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The Umbrella Academy: We Only See Each Other at Weddings and Funerals

Right from the comics, by illustrator Gabriel Bá and My Chemical Romance vocalist Gerard Way, comes the winter hit of Netflix nobody saw coming. Picture a love child between the X-Men and the dysfunctional Bluths, and you’ll have the Hargreeves siblings of The Umbrella Academy.

I must confess that I myself have yet the chance to read the comics this series is inspired by, but from what I understand, the premises don’t differ much at all. On the same day down to the same minute, 43 women across the globe give birth despite not showing any signs of pregnancy up until labor. Irregular and reclusive billionaire Sir Reginald Hargreeves scouts out these women and is able to compensate only seven of them in exchange for adopting their children, all which supposedly have been born with unique abilities. For reasons known only for himself, Hargreeves raises these youths, with assistance from an android-caretaker (appropriately referred to as ‘Mom’ by the children) and an exceptionally intelligent chimp named Pogo, into becoming a team of superheroes called ‘The Umbrella Academy’.

Right away, a premise like this that takes its own shot at subverting the superhero genre had my attention and, after the pilot episode, went on to dominate the rest of my week as I binged through its first season. From the get-go, it became clear that The Umbrella Academy is a show that is much more character-centered than it is plot-centered. This is not to say The Umbrella Academy lacks any signs of a narrative, but the series’ heart and soul is the dissection and exploration of the seven Hargreeves siblings who, in ‘We Only See Each Other at Weddings and Funerals’, are reunited years later after hearing the news that father Hargreeves has passed away.

#1: Luther Hargreeves/Spaceboy. The former leader of the Umbrella Academy, Luther is the teammate with incredible super strength that is practically mandatory at this point for every group of superheroes. Presently, he operates as an astronaut exploring Earth’s moon, but returns to Earth once he learns of father Hargreeves’ passing. Picture Superman if Superman wasn’t very talented at inspiring morale or teamwork in his Justice League compatriots, and you’ll have Luther.

#2: Diego Hargreeves/The Kraken. In many ways the antithesis to Luther, Diego is a reckless hothead on the outside, and a bit of a momma’s boy on the inside. And unlike Luther, who maintained complete trust and faith in father Hargreeves until the end, Diego (as well as #3 and #4) has a fiery hatred for their father due to his cold, unfeeling, and abusive manner towards the children while they were growing up. Diego has the ability of accurate and expert marksmanship, and a dagger is his preferred weapon.

#3: Allison Hargreeves/The Rumor. Currently an aspiring actress, Allison returns home with her siblings while in the midst of a divorce, and if that weren’t bad enough, she has also lost complete custody of her daughter. Though her distaste doesn’t seem as passionate as Diego’s, she too harbors resentment for father Hargreeves. She has the ability to alter reality itself by beginning her wishes with the phrase “I heard a rumor…”

#4: Klaus Hargreeves/The Séance. Eccentric, drug-addicted, and in possession of a wardrobe that reaches every point of the spectrum, Klaus could be seen as the academy’s ‘wild card’ currently. On the surface he appears to demonstrate wit and an infectious energy for life, but internally, he loathes father Hargreeves, and blames him as well for being the catalyst for Klaus turning to his unhealthy habits. Klaus has the ability to talk to the deceased, but can only perform this when he is sober.

#5: Number Five/The Boy. Years before the start of the series, Number Five mysteriously vanished without a trace, and soon after, the Hargreeves siblings would begin to go their separate ways. In the pilot, Number Five returns, still in the form of his thirteen year-old self, with a warning from the future – the world will end in eight days, and Five has no idea what causes it. Though Five does genuinely seem to still care for his siblings, so much time spent lost in the space-time continuum has made him cynical, jaded, arrogant, and with a very relatable dependence on black coffee. Five has the ability to teleport, both through space and time.

