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We Can’t Have All Show And No Tell

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At the risk of sounding old: I remember when TV shows made sense.

I remember when the crime was committed on camera in the first scene, just without showing who-dun-it, and the director nicely found subtle ways to point out to the audience what clues the super-smart detective was finding. At the end of the episode, said detective would explain everything leading up to how he figured out who the criminal was, and the audience would either go, “I knew it!” or, “Wow, did not see that coming!”. Either way, it was satisfying.

Unfortunately, a while ago, TV went too far the other way, where the characters explained every single little detail, in painfully tedious and unrealistic dialogue, so that the audience wouldn’t be left behind. After we’d been yelling for a while that we were still perfectly capable of following along on our own, programs swung the pendulum too far the opposite direction. Now, so that they don’t tell us “too much,” we have television that’s visually stunning, but none of us knows what the hell is going on — nor do we care.

For me, this is the latest offender:

Netflix's 'The Umbrella Academy' carves new niche in superhero ...

After bingeing the first season of Umbrella Academy, I have SO MANY QUESTIONS. The big guy in the middle of this promo shot really sums up how I feel right now. Just confusion on top of bewilderment and stuffed with sides of why-should-I-give-a-damn. There’s a new season premering quite soon, but I fear for my sanity if I tune in.

The premise is that a rich eccentric inventor takes in children born under mysterious circumstances — who also have superpowers — and trains them to basically be the X-Men. On the surface, it sounds great. But, by episode 3, I had numerous questions, that were left unanswered as the season progressed.

Such as:

  • Why did Reginald Hargreeves decide these kids needed to become superheroes? No background is given on how this guy made his fortune or why he cared enough about the world is enlist random children to save it.
  • Why did the children’s biological families allow this? So Hargreeves paid them — even with unexpected births, many people don’t just hand over their baby to some weirdo stranger waving around a big check.
  • The public knew that Hargreeves was using kids to fight crime — serious crime, like bank robberies — and somehow no one ever raised the issue of ethics? Child labor laws? Something about the way these minors were treated? What the heck?!
  • Why did these kids have powers? How? Where did they come from? It’s never explored.
  • The kids are raised by Hargreeves and Grace, an android mother (yes, you read that right), and an ape butler, who walks upright and wears clothes and talks. A-hem. Doesn’t anybody have any concerns or curiosity about that? Animal cruelty, anyone?! Along with general what-in-the-world-ness?

The season 1 plot focuses mostly on what happens when these adoptive siblings join together again after years of separation. They end up trying to prevent the end of the world, but — predictably — stuff goes awry. Even with such a familiar approach, there are still plenty of ways to make it engaging; but Umbrella Academy just misses the mark.

There’s such a lack of character development, I never got invested in seeing the protagonists succeed. I actually found myself wishing the apocalypse would kick their butts, and not vice versa.

And I could not put aside my issues with the amorality. A big one was the inappropriate relationships (either on camera or implied), between pairs with an age difference of at least 30 years. Right behind that was the number of murders committed by Number Five, who’s portrayed as a 13-year-old boy. The fact the Commission is playing God and no one — except the incredibly outnumbered Hargreeves siblings — is trying to stop them. At first it’s just annoying; by the end of the season, it’s disturbing.

Even when the concept is farfetched, there still have to be some ground rules, so that the fictional world makes sense. Umbrella Academy just doesn’t.

It’s the little things, that add up to major head-scratchers. For starters, in a story set in 2019 (says one of the characters!), why are there no cell phones and computers?

How were the kids world famous, but then suddenly forgotten about? Where are their connections? Military? Police? The closest we get is Diego’s (“Number Two”) half-hearted attempt to get back together with his detective ex-girlfriend.

We aren’t given any information about why they all left home and went their separate ways for a decade. We get very few details about what they’ve been up to in those 10 years. There are so many gaps in their history. At some point, Ben (“Number Six”) died, but we’re never told how, or when. We assume they must have all gone to school somehow, but the logistics of that remain a mystery. Various “missions” are alluded to, and the details of what happened on them never divulged.

The characters’ motivations aren’t logical. Allison keeps saying she needs to leave, to get back to her estranged daughter, but…then never leaves. Number Five “came back to stop the apocalypse,” but spends much of the season only making the end of the world more likely to occur. The “bad guy” is a red herring. The Commission and their goons — obsessed with chasing down Number Five for reasons never made crystal clear — just infuriated me.

All of this combined to leave my poor brains scrambled, and my heart very sour indeed.

We can’t have all “show” and no “tell.” We don’t have telepathy, we can’t read the minds of the writers and directors. We need clues. We need explanations.

We aren’t superheroes; we’re human, and we like to be entertained. By something that doesn’t tie us up in knots. Or leave us wanting so much more.

Why is that too much to ask for?

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2 thoughts on “We Can’t Have All Show And No Tell”

  1. I have been wondering whether or not to try this one. Now I’m thinking , probably not.

    I have not seen season three, but seasons one and two of ‘Westworld’, have been intellectually satisfying, for the most part.

    Liked by 2 people

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