It can be said that I went into watching Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy pretty biased, being a My Chemical Romance mega-fan and long-time reader of Gerard Way’s comics. I had high hopes, and my expectations of Way’s vision may have been inflated by the hype I built up in my head about how amazing this show was going to be. The comics were triumphant, the trailers for the show ticked a lot of boxes, and I have so much faith in Gerard Way and his creative direction that there was no way this show was going to disappoint. So did it live up to my impossibly high expectation? No, it didn’t. It exceeded those expectations by miles and came out so much more than I had imagined, I am left reeling from how much the show did right. I heard a rumour that this show was going to be awesome, and the rumours were true. So join me as I look into what made it such a hit, and how The Umbrella Academy became my favourite super heroes.
First up I would like to talk about the characters in the show. I did have my issues with some of them but overall I enjoyed the casting choices. Number 5 was so much like his comic character; I have to give credit to Aidan Gallagher who clearly did his research. I also really enjoyed Kate Walsh as The Handler. She was giving me Hunger Games vibes and I loved her look. I also think John Magaro played the bad guy really well. As a reader of the comics, I expected him to be evil, but I really enjoyed his story as this was much more in-depth than in the comics. I do feel like Diego (David Castaneda) was somewhat overlooked in comparison to the others, but I did enjoy his relationship with Detective Patch. While all of the characters had their good points, for me the whole series was stolen by Hazel and Cha Cha, Klaus, and Vanya. I found myself waiting for them to come back on screen and wanting more of their particular stories than anyone else. I didn’t think I could love these characters any more than I already did from reading the comics, but the show gave us so much more; they were developed even further and I loved seeing their stories play out. Let’s take a look at them in more detail, starting with those super cute serial killers, Hazel and Cha Cha.
Mary J. Blige is without doubt a music legend, earning her place with the high ranking music icons with her R&B back catalogue and red carpet style. So when she was cast as Cha Cha for this show I was thrilled. A little confused as to why, but mostly just thrilled. I wasn’t aware of any acting career so thought maybe she had been brought in due to her music, as Way is obviously a huge music fan. Doing a bit of Googling now, however, I see she has acted before, even in a live version of The Wiz! THERE’S A LIVE VERSION OF THE WIZ?! Mental note to find that later. But acting career aside, Mary J. Blige plays Cha Cha excellently, and now that the show has finished I can’t imagine anyone else playing the part. Her gritty portrayal is perfect, and she looks so good in a suit I can’t stress that enough. When the first trailers came around and we saw Hazel and Cha Cha without their masks, I was a little bit disappointed, as in the comics they always have those cartoon heads. But now I see why they chose to reveal their faces, and as we got so much more of a story with these characters, it was absolutely the right choice to make. Plus, Blige’s haircut is too cool not to see it paired with the suit.
Then we have Hazel, portrayed by Cameron Britton, another brilliant casting choice. His character sits so well beside Blige’s Cha Cha, the viewer really feels the chemistry they have, and it’s easy to believe they really do work together as time-traveling bounty hunters. They’re both killers, of course, but while Cha Cha is 100% cold blooded, Hazel is quite the opposite. He has grown tired of the job and wants to get out, to be free to kill people he wants to, not just who he is instructed to. So he’s still a killer, but a killer with feelings. His budding relationship with Agnes the donut lady is sweet and a real treat to watch. It’s another surprise for the comic fans, as we were never shown this side of Hazel before. Britton looks great as Hazel. He’s a big, burly thug at first appearance, but slowly becomes a big, lovable bear once he meets Agnes. He’s the perfect counter-balance to Cha Cha, and as a pair, they give so much more depth to the characters than the comics did. The comics would have us believe they were just hired assassins, living only for the next job. And while Cha Cha does live like this in the show, Hazel is given this extra layer of character, and I just loved it.
One scene from this dastardly duo in particular that has stuck with me is when Hazel has tied Cha Cha to the radiator in the motel, after they each receive instructions from (they believe) their employers to kill one another. Cha Cha is saying awful things to Hazel, trying to get him to react, to kill her, but she knows he won’t because she thinks he is weak. She insults him, she insults Agnes, and she warns Hazel that if he doesn’t kill her right now she will find him and his “whore” and kill them. She says she will kill Agnes slowly so that he can watch. After raising his gun to her head and considering it for a moment, Hazel walks away, taking Cha Cha’s gun with him. Once outside, he closes the door on Cha Cha, who is still shouting abuse at him, and he starts to sob. The idea of this killer sobbing over his partner saying mean things to him is both hilarious and heartbreaking all at once. It made a solitary tear roll down my cheek, and I’m not ashamed to admit that. As a viewer, I loved Hazel by this point, and I also loved Cha Cha. So for them to be fighting like this was a sad moment for sure. But what’s sadder is the idea that Hazel won’t get his happy ending with Agnes. (Obviously I was thrilled when we saw them escape the apocalypse together at the very last minute!)
