The Umbrella Academy review: heartwarming dysfunction

Family and superhero antics don’t mix in The Umbrella Academy, on Netflix 15 February

Following the death of their cruel adopted father, the five surviving members of the childhood superhero team the Umbrella Academy – and their unpowered sister Vanya (Ellen Page) – reunite. Rather than being a story about a group of superheroes saving the world (although they were superheroes, and they do have an apocalypse to stop), The Umbrella Academy is about a dysfunctional family who hate themselves even more than they hate each other.

In its determination to not be a ‘typical superhero show’, The Umbrella Academy has unfortunately thrown the baby out with the bath water. Where the comic (by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá) indulged in darkly weird and fantastical interludes, the series plays it more or less straight, with unusual musical choices standing in for creative boldness. It also, as with many Netflix shows at the moment, feels stretched at ten episodes, with a subplot involving time travelling assassins feeling especially dragged out.

That said, the cast are uniformly excellent, and boast some of the best chemistry seen on TV in a while. Whenever any of the Hargreeve siblings are interacting, the show sings. Each of the siblings are fleshed out beyond their comic book counterparts, and they all develop believably across the course of the show. Aidan Gallagher, as the somehow de-aged teleporter and time-traveller Number Five, is an early stand-out, but as the show goes on it’s Robert Sheehan’s Klaus who becomes the most interesting, as he peels back layers of zaniness to reveal the damaged and unloved soul underneath. Page has the difficult task of playing a character whose constant low-level depression leaves her emotionally flat, but the character begins to come to life as she starts to mine the anger at the heart of Vanya’s struggle with her family.

The show is a little bit more conventional than it should be, but the character work is genuinely brilliant, and it’s a funny, enjoyable, oddly heartwarming watch.