As a fan of Gabrielle Bá and Gerard Way’s original series, I eagerly binged Netflix’s latest superhero reboot THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY. Much like the comic, Jeremy Slater’s show is chaotic and at times the plot feels lost. THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY is indeed confusing and slow to start with. But Slater quickly picks up the pace, following the cast of 7 dysfunctional children with amazing superpowers as they repeatedly fumble their attempts to save the world. The seven – Luther, Diego, Allison, Klaus, Number Five, Ben, and Vanya – are the adopted children of wealthy genius Sir Reginald Hargreeves.

THE BIG LEBOWSKI
THE BIG LEBOWSKI. Poster distributed by Gramercy Pictures.

Hargreeves envisions a day when his children will save the world, but the familial dysfunction hinders his attempts. It’s a weird comic and a weird Netflix series. However, as I churned through each episode, I felt a strange familiarity. Number 5’s Angry-Old-Man attitude. Hargreeves’ utter lack of empathy. The show’s near-nihilistic tendencies are coupled with methodical attention to the mundane. And of course, the bizarre and ironic musical interludes. Perhaps it was Tarantino’s PULP FICTION, I thought? But no… it’s too much. Teetering on the edge of cynicism, THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY is simply too strange. Then, as I watched the time-traveling assassins Cha-Cha and Hazel’s car get trashed yet again, I realized: THE BIG LEBOWSKI. 

This Aggression Will Not Stand

The Coen Brothers cult classic starring Jeff Bridges as “The Dude,” THE BIG LEBOWSKI universally disappointed critics but rose from the ashes to land the status of a cult classic. What audiences originally saw as a slow-moving and plotless story, has become an icon of a postmodern film celebrating the absurd and dysfunctional. Oddly enough, THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY shares cinematic details including the ironic use of pop music, a nihilistic inclination, and a pointedly dysfunctional cast of characters stumbling through their attempt to do something right.

Much like the Dude and his companions Walter and Donny, the 7 Umbrella Academy children can’t tolerate the aggression they face but somehow and repeatedly fail to fully rise to the occasion. While there is no reason to believe THE BIG LEBOWSKI and THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY were ever meant to be connected, what appeals to me about THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY is similar to what appeals to me about THE BIG LEBOWSKI. So, without further ado, here are 5 Reasons BIG LEBOWSKI Fans will love THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY. 

1. The Perfect Playlist

Much has already and enthusiastically been said about Steve Blackman’s choice of music for THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY. Indeed, it should come as no surprise, as author Gerard Way was also the frontman for My Chemical Romance. However, it is worth noting again that Netflix’s THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY’s choice of music is stellar as well as intentional. The soundtrack includes artists from The Hollies and the Kinks to Nina Simone and Queen.

Blackman carefully curates the music to compliment — with irony, nostalgia, and sincerity — what is happening on screen. The same can be said of THE BIG LEBOWSKI. The film’s soundtrack also includes Nina Simone, as well as Townes Van Zandt, Bob Dylan, and the Gipsy Kings (covering the Eagles). Much like THE BIG LEBOWSKI’s iconic dream sequence featuring Kenny Rogers’s “Just Dropped In,” THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY features numerous dreamy musical scenes. BIG L fans will not only enjoy the music of THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY, but they’ll also recognize the artistry involved with song choice and placement.

THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY
Vanya dances. Image from CRB.com.

2. Little Urban Achievers and Examining the Model Millionaire

As Allison puts it in THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY, “some men are irredeemable shits.” A running motif in THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY is the ways in which men (and women) fail. One man, in particular, is the center around which all action orbits: Sir Reginald Hargreeves. Much like the Big Lebowski himself – the real, wealthy Lebowski, not Jeff Bridges’ Dude – Reginald Hargreeves is an imposing figure. And also like Lebowski, Hargreeves is unrelentingly abusive towards anyone he sees as underachievers. For example, in one episode of THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY, Hargreeves berates his son, Klaus, saying “Don’t you dare try to use me as an excuse for your weakness.” The jab feels oddly reminiscent of Lebowski’s (unhelpful) lesson for the Dude:

“I cannot solve your problems, sir, only you can.”