So next up we have Klaus, possibly the oddest member of the Hargreeves family and full-time party boy/ghost whisperer. I can’t mention enough how amazing I thought Robert Sheehan was in this role. I was already a fan since his Misfits days, but with Klaus he showed us a side to his acting ability that reached new heights. In the beginning I had my issues, as any mega-fan of the comics would. Why isn’t he red-haired? Why isn’t he dead? Why isn’t he levitating? And so one. But as the show progressed, this new vision of Klaus became even stronger than the one I already knew and loved. Sheehan was the perfect choice for the role, I see that now, and I thoroughly enjoyed his portrayal of Klaus. The backstory of his childhood trauma was rough to watch and explained his drug abuse a lot more. If seeing and hearing the dead wasn’t already enough reason to turn to drugs, being locked in the dark by your father when you’re a child certainly would be. Hargreeves was tough on him growing up, as he was with most of his children, but I think Klaus in particular was given a really rough ride. We do have the Heaven scene, were his father states that everything he did was to protect the children, so making Klaus face his fears was to help him develop his powers, but it still seems pretty shitty to lock a child in the dark while they’re haunted by numerous screaming ghosts. So I understand Klaus’ drug abuse and don’t hold it against him.
Klaus’ look was a perfect fit for the show, and though different from the comics, elements of the original Klaus were enough for me. The palm tattoos, the eye liner—Sheehan really sold us that Séance look, and I ate it up. And I think his personality was on point too. He’s the jolliest of the Hargreeves siblings, possibly due to being high all the time, but he brings a much-needed light to an otherwise dark family. And what I loved about Sheehan’s Klaus is that when we were allowed to scratch the surface, we discovered another side to the character that we hadn’t witnessed before. When thrown back in time by Hazel’s briefcase, Klaus appears in the midst of the Vietnam War, and is there with the soldiers on the front line. That’s where he meets Dave, his first love, and another great loss for Klaus when he is killed by enemy fire just months after they met. Some of my favourite Klaus scenes were after his time in the war, when we saw him privately mourning this great love he had experienced. For Klaus, he had spent months in the trenches with Dave, falling in love whilst surrounded by death. But to his family, no time at all had passed, so no one could understand what he was going through when he returned. It’s another heart breaker for the show and it made me feel even more strongly for Klaus than I already did.
And now to miss Vanya Hargreeves. Wow, where do I start?! First, I must say I already loved Ellen Page long before it was announced that she would be playing Vanya, AKA the White Violin. So when I did hear that she had been cast as my favourite Umbrella villain I was over the moon. I did find myself waiting for her to turn white and go full evil around episode two, but in hindsight, I’m glad that this didn’t happen until later on in the series. I am still slightly disappointed that she didn’t take on the full comic book look of the White Violin (completely white nude body like a mannequin with violin markings on her torso in contrasting black) but I can live with what we were given. And Page was again a perfect casting choice, in my opinion. Seeing her as the forgotten Hargreeves child was heartbreaking, particularly when we were shown flashbacks to her childhood. Constantly told she wasn’t special by her father, overlooked by her siblings, and as revealed late on we find that her sister had actually used her power against her to make her forget that she had a super power. Vanya’s story is a great spin on the classic villain backstory and I think that the show adapted it to screen brilliantly.
While I did love all of Vanya’s story, I have to admit I really loved her character once she turned to villainy. I already knew, thanks to the comics, that she would take away Rumour’s voice leaving her without any special powers, and I also knew she would kill Pogo. But what I didn’t know was how powerful these events would be on screen. I was left open-mouthed and with goosebumps more than once. The scene where she attacks Allison was harder to watch than in the comics as she instantly regrets it. In the comic, Vanya slits her sister’s throat and simply walks away. To see Page weeping over Allison’s body, believing that she has killed her was gut-wrenching. I wasn’t prepared for Vanya’s remorse. Again with Pogo’s death, in the comic it was a great scene, she says, “You were right Pogo. I AM special” and then makes his head explode. This was shocking enough, but what we see her do to him in the show is even worse. The way she stands staring at his dead body, no emotion on her face at all is haunting. This is when we realise that there’s no turning back. Vanya is gone, and the White Violin is here.
