The Umbrella Academy tops list of new binge-worthy content

Netflix series debuts this week

Whether you’ll be celebrating Valentine’s weekend with that special someone over a romantic bowl of popcorn or solo binge-watching contentedly on the couch, there is plenty to stream on Netflix, Acorn TV, Amazon Prime and Hulu to while away the hours, including one show with a home-grown connection.

THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY          

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Mysteries abound in Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy, which premieres this week. The series is about exceptional children who grow into a dysfunctional family, only to be informed that they have eight days to save the world.

The titular premise is that in 1989 a total of 43 women worldwide gave birth to children, despite the fact that none of the women were pregnant when the day began. “Eccentric” billionaire Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore) managed to hunt down and purchase seven of these children, creating an odd little family trained to be crime fighters and would-be superheroes. There was a lot of discipline but not a lot of love, apparently: the children were given numbers instead of names, and the now grown-up supers are a mess.

Umbrella Academy
Cameron Britton, Mary J. Blige and Robert Sheehan attend the after party of Netflix's The Umbrella Academy at The Drake Hotel on Thursday, Feb. 14 in Toronto. - Supplied, George Pimentel/Getty Images for Netflix

Thankfully for us, their robot mummy (and you thought your family was weird) did give them names: Luther/Number One (Tom Hopper) is massively muscular and has been spending time on the moon; Diego (David Castaneda) is fast, powerful, and has a lethal temper; Allison/Number Three (Emmy Raver-Lampman) grew up to be a Hollywood star, which apparently is a superpower all its own; there’s Klaus (Robert Sheehan), who is a drug-and-booze addict: but you would be too if you could talk to dead people; Number Five (Aidan Gallagher) was missing for years, can travel through time, and has some very interesting info about the future; we’ll skip Number Six and go to Seven, which, as it turns out, is a very unlucky number: Vanya (Ellen Page) was raised being told that she is not special at all…. she wasn’t even included in the family portraits.

Based on the comic books of Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá, the Umbrella Academy would be suitable for a pre-teen audience were it not for some language. And lots of drinking. Some drug use. And a dose of stepbrother-stepsister sexual tension.

I had a million questions after screening the dizzying first episode: why does Hargreeves have this creepy obsession with the kids? What’s with the CGI monkey, who goes by the name of Pogo, wears a suit and specs and is the most articulate and compassionate of the bunch? And if they wanted rain, why shoot the series in Toronto and not Vancouver? And who cast Mary J. Blige? Stay tuned.

 

A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS

You don’t get much more home-grown than the third and final season of A Series of Unfortunate Events, newly released on Netflix. North Vancouver visual effects firm CVD VFX created the wondrous effects for every episode of series three. The company, founded by Chris van Dyck in 2015, has created visual effects for TV (The X-Files, Westworld, Fargo, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency), film (12 Strong), and video games, including the rabidly anticipated upcoming release of Anthem from EA’s BioWare studio.

Netflix
Louis Hynes and Malina Weissman star in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix. - Supplied, Eike Schroter, Netflix

Shot here in Vancouver, the series is based on the 13 books written by Lemony Snicket (a pen name for Daniel Handler), books that mask as children’s novels but feature enough dark, gothic mystery to satisfy readers and viewers of all ages. If you haven’t already been introduced to the calamitous Baudelaire children, skip the Jim Carrey feature film and start on the Netflix version, which stars Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf, Patrick Warburton as Lemony Snicket, Louis Hynes, Malina Weissman and a delicious supporting cast including Joan Cusack, Aasif Mandvi, Alfre Woodard, Lucy Punch, Allison Williams and others. And while you’re gathering those Easter eggs in season three and solving the long-standing mystery of the Sugar Bowl, don’t forget to thank the 18 North Van effects artists who got you there.

 

LONDON KILLS

Acorn TV is a no-brainer for top British, Australian, and Canadian content and its first original, straight-to-series crime drama is London Kills, which premieres Feb. 25. Created and written by multi-BAFTA-nominee Paul Marquess and starring Hugo Speer (The Full Monty), season one consists of five episodes and five murders, all of which take place within spitting distance of the tourist sites in London.

Episode one tackles the grisly murder of an MP’s son, staged as a suicide. On the case are DC Rob Brady (Bailey Patrick) and Trainee Detective Billie Fitzgerald (Tori Allen-Martin), who throws up on her first day. Professional egos collide between acting Const.Vivienne Cole (Sharon Small) and Inspector David Bradford (Speer), who is back early from compassionate leave and determined to solve a personal mystery of his own. 

A fast-paced and promising original series from the premiere Brit streaming service, featuring a side of London that tourists don’t see from that double-decker city tour bus.

AGATHA CHRISTIE PRESENTS: ABC MURDERS

“Are we going to have a murder? Please say it’s going to be spectacularly grisly!” Who doesn’t love a classic British murder mystery? Season One of the series imported by Amazon Prime stars John Malkovich as legendary detective Hercule Poirot, on the hunt for a killer who goes by the nom de guerre “A.B.C.” The first murder is Alice Asher from Andover, the second victim is Betty Barnard… get it?

 It’s not the first time the 1936 Christie novel has been adapted: there was a 1965 film, The Alphabet Murders, and the story was part of the ‘90s series Poirot. The casting of Malkovich as the Belgian detective is raising eyebrows, mainly because he is not David Suchet, the actor who inhabited the role for some 70 episodes.

In fact, Malkovich is excellent: bringing a brooding insecurity to an older Poirot, adding complexity to the role. Top-notch supporting cast including Shirley Henderson, Jack Farthing, Andrew Buchan (Broadchurch) and – hold onto something, Harry Potter fans – Rupert Grint.

 

RUSSIAN DOLL

Emmy-nominated Natasha Lyonne stars in this edgy series on Netflix, which follows software engineer Nadia Vulvokov, a woman doomed to repeat the same events over and over starting with the events at her 36th birthday party. After drinks, drugs, and nameless sex, Natasha rushes out into the street to rescue her cat, Oatmeal, and is struck by a car. Upon waking, she is catapulted straight back into her birthday bash. Same party, different death: Nadia finds herself in an infinity loop of weirdness.

Make no mistake, this is no Groundhog Day: these are the gritty streets of Manhattan, not a sanitized Punxsutawney.  The series is co-created by Amy Poehler, Leslye Headland (Sleeping With Other People), and the star herself. Oatmeal features prominently; Maxine (Greta Lee) is hilarious; the soundtrack is ultra-cool. And you’ll never hear Harry Nilsson’s “Gotta Get Up” the same way again.

 

PENI5

The conceit of this must-see comedy now available on Hulu is pretty brilliant: real-life friends Anna Konkle and Maya Erskine, in their 30s, play 13-year-old versions of themselves back in middle school, complete with all the predictable angst and agony that accompanies it. “You are my rainbow gel pen in a sea of blue and black writing utensils,” is the ultimate expression of girl love in middle school.

Sure, it’s extra funny and extra weird to see grown women interact with actual 13-year-olds, but that’s kind of the point (plus, Lonely Island, those purveyors of quirky stuff, produce the show). Women especially will love the fierce friendship and the girl-power script, a female-centred Freaks and Geeks. PENI5 is a relatable, funny series of coming-of-age parables for those of us whose acne has finally cleared up.

Twitter.com/juliecfilm

 

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