Both men are peripheral antagonists, lording over the other characters from a position of power and privilege. Indeed, wealth is a shared trait. Additionally, Lebowski is both condescending and obsessed with his “Little Lebowski Achievers.” Similarly, Hargreeves’ creation of the Umbrella Academy is a point of pride for the old man. However, as he feeds his ego, he loses his opportunity to make a valuable human connection. Both THE BIG LEBOWSKI and THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY ultimately question (not without humor) the status of the old white man in power.

THE BIG LEBOWSKI
The Dude, Donny, and Walter. Image from UX Collective. 

3. A Well Choreographed Fight Scene Goes a Long Way

BIG LEBOWSKI fans will know that a well-organized fight scene can add a lot. The film’s two main fight scenes involve The Dude being harassed in his own house and a showdown involving Walter (John Goodman), a bowling ball, and a Nihilist who loses an ear. The scenes are bizarrely fine-tuned. Likewise, THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY is chock full of smoothly choreographed, almost-comical fight scenes. Largely thanks to the clumsy antagonists Cha-Cha (Mary J. Blige) and Hazel (Cameron Britton), the violent attacks call to mind the Coen Brothers’ oddly aesthetic altercations. Britton’s John-Goodman-like portrayal of Hazel makes the character recognizable.

Even his fight moves (down to the ear biting!) conjure the image of Walter. It is as if the fight scenes want to remind audiences of the art itself. Indeed, combined with the brilliantly placed soundtrack (see above!) THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY’s fight scenes nicely parallel the show’s dance numbers. Likewise, THE BIG LEBOWSKI pulls from artistic absurdity and expression to contrast with the moments of violence.

THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY
Hazel and Cha Cha. Image by Christos Kalohoridis/Netflix.

4. Has the Whole World Gone Crazy? Nihilism vs. Absurdity

The frequent juxtapositions between the absurd and the nihilistic make THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY and THE BIG LEBOWSKI stand out. Both stories wrap deep, philosophical explorations about the meaning of life into pithy, strange, and occasionally off-putting scenarios. As a result, the Umbrella Academy’s main quest – preventing the Apocalypse – feels similarly and hilariously as hopeless as the Dude’s quest – more or less to get reimbursement for a damaged rug.

Nihilism – the rejection of principals and the belief that life is meaningless – finds its way into the heart of both stories. Yet, even in the face of nihilism, failure, and impending doom, the members of THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY soldier on, much like The Dude, Walter, and Donny. The interplay between the Absurd and the Nihilistic is at the crux of both stories.

THE BIG LEBOWSKI
The Dude dances. Image from imdb.com.

5. The Dude Abides: Celebrating Dysfunction

Throughout THE BIG LEBOWSKI, The Dude parades through life in dirty shorts, sunglasses, and a bathrobe. Often he has a drink or smoke in his hand. Somehow his demeanor is compelling. In many ways, he is the anti-hero, but audiences love him anyway. The Dude is not perfect, nor is THE BIG LEBOWSKI. The dysfunction of the characters and their circumstances is possibly the whole point. The same is true for THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY.

The members of the academy are trying a little harder than The Dude, it’s true. However, they are plagued by a near constant inability to succeed. Klaus — the drug-addicted Séance — is most Dude-like. However, many of the other Academy members struggle to accomplish their goals.

Yeah, well, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.

THE BIG LEBOWSKI is a strange journey with a strange man. The often offensive film explores a pastiche of elements that can leave audiences confused. However, the film has created a niche for itself. LEBOWSKI fans happily bowl through life’s absurd moments knowing that sometimes you eat at the bar, and sometimes the bar eats you. Netflix’s THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY translates the same existential themes about success, money, nihilism, and absurdity into an action-packed and aesthetically compelling TV show that fans of the BIG L and many others are sure to enjoy.

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