Netflix’s new original series The Umbrella Academy shined in every area where the traditional superhero show fails.
Two common tropes that trip up even the best super hero stories are the origin story and time travel. The Umbrella Academy‘s simple solution? Don’t get caught in the weeds and keep it moving.
Turns out it really was just that simple.
(If you haven’t seen The Umbrella Academy yet please note there are some minor spoilers coming your way)
The Umbrella Academy opens up on October 1, 1989, when 43 women around the world give birth even though they are not pregnant when the day first begins. An eccentric wealthy individual adopts seven of these children and raises them to be a super powered fighting force for humanity. But then instead of getting stuck in the origin stories of these children, the story really starts with the passing of said eccentric wealthy individual and the children (now adults) returning to their former home to deal with years of resentment.
In terms of origin story that’s it.
There are occasional flashback to the children’s time growing up but never the Peter Parker bitten by a radioactive spider moment to explain the how the children came to be born and why they have super powers. The absence of an origin story only seemed odd for a moment because by the end of the first episode the story was off and running. By never divulging the big reveal The Umbrella Academy acknowledged that it didn’t really matter. The lack of backstory didn’t detract from the story the show was trying to tell and now the mystery remains on the table for potential future seasons to address.
The second matter is the always tricky idea of time travel. Community and Rick and Morty creator Dan Harmon neatly summed up time travel in storytelling when he said, “Time travel is a real shark-jumper. Once you introduce it to the canon of your show — it’s just a dangerous toy to pull out.” Once time travel is part of your world you admit that anything that happens can be made null and void by traveling back in time. This can be problematic when you are trying to get viewers to emotionally invest in something that doesn’t matter the next episode. But even though main plot line of The Umbrella Academy heavily involves time travel the show doesn’t shy away from the tricky timelines that it creates. Instead it actually leans into it by using the concept to drive character growth and the ripple effect a change in time can have.
The Umbrella Academy is at it’s best when it’s delightfully different from the norm and once you are on board with that you’ll enjoy the ride as well.