Welcome to the next installment in Glorious or Garbage. This week we will look at a show that has been collecting accolades from all around the world. For the last week, my Twitter has been lit afire with glowing reviews, so I finally took the plunge to see if the hype is real.
Quick answer: Yes, it is.
Right out of the gate, TUC deals in two tropes that have been plundered for decades: the superhero team, and the ever popular school for misfits/powered individuals. It’s a remarkable achievement that the show manages to put unique spins on two of the most overused tropes in all of modern media. It would have been effortless, and lazy, to crap out a by-the-numbers X-Men knockoff, yet the Umbrella Academy succeeds where so many others have failed.
First, let me extol the virtues of both the set and costume design. This show both looks and feels like a high budget, fully cinematic experience. I never thought I’d see the day that a tv show could achieve full cinematic parity in terms of effects, costuming, and set design of this level. Every shot is sculpted with care, evoking a unique vibe of retro futurism, steam punk, and modern styles all blending into one show that looks like nothing else. The effects on a character such as Pogo are operating at a level rarely seem on the small screen, matching the effects of a blockbuster film such as Planet of the Apes. Having heaped all of this praise, I will say there are a few moments I felt were overdone as though they were showing off, but that is a minor complaint next to the staggering levels of quality.
Second, the characters and their motivations were operating at an extremely high level. From the drug-induced stupors and ranting of Klaus, to the parental struggles of Allison, these characters all bore depth and motivations, making their reasoning and decisions completely identifiable. Even the “side characters” such as Pogo and Cha-Cha appeared as real individuals, and not cardboard cutouts of tropes. My only complaint here would be Vanja, portrayed by Ellen Page. I realize aggressive blandness is part of the character, and being “ordinary” in a family full of powered individuals is her entire arc, but Page never seems to fully let go, even in moments of extreme emotions. A minor complaint to be sure, but one I noticed throughout.
All told, it looks incredible, characters are brilliant, and the plot is a fun romp. If I were to level any criticisms, I would say several plot elements, that although executed brilliantly, were predictable. None of the twists even remotely caught me off guard, and I had the ending pegged within the first five episodes. Second, the inherent issues involving time travel that went somewhat unaddressed, such as minor butterfly effects that ripple forward into huge events, or other copies of oneself existing in different places. In any case, these negatives pale next to the overwhelmingly high level of quality throughout.
Ultimately, The Umbrella Academy succeeds where many others settled into mediocrity. Exceptional characters, acting, and craftsmanship elevate this series to a level few modern shows, especially of the superhero/school variety, have reached. It seems every other show nowadays is attempting to play on these tropes, yet Umbrella Academy stands atop the heap as an exemplar of how to use these tropes to great effect, and craft them in a unique manner. Brilliant casting, effects, and above all, interesting elements place this show in the upper echelon of modern television, achieving full cinematic quality in the process.
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