#6: Ben Hargreeves/The Horror (Deceased). Killed or passed away by unknown means, Ben’s death seems to have been another factor that drove apart the Hargreeves siblings. Aside from the fact that he has an ability to generate monstrous limbs and tentacles from his body, (which he does not relish) little else is known about Ben. Thanks to Klaus’ ability to talk to the dead though, Ben is still able to keep in touch with at least one of his siblings.

#7: Vanya Hargreeves/The White Violin. A talented violinist, Vanya seems to be the only sibling without any sign of an ability. Her entire childhood under father Hargreeves’ roof has consisted more of her acting as an assistant to train the other, powered children, and being told that there just isn’t anything special about her. Despite this, Vanya doesn’t hesitate to return home and reunite with her siblings once she hears the news about Sir Hargreeves. Since leaving home, Vanya has published a book detailing the secrets of the Umbrella Academy, and outing her siblings’ identities as well, which seems to have created a rift between her and Diego.

This is a show that has nicely mastered the practice of raising some mysteries and inquiries, while also still giving the audience just enough answers to chew on for the current episode’s forty-five minute run. From the memorial service onwards, the pilot continues with scenes upon scenes dedicated to simply fleshing out these characters: what they’ve been up to since they parted ways, their relationships with each other, which siblings they bear grudges against, and which ones they’re still loyal to. But because this is the introductory episode, it does have its moments here and there that are committed for pure exposition. For example, a scene featuring Vanya reuniting with Pogo and touring the old mansion where everyone was raised abruptly transitions to the two of them specifically discussing how many days it’s been since Five disappeared, which feels less like natural dialogue, and more like something needed to catch the audience up on Five’s backstory.

As a result of this being a setting where individuals with super-powers do exist, it’s evident from the beginning that this isn’t going to be a world exactly like the planet Earth the spectating audience is used to. What’s so engaging about The Umbrella Academy is that it just doesn’t stop there; there’s a lot of effort here put into the world-building to distinguish this series’ timeline as something that bears some similarities to our own timeline, but is clearly another world altogether. By the time we are introduced to Grace, the children’s android caretaker, and Pogo, I actually realized I didn’t even need elaborations from this show on their own backstories; I had just become so accustomed that this was a world with its own unique scientific advances and phenomena. Once you’ve laid down the law that time travel can and does exist, pretty much anything else goes.

Time flew by during my first viewing of this episode and once Five dropped the bombshell that the world is heading towards an imminent apocalypse and the credits rolled, I was hooked. The Umbrella Academy has a great start for those that enjoy nuanced characters as much, if not more, as they do good story-telling. Because only one episode is a little early for someone to be playing favorites, I suppose I won’t mention then how charmed I immediately became with the characters of Klaus and Five. Then again, from the looks of the internet around me, I seem to not be alone with that favoring.

Name That Tune:

Another wonderful takeaway from this series is its soundtrack, which sifts through multiple genres each episode, and while it often falls back on the trope of playing an upbeat tune to an otherwise extreme fight sequence, it has given me plenty of new additions to my iTunes library, starting with ‘Istanbul’ by They Might Be Giants. Never a song I would’ve thought I’d hear play during a gunfight conflict in a coffee-and-donut shop, yet here we are.

Hargreeves Humor:

Luther: “Look, I know you don't like to do it, but I need you to talk to Dad.”
Klaus: “I can't just call Dad in the afterlife and be like, 'Dad, could you just stop playing tennis with Hitler for a moment and take a quick call?'"

Five: “An entire square block. Forty-two bedrooms, 19 bathrooms, but no, not a single drop of coffee.”
Allison: “Dad hated caffeine.”
Klaus: “Well, he hated children, too, and he had plenty of us.”

Five: “Guess I missed the funeral.”
Luther: “How'd you know about that?”
Five: “What part of the future do you not understand?”

Aaron Studer loves spending his time reading, writing and defending the existence of cryptids because they can’t do it themselves.

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