Inventive visuals and quirky actors clearly instructed to let their freak flags fly breathe life into the somewhat hackneyed setup of a school for superheroes. Hey, didn't we do that already? X-Men? Sky High? But this show takes it to the limit, and as time goes on, the emotional stakes of the show deepen, which makes the action and villainy more exciting and sets this show apart from similar outings. The show's early hyperkinetic action sequences set to cheerful pop aren't as effective as they could be. They'll remind you of Kick-Ass, for one thing, and they're over the top logically speaking: Does a bank robber really deserve to be flung out of a third-story window to certain death? Um, maybe the super-sibs could just call the police? But other moments are sheer joy, like a scene in which the siblings dance to "I Think We're Alone Now" in separate rooms of the house before the camera pulls back as if they were dancing in a dollhouse, each in his or her own box.
Two of Umbrella Academy's actors are also reliable fun whenever they show up: Robert Sheehan, all elfin-fey jittery energy as the junkie bad sheep of the family, and Aidan Gallagher, tasked with playing a character with the consciousness of a 58-year-old and the body of a 13-year-old. Grousing his way believably and magnetically through scenes in which he can't believe the stupidity of everyone around him, Gallagher is a kick -- and, incidentally, has a really cool superpower. Unfortunately, the sublimely gifted Page mopes around for a while, not given as much to do until her "I'm so ordinary!" storyline shifts. It's always great to see an underdog get hers, but it's frustrating to watch Page's sparkly light dimmed while we wait. Thankfully, the show deepens and gets better as the first season plays out, and the second one is even better, with an apocalyptic storyline that heightens the tension and a lot of time spent investigating the characters' inner lives and frustrations. The violent set pieces and sci-fi weaponry remain, but the show takes time to illuminate the characters caught up in the violence, which imbues the battles with meaning and heart and turns what could be an empty spectacle into something gripping, moving, and, ultimately, entirely thrilling, on many levels.