Welcome to What’s the Buzz, 25YL’s feature where members of our staff provide you with recommendations on a weekly basis. In our internet age, there is so much out there to think about watching, reading, listening to, etc., that it can be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, filter out the noise, or find those diamonds in the rough. But have no fear! We’re here to help you do that thing I just described with three different metaphors. Each week a rotating cast of writers will offer their recommendations based on things they have discovered. They won’t always be new to the world, but they’ll be new to us, or we hope new to you. This week, Cat Smith gave in and watched The Umbrella Academy, Rachel Stewart is listening to Tim Curry’s music on …from the vaults, and Ali Sciarabba recommends The Renner Files.
I Heard A Rumour…That I Actually Enjoyed The Umbrella Academy
Cat: I’m late to a lot of parties. And among people who know me, I am sort of notorious for not being a fan of superhero stories. Nothing against them or the people who dig that kind of thing, I’m just not one of them. The other thing you need to know is that my sister and I, apart from a great mutual love of The West Wing, don’t typically like the same kind of TV. She knows all these things, so when she started trying to hard sell me The Umbrella Academy, I was a little confused.
All I knew about it was that it was based on a comic, there were people with superpowers, and it looked like a whole bunch of things I don’t like, on parade. But I needed a new show, and even if I wound up not liking it, I figured there are worse reasons to watch something than because your sister wants you to. And I’m glad I did, because I did wind up liking it…I’m just not sure if I like it for the reasons I’m supposed to.
First impressions didn’t do this show well for me, nor did everyone else’s perception. I certainly had to push my way through the pilot. But as I watched, I kept thinking, this is so not a superhero story. This is a family dysfunction story, in the form of a great big Angel episode…and THAT I could get behind.
Sure, the people have superpowers. Whatever. Apart from the Teen Titan masks they all wore as kids, we never really see the team use them to fight crime, and if we did, it was way downplayed. I can relate their things to Team Angel pretty easily if I want to—and The Commission? Please. It’s their version of the Senior Partners, planning the apocalypse. Imagine if Wolfram and Hart had been decorated by David Lynch. In addition to that, S1 had Hazel and Cha-Cha in their own little Quentin Tarantino film (briefcase, bullets and everything), and S2 brought in the Swedes, who brought a Coen brothers film with them. Imagine if the Peacock brothers were all played by Peter Stormare. Oh, and S2 also has the Consortium from The X-Files, only with no aliens…just presidential assassinations.
Season 2 gets all timey-wimey (no, they don’t make any deliberate Doctor Who shoutouts, except for the one guy very deliberately saying “yowza” in the finale, which I am choosing to believe is a nod), and they wind up in 1963, all involved in the JFK assassination. We’ve all seen Quantum Leap, we know you can’t stop the JFK assassination because it is what the Doctor would call a fixed point (and really, their apocalypse turns out to be akin to the Doctor in Pompeii, if you remember that one). But S2 is where the show gets fun, honestly. The siblings all like each other by now, while not so much in S1, and there’s kind of a charm to their dysfunction now. In S1, it felt like the show was still figuring itself out, which is often the case.
I, like everyone else, am absolutely blown away by Aidan Gallagher as Five. Talk about someone who took all the good DNA. The kid is ridiculously talented, and not in that organic child actor way—he’s doing the WORK. He knows what the work is, and he is kicking its ass. Were I 13, posters of him would be all over the walls of my bedroom, and I would be jealous of Dolores, the mannequin who is to him what the volleyball was to Tom Hanks that time.
Everyone told me I was going to get a big kick out of Klaus, and I eventually did, but he in particular took a while to grow on me. “I see dead people” powers aside, I have known SO many of That Guy, oftentimes dating That Guy—to the point where, midway through S2, when Klaus is running his own cult based on his gospels which are actually ’90s song lyrics, I texted my sister to tell her that my main issue with Klaus is that I couldn’t look at him without remembering all those renfair/SCA/hippie type guys I crushed on or hooked up with or whatever, and I would see Klaus and know in my gut exactly what he smells like (that not-unpleasant combination of patchouli, cigarettes, and vaguely unwashed body).
Another thing everyone kept raving about was the soundtrack, and that was another thing I had to figure out. At first, it seemed a little on the nose…you know how, in Forrest Gump, he’s running, so Zemeckis found every song in the world with the word “running” in it? But Zemeckis wasn’t doing it ironically, and it turned out that a lot of the time, The Umbrella Academy really was. Once I realized that I was supposed to be rolling my eyes and giggling as they set Klaus’s antics to Adam Ant, I felt much better. In fact, that was one of the things I really dug about the series—I think they were trying to keep you guessing as to what you were supposed to find ironic, and what you weren’t. It’s like they knew that everyone who watched this (well, not me) was going to be making X-Men comparisons, and they wanted to both own that and shake it up at the same time. It’s fun.
Number 7, Vanya (Ellen Page) is the one with the biggest, scariest whammy—to the point where “dad” (and while this show makes lovely statements about adopted siblings being family despite lack of blood-relation, YIKES do the adoptive parents consistently suck) doesn’t even bother to train her anymore. He dopes and locks her up, tells her she’s ordinary and a disappointment, and of course finally her powers explode out of her, almost taking the world with them. I kept waiting to hear someone say “conceal, don’t feel” to her, and expecting her to break into “Let It Go” any second…really, Vanya’s whole deal speaks to me as more of a metaphor for autism than Frozen ever did, especially in S2, when she accidentally passes on some of her whammy to the young autistic boy she is nannying in 1963.
I’ll admit, it took me a while for me to stop thinking of Luther as “not-Jensen-Ackles”, and Pogo as An Ape Named Ape, but that’s not their fault. Almost more surprising than anything else was seeing Kevin Rankin not playing a redneck for once—he’s playing a conspiracy theorist, which he also wears frighteningly well. And I have to believe that The Handler was a gift to the cosplay community, since her outfits kept getting more and more outrageous and fun. Oh, and I crush Ritu Arya hardcore.
So, congratulations, Umbrella Academy—I enjoyed you when I was positive I wouldn’t (though I still don’t think of it as a superhero story). And no, the irony of my sister being the one to sell me on a show about dysfunctional siblings is not lost on me…but next time she is this keen for me to watch something, I will probably resist less before I listen.