. It’s a comic book superhero story, so asking for too much logic or consistency is foolish, but there are things I wish were better explained.

    But just go with the flow and enjoy it. One needs a certain disconnect when dealing with fantasy, and often needs to not question things too deeply. (Which is why I’m not a huge fan of fantasy. I always have questions. Lots of them.)

  • disturbedByVoices

    Such a great show. I just finished watching Season 3 and can’t wait for Season 4.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I wasn’t sure whether I’d like it — I’m kind of over superhero shows — but it grabbed my interest immediately and kept it. I, too, am looking forward to season 4.

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