After binge watching all of the seasons of Stranger Things (more on that in another post,) my 11 year old son and I found ourselves looking for another series to enjoy together. Enter The Umbrella Academy: A Netflix Original series inspired by a line of comic books. It definitely has a superhero/sci-fi bent as characters possess unbeleivable powers and dystopian and time-travel themes are prominent. The Umbrella Academy details the exploits of a team of superhero kids as they grow up in the home of a strange, manipulative, adoptive father. Let me get to the punchline: This is not a series for tweens to watch alone and it’s probably not a series for tweens at all if you are a squeamish parent who is unwilling to discuss some difficult topics. See details below.
The premise of the show is very interesting. In the late 1980s, a number of women around the world gave birth at the same time. None of these women was discernibly or knowingly pregnant. Seven of these children are unexplainedly adopted by an eccentric from New York City named Sir Reginald Hargreeves. He creates what is called ‘The Umbrella Academy’ to train them to be superheroes and calls them by numbers rather than their names. He also gives them a robot for a mother (Grace) who ultimately names them: Luther, Diego, Allison, Klaus, Ben and Vanya. For some reason, the fifth child never gets a name…he just goes by Number Five. Also mysteriously, Sir Reginald trains and puts six of the children to work fighting crime but keeps the last child, Vanya (Ellen Page) seperate and tells her that she has no ‘special powers.’
As they become adults, each of the children has a ‘real-world’ job (except for Ben who is a ghost and Number Five whose profession we never learn): Luther is an astronaut, Diego is a former policeman, Allison is a famous actress, Klaus is a drug addict (I guess that’s not really a job) and Vanya is a professional violinist. The siblings no longer live together but learn that Sir Reginald has died and come together for his funeral. Number Five returns from the future, revealing that an apocalpyse is on its way. The siblings begin working together to figure out the secrets of their childhood and put together clues about the impending apocalypse in order to try to stop it. As I said, it’s a pretty interesting (and crazy) premise.
While each of the siblings is fundamentally flawed in some way, most of them are extremely interesting and bring an element of their personality or skill to the story that is necessary to move it along. There are tons of side stories: a romantic relationship between two of the ‘siblings,’ exploration of Number Five’s time in the future, Klaus attempting to deal with his drug addiction, etc. Did I mention that the siblings also have a monkey who plays a role as their butler and confidante?
As for the appropriateness of this series for tweens…it’s a touchy subject. There is a great deal of violence, references to drugs (though those are perhaps mitigated by Klaus’s continual attempts to get clean and his sibling’s warnings about the ‘poison’ he is putting into his body) and a few sexual references. The language is definitely not clean but I suspect that most tweens have heard the words ‘boner’ and ‘hard on’ at school by the time they’ve reached that age. There are some disturbing scenes where a character is aroused by being strangled but that reference seemed to go right over my son’s head.
Interestingly, what didn’t go over his head were a number of the drug references. I found myself confused during a particular scene when some agents began dancing in the middle of a diner. When I expressed that confusion to my son, he immediately pointed out that something they had eaten had drugs in it. I inquired about how he knew that and he advised me that he had noticed a drug symbol on the package that the food was in. I was shocked (both that he recognized that symbol and that I had missed it) but quickly learned that it was something he had been exposed to in Operation Street Smart training at his school. Considering that he’s a rising 6th grader this summer, I’m now convinced that the drug references aren’t ‘too much’ for a kid his age.
Since we finished the series, my son has asked several times whether or not there will be a 2nd season. I just learned that The Umbrella Academy has been renewed though there is apparently no word just yet about the release date. There’s plenty of time to go back and watch the first season with your tween, if you are so inclined, and prepare for Season 2 in the near future.
While much of The Umbrella Academy is ‘out there’ and plays out like some kind of crazy acid trip…there is definitely a driving plot and some characters to love. As mentioned above, I’d venture to say that, if you are willing to watch with them and provide a guiding voice through some of the questionable parts of the story, it’s a good bet that your tweens will enjoy the show! If they enjoyed Stranger Things and you were comfortable with that level of content maturity…The Umbrella Academy may be just the ticket for your next binge-watching series together!
To check out The Umbrella Academy yourself, go to https://www.netflix.com/title/80186863.