February 15, 2019
(Video streaming services generate a vast wave of original series and movies these days, destined neither for the multiplex nor conventional broadcast nor cable TV. It’s a golden age of content, but a lot of it arrives unheralded, leaving viewers looking for something fresh and good at a loss. Raju Mudhar’s new column Upstream samples the services’ original offerings, looking for things to recommend.)
Is Toronto the new Gotham?
Streaming recommendations: The Umbrella Academy and Lorena, both arriving Friday
It certainly feels that way for graphic novel adaptations arriving on streaming services. While Amazon Prime has been in town shooting The Boys, starring Karl Urban and a stellar cast, there is also The Umbrella Academy, which arrives on Netflix this Friday, with Ellen Page leading the large ensemble.
The 10-part series tells the stories of a dysfunctional family, centring on a group of seven children with abilities who were adopted by Reginald Hargreeves (played by Colm Feore), whose death brings them back together to solve that mystery, and oh, also avert an impending apocalypse.
This is very much a fractured family take on the hero genre and there are some great moments between these siblings, who were given numbers instead of names by their eccentric patriarch.
“The ties that bind you together make you stronger than you are alone,” says Hargreeves (Feore) in a flashback while training the kids for a heroic future which, in the present, they have mostly rejected.
Despite the cool powers — and early faves are no. 5 a.k.a. Patrick (Aidan Gallagher), the teleporter stuck in a 13-year-old’s body, and no. 4 Klaus (Robert Sheehan), the addict who sees dead people — it does feel a bit more grounded, and while it’s messy on purpose, it opens by setting up its several mysteries, and does a good job establishing these characters and their struggles.
Throw in some excellent action scenes, some lovely Wes Anderson-style production design, truly excellent soundtrack choices (which makes sense, as the comic it’s based upon was written by Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance) and good work by the cast, and we have the start of something quite bingeworthy.
Through three episodes, it feels much more cohesive than some of the Marvel series it comes on the heels of — the Marvel creations that Netflix is likely actively looking for replacements for — so this is off to a very strong start.
It’s the type of show where there is literally a beloved monkey butler named Pogo, and it feels pretty normal in this weird world. That’s a credit to a show with excellent world-building off the top, and firm internal logic.
You may be sick of the comic-book thing, but this is just different enough to be worth checking out. And if you’re the type who’s counting down the days to to the next oncoming superhero blockbuster, then this is right up your alley.
History lessons: Likely following on the success of 2016’s sprawling O.J: Made in America, multi-part series on notorious scandals from the ’90s seem to be in fashion.
This year’s Sundance Festival featured HBO’s Leaving Neverland, a reportedly devastating look at the Michael Jackson sex-abuse scandal that arrives in March, and Lorena, a four part docuseries about Lorena Bobbitt incident that arrives on Amazon Prime Video on Friday.
Based on the notorious incident in 1993, in which Bobbitt became famous for cutting off the penis of husband John Wayne Bobbitt, this is a fascinating look at the story about a woman who became a punchline in the initial aftermath, but has gone on to become an advocate fighting against domestic violence.
This takes an unflinching look at the media coverage of the incident at the time, and adds a sharp lens with an eye toward domestic abuse and marital violence. It is an incredible interesting docuseries, but in the first two episodes there are issues with the tone, as Lorena often engages in tittering about the severed member (with John Bobbitt himself doing his version of standup jokes about it during interviews) and then switches to the much more serious topics, which in this “Me Too” era are more relevant than ever. I’ll admit I laughed at many of the dick jokes and then felt bad about it, which might be the point.
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