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SYFY WIRE The Umbrella Academy

First Umbrella Academy reviews speak of a very weird, very refreshing superhero series

By Josh Weiss
Umbrella Academy Netflix

Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá's Umbrella Academy comic for Dark Horse may be intensely weird, but — and it's hard to imagine this — the Netflix adaptation is even weirder.

At least that's what the early critic reviews are saying about the upcoming superhero series, whose first season premieres in two weeks on Friday, Feb. 15. If weirdness were the only thing going for the show, it may not have been so good, but the initial reactions speak of a new kind of comic book show, one we haven't really seen before.

While only hinted at in the trailers, the reviews confirm that we're in for a quirkiness on par with Wes Anderson and a banger of a soundtrack (which includes tunes by Tiffany and Queen) that genuinely enhances a story that likes to bend (and sometimes break) all of the conventions we've come to expect from this genre.

Developed by Steve Blackman (Altered Carbon), The Umbrella Academy follows a family of dysfunctional superheroes, all of whom were born at the same time to different mothers all around the world. Eventually, they were adopted by Sir Reginald Hargreeves, given designated numbers, and raised to protect the world.

Blending the comic's first two overarching storylines — Apocalypse Suite and Dallas — Season 1 stars Ellen Page, Tom Hopper, Robert Sheehan, Mary J. Blige, Cameron Britton, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Colm Feore, David Castañeda, Adam Godley, Aidan Gallagher, Ashley Madekwe, and Kate Walsh.

Here's what the critics are saying...

"The nonstop barrage of comic-book-inspired entertainment has primarily been a one-sided event, with most big movies, live-action and animated shows and streams coming from the big two comic book publishers: Marvel and DC. That’s why The Umbrella Academy feels like such an achievement ... If The Umbrella Academy is the start of Netflix’s new comic book normal, this is a creepy good start." -David Betancourt, The Washington Post

"The show is every bit as good, as delightfully odd, and as touching as the comic ... And underneath the series’ handsome sense of style, thrilling visual effects, and expensive-looking sets (a testament to Netflix’s budget or a savvy creative team or both) lies the series’ true objective: to paint a brutal portrait of a damaged, unhappy family that somehow has to help each and other and also save the world." -Alex Abad-Santos, Vox

"These aren’t regular superheroes — they’re cool superheroes, with oddball talents and edgy attitudes and a talking chimp butler! ... when they get in physical fights, it’s soundtracked by “ironic” peppy pop music, the clearest sign a show is more interested in maintaining a pose than in showing us something we haven’t seen before ... it feels perpetually as if it’s aggressively working to shock the audience with just how weird it all is." -Daniel D'Aaddario, Variety

"Steve Blackman and Jeremy Slater’s Netflix series, based on the Dark Horse comics by Gerard Way, immediately immerses you in this strange world and establishes that it is playing by its own rules. It’s not always clear what those rules are, but it doesn’t matter because the journey is so much fun ... The Umbrella Academy is quick, quirky, and light, although there are real stakes and consequences that play out over the course of the season." -Allison Keene, Collider

"Blackman’s adaptation doesn’t succeed solely because of its excellent cast and writing. As mentioned above, the music—overseen by music supervisors Maggie Phillips and Christine Greene Roe—is fantastic. Fight scenes are set to tracks by the likes of Queen, They Might Be Giants, and Lesley Gore, while one of the most emotional scenes in the series is set to a heart-wrenching track by Big Thief. There are also dance sequences (yes, you read that right) that establish levity even in the darkest and most depressing episodes." -Samantha Puc, The Mary Sue

"The problem is that the show itself doesn’t seem to understand its greatest strengths. The production design, for one thing, is incredible. The Umbrella Academy has the playful kitschiness of Wes Anderson and the overt absurdity of Tim Burton, without giving in to the worst impulses of either. The performances are also all largely good, with the actors leaning into the heightened nature of a comic book story in a way that makes it all feel more legitimate than some of the pre-MCU adaptations that seemed ashamed to be based on comics. Unfortunately, the writers tends to hide this good stuff behind mysteries they’re in no hurry to solve and secrets they would rather obfuscate than explore. It’s one of those shows where the characters are at their best when they’re all together, bickering and bantering, but the plot keeps them separated just for the sake of dragging out the big reveals." -Sam Barsanti, The A.V. Club

"Similar to how The Haunting of Hill House was able to weave a family drama around the backdrop of ghosts, so too does The Umbrella Academy turn what should be a standard superhero premise into something more. Within roughly ten minutes we go from a comically macabre bloodbath in a bank to a dance party with Ellen Page set to the tune of 'I Think We’re Alone Now.' It’s a fun adventure and it isn’t afraid to show its true nature in any given episode." -Chris Carter, Computer Games Magazine

"The Umbrella Academy peaks with its spot-on character portrayals, and its cinematography and writing only complement them. Executive producer Steve Blackman went to painstaking detail to recreate key aspects of the series’ original comic, but the Netflix title doesn’t feel like a carbon copy. While this shift may upset die-hard fans of the comic, The Umbrella Academy is given breathing room thanks to these changes, but that isn’t to say the first seven episodes are pristine." -Megan Peters,

"Unlike Marvel shows like Iron Fist or Jessica Jones, Umbrella Academy doesn't shy away from showing superpowers in action. You'll see characters time travel, teleport short distances, conjure up dead ghosts, and even throw very accurate knives. And while knife throwing seems pretty mundane, and talking to dead people isn't altogether new, it's the way Umbrella Academy puts it all together that makes you squeal with glee." -Aloysius Low, CNET

"The shared history of the Umbrella Academy kids is vast and labyrinthine, and no small amount of nuance is needed to create the rooted, dysfunctional relationships that drive the story. Luckily, the ensemble works together flawlessly, to the credit of the actors and showrunner Steve Blackman. Both wounds and affection run deep with these siblings, and those contradicting, but equally present elements are alive from minute one." -Alexander August, Comic Book Resources

"Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy is ambitious. It folds together the first two arcs of the comic far more effectively than I imagined it could and stretches the limits of what’s possible for an action show backed by the streaming giant. It doesn’t always succeed– the first half of the show is particularly melodramatic and occasionally languid before evolving into something more energetic and coherent in the back half– but ultimately, I had a good time thanks to some absolutely charming performances and a strong visual identity that sets this show apart from anything else currently on TV, streaming or otherwise." -Alexander Lu, Comics Beat

"Most superhero TV mistakes the general hurdles of life—relationship troubles, career issues—as interchangeable with authenticity. But this one gets at something far more specific and embedded. We’re all carrying around some type of childhood trauma, scars from our upbringings that mold our current identities, whether we know it or not. And while we all deserve a semblance of sympathy and patience from those around us when life manifests its darkness in ugly ways, The Umbrella Academy does not pat its damaged characters on the shoulder and tell them it’s OK. It doesn’t absolve its flawed protagonists of their responsibilities or questionable choices. On the contrary, it demands that they take control of their own lives and get their shit together. You don’t get much more real than that." -Brandon Katz, The Observer