The Real Reason The Umbrella Academy Has No Cell Phones

Since debuting in early 2019, Netflix's unconventional superhero series The Umbrella Academy has become the talk of the town and a ratings behemoth for the streamer. It's done so by delivering a savvy blend of stylized action and heartfelt drama that always puts the human before the heroic. That task is easier when the heroes of your story are a dysfunctional family of super-powered siblings whose lives begin in mystery and only get weirder after they're adopted by a billionaire mad scientist.

As much as the complex interpersonal relationships of the Hargreeves kids drive the overarching narratives of The Umbrella Academy, fans of both the Netflix series and the graphic novels upon which it's based would likely agree that style is just as often front and center. Admittedly, it's quite hard to define what The Umbrella Academy's style really is, as its modern-day setting is often betrayed by a timeless, steam-punky aesthetic that feels more Victorian than it does contemporary. While that aesthetic delivers gorgeous visuals to go along with The Umbrella Academy's gonzo narrative theatrics, it's also left fans wondering why there's a noticeable lack of technology involved in the action (save for robot Mom and the genetically modified simian Pogo, of course).

More precisely, fans want to know why cell phones don't seem to exist in The Umbrella Academy. The most obvious answer to the no cell phone policy is that any sort of uniquely modern tech like that would almost certainly undermine the show's neo-gothic visual palette. According to showrunner Steven Blackman, the decision not to include cell phones on the show was one of several choices made to give The Umbrella Academy a Children of Men-like feel — i.e., knowable but "slightly different." 

"Truth is, we want it to feel like Children of Men a little bit. I don't mean the bleakness of Children of Men, but to respect the world. So the viewers are watching, they may or may not notice that I've eliminated certain pieces of technology. It's supposed to be now, contemporary, but certain things are slightly different. So I suppose you could say we're in a little bit of an alternate universe but I want it to feel very, very subtle," Blackman explained to Slashfilm. "I'm not sure you picked up on it but there are no cell phones. No one uses a cell phone ever. It's odd things like that."

Other explanations as to why The Umbrella Academy doesn't feature cell phones

Style may not be the only reason cell phones don't exist in The Umbrella Academy. First and foremost, the lack of cell phones plays a critical role in the show's interweaving narratives in that it complicates communication between the Hargreeves siblings at key moments in the plot. And while forcing characters to find and use landlines — or communicate face-to-face — is a stylish choice in and of itself, we can't help but wonder if many of the The Umbrella Academy's key twists and turns might've played out differently if character's weren't so isolated and unreachable. 

On season 1 of The Umbrella Academy alone, a simple call or text might actually have saved humanity. That said, however, what The Umbrella Academy achieves sans cell phones is proof of how much more intriguing a story can be without devices enabling instant communication. The Umbrella Academy star Ellen Page even offered a pointed opinion on the "cell phones in movies" problem during an interview with Screen Rant, stating bluntly that "cell phones are just ruining narrative." 

Narrative implications aside, there may be more to the no cell phone story than we think. Aidan Gallagher, who plays the time-jumping Number 5 on The Umbrella Academythrew a compelling curveball when he responded to a sharp-eyed Twitter fan who questioned what era the show is set in. Gallagher's response was both curt and cryptic, offering that "it's a TIMELINE — not YOUR timeline." That answer opens up a whole other can of narrative worms — could The Umbrella Academy be set in a reality in which cell phones never get invented, or perhaps does it exist on an alternate timeline where the modern tech we know doesn't come around until much later? After that time-traveling shocker of a season 1 finale, we're really hoping The Umbrella Academy gives a definitive answer to Gallagher's "timeline" tease on its upcoming second season