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Beyond cool tunes, ‘Umbrella Academy’ struggles to find rhythm

Updated February 9, 2019 - 8:51 pm

It makes sense that the superpowered comic book drama “The Umbrella Academy” (Friday, Netflix) springs to life during its musical numbers.

There aren’t any full-blown song-and-dance routines — although those would have been fantastic and, seriously, how is that not yet a thing?

But considering the series is adapted from the graphic novels written by Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that its music is essential. The biggest shock is that the carefully curated tunes account for almost all of the show’s high points.

On Oct. 1, 1989, some 43 women around the world gave birth despite not having been pregnant when the day began. Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore), the eccentric billionaire, adventurer and Olympic gold medalist, set out to find, adopt or outright purchase as many of those babies as he could. He ended up with seven and moved them into his urban mansion, where he studied them, taught them to harness their abilities and trained them — not unlike a kookier, monocled Charles Xavier — to be an elite crime-fighting team known as The Umbrella Academy.

The “siblings” disbanded 17 years ago following a family tragedy. As the series begins, they reunite in similarly grave circumstances after Hargreeves’ death.

Luther (Tom Hopper) has been living on the moon. Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman) became a movie star. Klaus (Robert Sheehan), a junkie fresh out of rehab yet again, dresses like he was recently traded between touring productions of “Cats” and “Rent.” Diego (David Castaneda) is the only one who still fights crime, now as a leather-clad vigilante. No. 5 (Aidan Gallagher) disappeared years ago — the poor kid wasn’t even around long enough to get a name.

Vanya (Ellen Page), meanwhile, never developed powers and thus grew up on the outside, told by Hargreeves there just wasn’t anything special about her. She eventually wrote a tell-all book about the family, thereby ensuring her status as an outcast.

Also, there’s a monkey butler. A wise, gentlemanly monkey butler named Pogo (voiced by Adam Godley) who wears eyeglasses and bespoke suits.

Based on Gabriel Ba’s illustrations in the comics, “The Umbrella Academy’s” aesthetic falls somewhere between Tim Burton and Wes Anderson, with violent flourishes reminiscent of big-screen adaptations of Mark Millar’s “Kingsman” and “Kick-Ass.” There’s just something adorable about watching the flashbacks showing the young heroes, who’d grace the covers of their own comics and teen magazines, gearing up for combat in their matching crested blazers, sweaters, ties and skirts or short pants.

It’s right up there with seeing their adult selves go from being at each other’s throats to dancing alone in their bedrooms to a Tiffany song — proving once again that “I Think We’re Alone Now” is the great unifier.

Nothing, though, compares to the epic fight scenes staged to Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now,” Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” and They Might Be Giants’ cover of “Istanbul (Not Constantinople).”

There’s plenty to like about “The Umbrella Academy,” but the rest of the series, at least through the first three episodes, is struggling to find its rhythm.

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.

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