Shaun Munro reviews The Umbrella Academy Season 3…
Releasing mere weeks after Netflix’s decent-but-overstuffed fourth volume of Stranger Things, the third season of the streamer’s hit superhero series The Umbrella Academy feels comparatively svelte and breezy, with each of its 10 fast-moving episodes mercifully clocking in at far less than an hour in length.
While season three unfortunately lacks a majorly compelling villain, it’s otherwise very much the deliriously entertaining, endlessly creative show fans know and love, bolstered by a crackerjack ensemble cast and borderline-obscene abundance of banger needle drops.
2020’s second season ended with the Umbrella Academy finally making their way back to the present day from the 1960s, albeit with the wrinkle that they’ve arrived in an alternate universe where the titular Academy has been replaced with the Sparrow Academy – a similar outfit comprised of five different super-powered individuals, as well as a floating cube called Christopher and an inexplicably still-alive Ben (Justin H. Min).
Pitting the Umbrellas against the Sparrows from the season’s dizzying opening sequence is an inspired way to upend the prevailing formula, in a season that’s jam-packed with surprises – most of them pleasant – all the way to the finish.
The Sparrows are for the most part compelling foils to the Umbrellas, and while the canvas threatens to feel a little overcrowded in the early going, it goes without saying that not all new heroes are treated equally. Alt-Ben and Sloane (Genesis Rodriguez) – the latter a gravity-powered super amusingly nicknamed “Gravity Barbie” at one point – are the clear breakouts, while others – such as venom-spitting Jayme (Cazzie David, daughter of Larry) – end up feeling rather like afterthoughts.
Though this is perhaps the subplott-iest season yet, the various wacky divergences earn their entertaining keep for the most part. It’s just as well, because the actual focal threat – an intangible apocalyptic force that threatens the very universe’s existence – isn’t terribly interesting compared to the developed human antagonists of the last two seasons. This enemy is by design devoid of personality, leading to a climax that, without giving too much away, feels a bit like it belongs in an entirely different show.
But the characters have always been the series’ true selling point, and to that end the Umbrellas are just as loveable as ever. The usual standouts among the cast are largely the same – namely Five (Aidan Gallagher) and Klaus (Robert Sheehan) – though Emmy Raver-Lampman is afforded her strongest dramatic material to date as the deeply anguished Allison.
Another of the more intriguing character arcs this season involves Viktor – formerly Vanya (Elliot Page) – who transitions from female-to-male just as Page has in real life. For many shows it might prove tricky to resolve, yet not here; Viktor’s transition feels like an incredibly organic part of the character’s journey throughout the season, and as such it’s a gratifying and affecting feat of trans representation in a high-profile TV show.
Production-wise season three is unsurprisingly more of the slick same for the majority; above all else, the Hotel Obsidian within which much of the season is set is a production design triumph. It does have to be said, however, that the visual effects feel markedly ropey compared to prior seasons; though there are some gorgeous effects-driven sequences and characters throughout, the green screen work looks shockingly half-finished in many scenes, as is possibly a result of the season’s completion amid the pandemic.
Yet the sometimes sub-par VFX aren’t likely to excessively bother many. There’s a propulsive energy to the show that helps it avoid the fatiguing bloat of the recent Stranger Things release, with the various set-pieces scored to incredible pop cuts – some of which we’re embargoed from revealing, while others would simply be criminal to spoil – that serve as memorable exclamation points in basically every episode. Needless to say, a bevy of crowd-pleasing tunes are in the mix once again.
Even with the actual narrative throughline landing a smidge below the first two seasons, it’s hard to pinpoint a moment where season three isn’t ludicrously entertaining. An easy highlight is surely a wonderful calm-before-the-storm episode late in the season that ranks among the show’s very best entries to date. It hunkers down to deliver a near-hour of bonding and character development between the assembled heroes for a very specific reason, providing a welcome break in the action to that effect.
As with prior seasons it all wraps up with a pretty emphatic lead-in for the next volume of episodes, with this elliptical conclusion positing an intriguing reworking of the series’ formula up to this point. That is, if the showrunners don’t simply restore the status quo within an episode of two. We’ll see, but either way we hopefully won’t be left waiting another two years for more from the Umbrellas.
If perhaps the weakest season so far by a nose, The Umbrella Academy’s third go-around largely reaffirms the show’s singularly irreverent spirit.
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more TV rambling.