It only makes sense that Netflix's The Umbrella Academy has a great soundtrack. After all, the show is based on a series of graphic novels created by former My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way, who contributed two songs to the show (covers of The Bangles' "Hazy Shade of Winter" and "Happy Together" by The Turtles). Plus, it stars Mary J. Blige as a time-traveling assassin/total badass named Cha-Cha, whose "Stay With Me" cover was used in an early trailer.
Then you've got showrunner Steve Blackman's experience working on three seasons of FX's Fargo and Season 1 of Legion — two Noah Hawley shows with excellent soundtracks of their own — and his clear and abiding love for all things Wes Anderson.
"You have all the time in the world in 10 hours of TV to slowly parse out these characters, and that gives you a lot of power and a lot of great storytelling tools," Blackman told SYFY WIRE. "I wanted to make it a little more whimsical, a little bit more absurd. Our world's a dark place, and sometimes those dark shows don't make you feel good. I wanted people to feel good at the end of this series."
Add it all up, and it's easy to see why many fans have had The Umbrella Academy's feel-good soundtrack on repeat since the show premiered. Each episode features at least one extended musical number — almost like mini music videos — that helps give the quirky superhero show its signature vibe.
"Music is a big part of my life, and I wanted music to be a character in the show," Blackman explains. "It wasn't enough just to have a needle drop that was 10 seconds long. I thought, let's play a whole song through. Let's play the entire song."
That's how he ended up conceiving some of the series' signature moments, like the Episode 1 dance party or a department store shootout set to Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now." ("We put that song in, I'm proud to say, before Bohemian Rhapsody," Blackman boasts, laughing.)
"I don't just say, 'Let's play a cool song,'" Blackman says of his process. "I write them in the script." Typically, that meant finding songs that could act as ironic counterparts to the action happening on screen: "In the pilot, when we're in Griddy's with Five [Aidan Gallagher] and he's shooting everyone up, I put a song, They Might Be Giants' "Istanbul," which really shouldn't work with what's going on, but was great."
"I went out of my way to find songs that shouldn't work in a scene, and they did. Other times, I just wanted to pull at the heartstrings," he adds.
Still, there's a big difference between crafting a TV soundtrack and a playlist; you can't simply plug in your favorite singles and hit play. "If it doesn't work well, you can't just play that song. You have to find a place where it really fits," he says, pointing to Radiohead's "Exit Music (For a Film)," which plays over a pivotal scene in Episode 7 and is a song Blackman always dreamt of using someday. "I think we found a place for it — when it gets in that crescendo and he's screaming, and that's when you see Vanya [Ellen Page] in full glory."
Ultimately, the showrunner's approach to The Umbrella Academy's music cues boils down to this: "I say, 'How is this going to help me tell a story? Will it make you feel happy at home or sad?'"
Tom Hopper, who plays Luther, agrees: "What I love about the music in the show is, it's not just thrown in there willy-nilly. It's very specific. It compliments the moments so well."
Netflix has yet to renew The Umbrella Academy for a Season 2 — although judging by the enthusiastic reaction from fans, that could happen sooner rather than later. If/when that announcement comes, Blackman's ready.
"If we're lucky enough to get a Season 2 — and we haven't got one yet, I hope we do — I've got big plans for where we're going. I have a very good sense of what I would do for Season 2 and 3," he says.
Including many, many more soundtrack ideas. "Oh, I have a long list," he promises.
Meanwhile, The Umbrella Academy cast has a list of their own, telling SYFY WIRE their dream picks for a potential Season 2 soundtrack (provided Netflix passes the aux cord):
Tom Hopper (Luther): We have a Queen song in the show already, but I love Queen so much that I think you could pop another one in there. From a personal standpoint, I'd like to see Kasabian. They're a big, big band in the UK, and they're from my hometown. They've got some amazing tunes that I think would fit in our show really well.
Emmy Raver-Lampman (Allison): Prince needs to show up, I think. Michael Jackson. I feel like Simon and Garfunkel would fit in there really well.
Robert Sheehan (Klaus): I'd like to see "Careless Whisper" by George Michael.
Cameron Britton (Hazel): I would be down for some more weird, folky, '60s, '70s stuff. "So Far Away" by Carole King.
David Castañeda (Diego): I'd like to see "O.P.P." [Naughty By Nature]. "You down with OPP? Yeah, you know me!" I would love to see that.
What songs would you want to see in The Umbrella Academy Season 2?