Onto Page’s look as Vanya. Throughout the show I think Page did a great job portraying Vanya’s awkward, apologising characteristics. She plays hurt really well and something about her big beautiful eyes always makes me a little sad, so this worked in her favour and made us feel for Vanya at every step. And when she starts turning evil, I was blown away. The scene where she escapes the cell that her siblings have left her in, and we see her pale white face and dark eyes, she looked incredible. Not just as the character, but I honestly believe Ellen Page should start doing her makeup like this all the time. She was stunning! And then she goes and puts on a suit, cranking the fashion up to level 10. I absolutely loved how she looked making her way to the concert in the finale. And then she starts transforming into a more recognisable White Violin as her deadly music inches to its crescendo. She looked almost angelic, radiating pure white light as her haunting song played on. I would have liked to see the statuesque Vanya I loved in the comics, but I think the white suit and light worked really well too. I knew Ellen Page was going to be good in this, but she exceeded my expectations and truly stole the show for me.
To round up this article on my new favourite superhero show, I’d like to talk about the overall feel of the show, and what I think worked well and what I think didn’t work so well, if anything. The comics were dark, and the humour and writing were darker. The show felt lighter, though still covering the same themes and stories. I think a lot of this had to do with the soundtrack. Some truly awesome scenes were made even slicker with the use of killer tracks, from Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now” in Episode 1, to Gerard Way’s “Hazy Shade of Winter” used as the final credits rolled, the music was spectacular and expertly chosen to fit the scenes they accompanied. Queen, Radiohead, Heart, Way’s decadent taste in music is evident throughout and I for one will be buying the soundtrack on vinyl as soon as I can. I’m also hoping for a Blu Ray release as I would love to see some of the behind the scenes action. I would also welcome a few hours of deleted scenes with open arms.
Something else I need to touch upon is some of the relationships between the characters. First of all Luther and Allison, who I think could possibly have been taken further. The comics made us believe they were truly in love with one another, whereas in the show, this is only briefly hinted at in comparison. I think this was mainly due to the addition of Allison’s former relationship and young child. These weren’t factors in the comics and we kind of felt they had only ever loved each other, despite not quite becoming a couple. I did enjoy the scene where the grown-up Luther and Alison had the picnic in the tent they used as a secret den as children. It was reminiscent of Richie and Margot in The Royal Tenenbaums, and I have all the time in the world for that. I also really enjoyed the relationship between Klaus and the ghost of his deceased brother Ben. Ben was never really in the comics, he was already dead in issue one, so the addition of his ghost constantly by Klaus’ side was a brilliant idea. I like how Ben acted like Klaus’ conscience, helping him resist drugs, which ultimately led to the “Patrick Swayze moment” and Klaus developing his powers. The scene in the final fight where Klaus was able to make Ben manifest in full beast mode was excellent. It always felt like a missed opportunity to not have Ben in the comics so I was really happy to see him in this way.
And while we’re on the subject of the final episode, I have to mention how much I enjoyed it. Vanya’s descent into evil, the siblings banding together to take her on, Hazel crashing the car to get away from Cha Cha and back to Agnes, Hazel killing the handler (I didn’t see that coming!) and the White Violin taking form. There was so much to take in and I was on the edge of my seat throughout. I did kind of have an idea about how it would end thanks to the comics, but due to the small changes we had already been given, I was anticipating some surprises. Ben manifesting as his monster, Hazel escaping using the handler’s briefcase, and the apocalypse cliffhanger were all sweet little treats that differed from the comics, so I enjoyed them a lot. I also enjoyed Diego’s decision not to kill Cha Cha. It shows us he’s growing as a person, and it let us see her get swallowed by the fires of the apocalypse, which she definitely deserved. For me the final episode was perfect and left us wanting more as soon as the final scene faded to black. Fingers crossed for a Season 2!
I could honestly talk about this show all day, but as this isn’t a novel, I’ll wrap this up. Overall I absolutely loved The Umbrella Academy. And as a fan of the comics, I wasn’t disappointed. Even elements that were missing are understandable, and we were given so much more than what was in the comics that I feel more than compensated. The casting was brilliant, the music was phenomenal, the pacing of the show always left you wanting another episode and never felt dull. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it once more, for me Ellen Page stole the show. I enjoyed all of the characters but she was just awesome. My only complaint would be that we didn’t see enough of evil Vanya. I also loved the look of the show, the camera angles, and colours were always so slick and modern, it was delicious to look at. I find myself already longing for more episodes, but for now I’m going back to Episode 1 to start all over again. I heard a rumour that it’s even more enjoyable on the second viewing…