'Umbrella Academy' and 'Doom Patrol' join battle of messed-up super-teams
Posted February 14, 2019 9:52 a.m. EST
CNN — HBO has "Watchmen" coming, but in terms of dysfunction super-teams, it's about to have plenty of company.
Netflix gets there first -- as world-building exercises based on graphic novels go -- with "The Umbrella Academy," a dark, complex, undeniably ambitious series about super-people and their problems. On a smaller scale, the fledgling DC Universe trots out a highly similar concept, "Doom Patrol," which is equally messy and surreal, but considerably less binge-worthy.
Infused with a strong X-Men vibe, the ridiculously complicated "Umbrella Academy" hinges on 43 extraordinary children that were spontaneously born in 1989, seven of whom were adopted by an eccentric billionaire (Colm Feore), who raised them in a gothic mansion and nurtured their diverse abilities.
Having operated as a masked unit in their teens, the seven siblings are reunited after dad's mysterious death, nursing resentments, carrying plenty of emotional baggage and not incidentally facing the daunting task of thwarting the apocalypse, which is due to happen in a matter of days. (The world is similarly imperiled in TBS' "Miracle Workers," suggesting that contemplating the end of everything is fashionable right now.)
The linchpin to preventing Armageddon is Number Five (Aidan Gallagher), who is as old as his 30-ish siblings, but thanks to his ability to leap back and forth in time, has the appearance of a pubescent kid, making his more bloodthirsty exploits particularly jarring.
The flat-out bonkers eccentricity of "Umbrella Academy" includes the children having been raised by an android nanny and a talking chimpanzee butler whose vocal abilities aren't even addressed -- and that's not even the really weird part, what with the time travel and apocalyptic threads hovering over the story.
Still, it's never less than interesting, with an ensemble cast that includes Ellen Page (an appropriate link to the aforementioned "X-Men" universe) as the ostensible black sheep of the pack, who has no discernible powers; and Mary J. Blige as one of the outward threats.
Despite being dark and at times wildly violent, the show (developed by Steve Blackman from the Dark Horse Comics) has an irreverent, playful vibe, cleverly using music and songs to set the mood, while employing ever-changing methods of splashing "Umbrella Academy" across the opening titles.
Granted, it's hard to completely escape feeling derivative, but the series does a credible job of establishing the individual players, puttying in the details of life with their adopted father and leaning into the absurdity of it all.
The concept has also found the right home on Netflix, which, with its Marvel franchise in decline could use another attraction with nerd appeal, and it gives away little to say that the show (all 10 episodes of which were previewed) leaves ample room for a second season.
While the title might evoke images of dark clouds, the forecast for "Umbrella Academy" actually looks pretty bright. Assuming, you know, that the world doesn't end.
"Doom Patrol" is also about reluctant heroes, and in the rarefied confines of a service dedicated to comic-book fans, appears to revel in just how narrowly the concept can be drawn.
"More TV superheroes. Just what the world needs," the cheeky narration notes at the outset.
The show then proceeds to introduce its handful of sullen, squabbling, antisocial characters, also brought together by a mysterious genius (played by Timothy Dalton), whose powers are more of the curse than blessing variety, including Robotman and Negative Man (voiced by Brendan Fraser and Matt Bomer, respectively), Elasti-Woman (April Bowlby), Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero), and Cyborg (Joivan Wade).
Produced under the aegis of Greg Berlanti, who oversees DC's CW shows, "Doom Patrol" leans into the same sort of R-rated material as the service's first drama, "Titans," but feels less accessible and engaging.
Character development and quirkiness can be swell, but the adaptation of this band of heroes spends too much time meandering -- and showing off its geek credentials -- for "Doom" deliver much of a boom.
"The Umbrella Academy" and "Doom Patrol" premiere Feb. 15 on Netflix and DC Universe, respectively.