The Creative Genius Of The Umbrella Academy

2020 is the year when, among other things, people are finally tired of superhero movies. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of the saviours-of-the-world trope, but how long are we going to watch the same people save the world before we realise there’s more to cinema than Marvel and DC? Maybe it was the final credits of Avengers Endgame, or maybe it was the scarily botched attempt to redeem Batman in Justice League, but superhero movies may be reaching their saturation point.

Marvel and DC have indeed dominated the superhero universe for ages, so much so that people have started claiming they’ve ruined cinema and storytelling perpetually. But despite the saturation in the genre, Netflix has introduced a show that’s like a breath of fresh air even though it’s following the same apocalyptic-time-travelling-world-saving phenomena, and that’s The Umbrella Academy.

Centered around the lives of the seven Hargreeves siblings, The Umbrella Academy is based on the comics of the same name created by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá. Explained as “a dysfunctional family show with a body count” by its showrunner Steve Blackman, it has a lot to boast about, including its cast, storyline, the sheer weirdness of the plot points, and its soundtrack. And all of these things come together to make the show a genius product of creative entertainment. Take a look at why we think the Umbrella Academy is amazing, and why it’s a case study for creators and showrunners.

A new take on a saturated genre

Superpowers are overrated, right? That’s what the protagonists of the show think too, except maybe a couple, but that’s a discussion for later. While the show does follow a superheroic story of the siblings saving the world, the nuanced storytelling is the real hook for the audience.

You see, each character has a story that explains the sheer desperation and brokenness they feel, but instead of stretching each story out through an “origin” episode, the viewers are taken back and forth in their respective timelines, creating an interesting shift in storytelling. The premise of the Umbrella Academy is dark, more so in season one, but the twists present themselves in the form of the unique aspects of each character – a talking ape, a robot mom, a human-ape man-child on the moon, a 58-year-old teenager named Five, and a commission of time travellers set to kill him.


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The characters alone are a riot, and their stories keep you hooked despite the storyline edging towards the same old question of how this group of Americans is going to save the world this time.

Satire isn’t dead – Hero complex is…

Despite their popularity, the Marvel and DC movies rely heavily on the hero complex of their characters. The Umbrella Academy, however, dabbles with satire to make fun of the one character who is hell-bent on being the hero – Diego, or Number Two. His hero complex is often commented upon, especially in season 2 where he’s found in a mental asylum talking about his daddy issues (hello Iron Man, take notes please).

Another thing that sets this show apart is how the characters are trying to live normal lives rather than embracing their heroic traits. Allison, or Number 3, is found rejecting her ability to rumour people into doing her bidding because of the cost associated with the ability. Similarly, you see Ben, one of the siblings who died as a kid but has been summoned by Klaus who can communicate with ghosts, acting as a fairly normal character without displaying any of his superpowers.

The point is that the show doesn’t rely on the powers of its characters to build the story, and despite the heroic undertones, the protagonists and antagonists, are depicted as humans, trying to live their normal lives while the world tick-tocks towards doomsday.

Relevant stories always work

While it’s true that TV shows have more room to creatively explore storylines due to their duration, it is also true that a lot of superhero shows like The Flash, or Arrow, were written to the point of fantasy, showing a world where normal human problems seemed far fetched and non-existent. While that provides for great escapism, at the end of the day, entertainment channels hold a responsibility to educate people about their premise and the social lessons attached to their stories. The Umbrella Academy does that and does it well.

In season two of the show, you find (spoiler alert) the cast stuck in the 60s, where Allison and her husband, Raymond Chestnut, are fighting racism in their society to gain media coverage as their city prepares for President Kennedy’s ill-fated visit. The chaos that ensues when they hold a sit-in at a local white diner is as relevant as the Black Lives Matter movement highlighting the systematic racism prevalent in the world.

Not only this, but other storylines follow the same approach of highlighting issues that people still face. The show educates the audience without steering away from the story, creating interesting sub-plots that are relatable to the audience. This shows that as long as you keep your story relevant, it will connect with the audience and generate conversation every time it’s watched or heard.

Evolving stories are the key

A lot of shows let their characters fester away till they finally learn to develop (cue Pakistani drama writers), but the character evolutions in The Umbrella Academy are amazing, and I realized this after watching the first episode of the first season while going through post-season 2 withdrawal. It is astounding to see how the siblings have learnt to accept each other and have started to complement each other’s powers when only a season ago they were at each other’s throats.


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This is a great example of how you can portray growth and learning in your shows to create engaging stories.

Action without Fluff

The action scenes in the show are pretty cool. Watching a teenager fight a group of trained assassins isn’t something you get to see a lot and let me mention the hallway fight scene in season 2, which has been claimed by some to have rivalled the likes of Daredevil’s infamous single-shot fight scenes.

The show is also pretty laid back with the gore and violence ensuing from the fights but in a good way. There are quite a few scenes where you get to see the characters show the combat skills their father trained them for, and each one of them is gripping and inventive.

The antagonists, too, add a bit of flare in each scene they are in. Whether it’s Hazel and Cha Cha from season one or the Swedes from season two, their sequences are a treat to watch and accompanied by the super-cool soundtrack of the show, the fights are a well-deserved break from the wars we’ve seen our favourite superhero troops fight in a CGI world.


I’ve saved the best for last. The soundtrack of The Umbrella Academy deserves a whole other article. The unbelievable use of music in the show is maybe one of the reasons why it’s such a big hit. From the start till the end, every song added to its respective scene serves its purpose better than expected.

Whether it’s the use of Backstreet Boys’ “Everyone” while the characters go through crucial life-changing moments in their storylines; Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” as Five cruises past gunshots to save his life; My Kullsvik’s Swedish cover of Adele’s Hello as the Swedes mourn for their brother, or even Salad Poke Annie as Five assassinates the Commission’s board of directors, the use of music to enhance the impact of the scenes in the show is brilliant and will be a case study for show creators for ages to come.

Oh, and an honorary mention to both the dance sequences in each season.

I think by now you’ve realized that I am a huge, huge fan of The Umbrella Academy, and not without reason. In the world of entertainment saturation and superhero shows sprouting left, right and center, this show presents itself as the outlier, an anomaly that is not only fun to watch, but also one that stays with you long after you’re done binging it. Sure, it follows a superhero storyline as well, but the show has an identity aside from that as well, which is what makes it great. Be it because of its amazing music choice, or because of the amazing cast running the show, it’s a show that content creators and showrunners should take as an example of how to break away from the clutter to create stories that people are interested in.

Let me know what you think about the show in the comments below! Are there any other shows that come close to this masterpiece? Let us know and we’d love to cover their creative aspects on Mainstream.

Zainab Abdul Rehman

Content and strategy specialist with a head full of ideas that I never get time to execute.

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