The Umbrella Academy season 1, episode 4 review: Man on the Moon


Episode 4 of The Umbrella Academy has nothing to do with Neil Armstrong or Andy Kaufman, just superpowered young people with attitude.

We’ve reached episode 4 of The Umbrella Academy, titled “Man on the Moon,” and the show definitely raises the stakes where it doesn’t shoot for lunar orbit. Frankly, it doesn’t have to since it literally took us to space once already, where Luther (Tom Hopper) is introduced in episode 1, and through the time stream.

And bringing up Luther (or “Number One”) is fitting, not that it’s random. The episode begins with him as the title might suggest and explains how he got to be so hairy and muscular. We are also given a clear idea of how boring and lonely life was for him when he was the last one left to fight the good fight at his “dad’s” behest — plus how one-sided their father/son relations were on top of it all.

Not to worry, not everything is dour and the rest of the crew get in time for their subplots. Vanya (Ellen Page) finds time for personal relations, as does Diego (David Castañeda), who confides in an old love interest (Ashley Madekwe) who happens to be a cop on the case of the group of mercenaries after all the Academy cadets. Diego continues to butt heads with Luther too, and Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman) grows suspicious of Vanya’s new beau, Leonard (John Magaro).

And Klaus is in his pickle. And there is still that lingering end times thing. So, yeah, dismay and doubt are still creeping just beneath the surface.

The sum of its parts

Luther is an interesting, conflicted character, and he is “Number One.” But he’s only one pea in the pod. Umbrella Academy’s narrative threads are blended and balanced, more than some other super team outings. One or more individuals always become the focal point of a group. The heart of Fox’s X-Men franchise ended up being Wolverine and Professor Xavier. Marvel Studios’ Avengers films usually get lost in the arcs of Iron Man, Cap, and Thor. But here, it really is a team effort, and go team!


More from TV

There is a turn of phrase among fandom, one inspired by a specific show’s slang, to designate the handiwork of or similarity in style or tone to the showrunner of Buffy and Firefly — Whedon-y. Joss Whedon raised the bar for expectations when it comes to superheroes and sci-fi. It’s a given these days that superpowered beings on TV and in movies should be sarcastic, self-aware, but also humanized by their flaws.

That’s an accurate description for Umbrella Academy. And Steve Blackman, whose credits include Bones and Private Practice, is the perfect showrunner to balance the wit with blood and pathos.

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A real Dark Horse

Based on comics created by Gerard Way and released by Dark Horse comics, this adaptation is part of a slight resurgence happening at Netflix for the indie publisher. Polar, a story of a merciless hitman starring Mads Mikkelsen and Vanessa Hudgens, began life as an avant-garde graphic novel by Victor Santos that was later acquired by Dark Horse. The film is currently trending on the streaming service like the quirky hero drama series, and they will go a long way in boosting interest in the imprint and its characters.

The Umbrella Academy is available for streaming (and binging) exclusively on Netflix.