Saturday, March 9, 2019

An Old Nerd Gets Very Vaguely Spoilery In Order To Be Ambivalent About Umbrella Academy

Be advised that the actual show is way less colorful and high contrast than this.
Continuing a run through Netflix genre drama, I’ve now watched the first season of The Umbrella Academy, and it’s... fine? There are no explicit spoilers ahead, but I have to complain about things that will allow you to figure out plot points in advance as you watch it. But you kinda don’t need to watch it.

The Umbrella Academy is very 80’s.Not in an “X-Men Apocalypse” set in the 90’s ha ha malls” kind of way, but rather, taking inspiration from comics of the 80’s. Umbrella Academy is basically “The Dark Phoenix Saga” meets “Watchmen”.

It’s very much of that “being a superhero will fuck youi up” dark gritty realistic genre of your Watchmens, your Miraclemans, or, later, your Astro Cities and your Dark Knights Riseses. And it’s also about a team of cough cough not mutants who go through a Dark Phoenix Saga type story that’s telegraphed in episode 1 and you wonder through the whole thing whether they’re gonna do it or not and yeah, they do it. 

If you asked me to tally up the individual elements of The Umbrella Academy and ask me, for each one, did I enjoy it or not, the result would come in at around 70%. There’s a lot of good, strong character work and worldbuilding going on here. Good acting, decent writing, really solid effects. 

But as a whole, I found it overlong and unsatisfying. At ten one hour episodes, it’s two to three hours too long - two to three hours that could have been spent, um, resolving the plot instead of setting up for a second season. Maybe Russian Doll spoiled me, but if I put ten hours into something and all I get out of it is some costuming and some incremental character development, I get cranky.

The whole thing is set in a weird retrofuture where I guess the integrated circuit was never invented. Everything is very deliberately analog. No computers, no phones, not even a Walkman to be found. This makes certain otherwise easily solvable aspects of the plotting work, and those are the only points where you really notice and wonder why they aren’t just texting each other?

The show also dips into the prestige TV tropes of The Showrunner Has A Vinyl Collection and random surrealism, usually tied together. The first time it happens, it’s great, and really gives you a lot of character work in a short time. It’s diminishing returns from then on.

So, will I watch a second season, should it happen? Maybe. It hasn’t earned a binge-it-right-away slot, or even a make-room-for-it-in-a-month-or-so slot. But it could fill a dead time in other media. We’ll see.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you. Several people where I work keep asking me if I've seen this yet. I was on the fence anyway but it sounds like I'd be better off skipping this one. I have too much other shit to watch as it is.