It was bound to happen with AMC’s success of The Walking Dead, soon to become a movie franchise on top of multiple television spin-offs… Netflix purchased the screen rights to a comic book franchise that is fairly new (without decades of plots to borrow) and produced a ten-episode series based on Dark Horse comics’ The Umbrella Academy.
In the comics the story takes place in an alternate world but in the Netflix rendition, one suspects the events happen in our reality. Between the two, the premise is basically identical: 43 children were born on the exact same day to women who were not, moments prior to giving birth, pregnant. Seven of those children were tracked down by Sir Reginald Hargreeves (an alien who also goes by the Monacle). When he was asked why he adopted those children, he responded, “To save the world, of course.” Flash forward a few years later and the children are successful crime fighters. But like all siblings with “issues,” each went their own way and estranged, are brought together when their father-figure passes away. The mystery only deepens when they discover their robot mother was responsible for killing their adopted father, the talking money servant knows Hargreeves’ secret, and one of the siblings (a time traveler) returns from the future with a warning about the apocalypse… which will happen in a few days.
Add time traveling bounty hunters, a talking monkey, a fetish for donuts, a dead son who tortures an addict, a killer mannequin and seven children with super powers, and you have yourself a twisted series meant to cash in on the comic book-to-screen adaptation craze… and Netflix may have a big hit on their hands. Like Lost, there is enough mystery (with clues) to keep you figuring out what is going on without explanations. Like Preacher, the off-beat sequences (often inspired by music videos) remain fresh and fun. Unlike Preacher, the sequences do not go overboard.
Netflix proved they do not need Marvel Studios. Rumor has it the cancellations of Marvel TV programs is the result of Disney’s new streaming service, while third-party sources indicate declining viewership for the Marvel programs. While shows like Daredevil, Jessica Jones and The Punisher were well-conceived, the plotting was poor with Iron Fist and Luke Cage. Regardless of the reason, The Umbrella Academy will more than likely become the next big hit on Netflix, and it seems unlikely the series will be cancelled pre-maturely.
The cast, the special effects and the plotting is solid, exceeding most of the exclusive productions offered through the Netflix streaming service. (Episode six, “The Day That Wasn’t,” had an ending that everyone in the room, myself included, clapping with amusement. Talk about a twist!) Adapting a lesser-known comic book might have been of minor concern before production, but from a business standpoint, Netflix and Dark Horse was shrewd. Graphic novels of The Umbrella Academy will receive a boost in sales and while Disney continues to rely on live action remakes of their popular animated series, along with Marvel and Star Wars sequels, without risking the creation of a new franchise, Netflix applied a different business model for creating a new franchise and this will more than likely pay off.
If Netflix has any competition it would be Syfy’s Deadly Class, simply because more people have access to that television network versus a streaming service. DC Universe launched Doom Patrol, but the biggest complaint among fan boys at conventions is that DC Universe is not accessible with most streaming platforms such as TiVo and Google’s Chromecast. Someone once speculated that Game of Thrones might be the last big television trend because of the numerous platforms watering down viewership. The Umbrella Academy will not exceed the popularity of Game of Thrones, but this series will certainly build a strong enough brand to begin selling merchandise.
The Umbrella Academyis not another cape show; it is character driven, quirky, fun, and provides a dangerously large new audience that might rival Marvel’s television properties. If you were on the fence, give this one a shot.