The Umbrella Academy is never normal, always interesting, and certainly worth the weekend binge!
- ☂️ Character growth is slow and earned.
- ☂️ Complex narratives are handled with care.
- ☂️ Don't worry — the show's still weird.
- ☂️ Costumes and set design remain top notch.
- ☂️ Would benefit from a more diverse Writers Room.
- ☂️ One end-of-season reveal is a bit abrupt, making it feel a little ham-hocked (no spoilers).
When we last saw the Hargreeves family at the end of Season 1 of The Umbrella Academy, things were pretty dire. Vanya (Ellen Page) had just gone nuclear as a result of being lied to her entire life, and because of certain key family members making some unfortunate decisions regarding her care. Her explosion hit the moon, which then came crashing to Earth, in turn forcing Number Five (Aidan Gallagher) to make some quick decisions to ensure his family’s survival.
He never did quite nail time travel, did he?
In an effort to keep them all alive (so that they could hopefully manage to change the future and save the world), Five throws the entirety of the Hargreeves family back in time. But something goes wrong with his knee-jerk calculations, and the family finds themselves scattered through the timeline in Dallas at various points throughout the 1960s. We pick back up with each of them at the time of their landing, confirming that there’s no time gap between the two seasons.
THE GIST: Seven miracle babies (as in their mothers weren't even pregnant the day they were born) are scooped up by an eccentric rich man and raised to fight crime as "The Umbrella Academy."
Now adults, their new mission is to save the world from destruction — which they might well have caused.
SEASONS: Two. EPISODES: 20.
AVAILABLE: Season 2 is available now on Netflix.
Because this is The Umbrella Academy, things can’t be as “simple” as the family being trapped in a time that’s not their own. Each character faces a kind of “satellite problem,” if you will, but the primary issue is this: Their presence in the 1960s pushed up the end of the world by a considerable margin. The Academy has 10 days to stop World War III.
There are a lot of proverbial air quotes in that last paragraph, because the issues the individual characters face are infinitely more interesting and complex than another end-of-the-world scenario. That's not a shot on the season — this looks to be more of a feature than a bug. The best example is Allison’s (Emmy Raver-Lampman) experience as a Black woman dropped in the middle of segregated Texas.
The writers were faced with a complex narrative here. They had to show that Allison comes from a better time, but still illustrate that the present remains deeply racist and fundamentally broken. They had the challenge of eventually involving her white family — family that would reasonably want to help her — without finding themselves pigeonholed in the White Savior trope. Then there’s the underlying fact that Allison Hargreeves can "rumor" anyone to do anything that she wants them to. No details until after the premiere, obviously, but it’s worth noting that they handle most of this commendably. To the same tune, it’s also worth noting that the story could have benefited from having some Black writers in their Writer’s Room. At the time of writing this review, it doesn’t appear that there were any.
As is customary for story progression, we meet a few new characters in this chapter. Lila Pitts (Ritu Arya) joins the fold as a hilarious and talented friend and foil to Diego’s (David Castañeda) stubborn ass. The two contrast and complement each other nicely, with their respective brands of damage fitting together quite well. Lila’s tempestuous relationship with Five ends up keeping things interesting as well. Her addition to the ensemble opens up some new story directions going forward, too! We’re also introduced to some exceptional new assassins, a kind conspiracy theorist, and more than a couple civil rights leaders that you’ll immediately want to throw hands for.
These new introductions help ensure that The Umbrella Academy’s second season is a solid step up from its (still enjoyable) first and play into the overall character development of the series. Narratively speaking, it’s also great that we don’t have to continue the Dark Phoenix rehash in Vanya Hargreeves packaging. Poor lady just wants to play music and love people, but trapped within her is this time bomb that she was never taught how to properly control. However, the story makes a conscious choice to actually handle that this season. A bout of amnesia coupled with a cute farm girl and her autistic son help give Vanya purpose, and we see her slowly begin to thrive because of it.
Slowly might be where The Umbrella Academy succeeds most. That sentence might sound dumb, as it’s not a slow-paced show by any stretch of the imagination, but what is slow is the character progress. And that’s great! The Hargreeves family is all deeply traumatized. They spent their entire lives in an abusive household while being forced into untenable situations that children should not have had to deal with. Grounding all of these fantastically powered heroes in the realness of their respective traumas is one of the cleverest moves in the series’ repertoire.
Those traumas don't just effect them, either. Their relationships with one another are all deeply damaged. While Vanya and Allison manage to bury the hatchet as each others' only sister, everyone else remains pretty constantly at odds. However, that aforementioned slow growth is apparent in their relationships as a family as well. Luther (Tom Hopper) and Diego show progress, Five gradually starts to soften, and Klaus (Robert Sheehan) and Ben (Justin H. Min) manage to work through some of their issues before it's all said and done. You'll even see a solid sibling pay-off moment before the season's through.
Where you see a lot of hero-centric shows struggle is a lack of any progress at all, which The Umbrella Academy manages to avoid. That aforementioned slow progress is still progress, and there are some clearly visible milestones in season two. There’s certainly some falling (or perhaps leaping) off of the wagon involved, but there are no narrative backslides to be seen here.
We also have to spend some time talking about the production value and costuming of this show, because damn. The Commission (timeline babysitters) clearly continues its presence this season, but we get to explore more of it. The architecture is a fun juxtaposition of classic and modern, with the same being said for the respective costume designs of certain over-the-top characters. The Umbrella Academy have never been a super suite kind of gang, but we do get a glimpse of them in curious battle attire in the first episode that I wish we would have seen more of throughout the season.
At its very core, what makes The Umbrella Academy such a great show is how fundamentally weird it is. Pleased to report that said weirdness returns in spades this season in both old ways and new. You’ll get your dance montage, though it doesn’t include the whole gang this time. There are also oddball moments with new friends, and an episode that probably includes way more farts than you anticipated.
If there was one weakness this season, it comes by way of an end-of-season reveal that happens pretty abruptly. Plot twists aren’t a bad thing, this one feels far enough out of left field that it seems unearned. This twist does set up interesting concepts for the show’s future. So, while the reveal was a tad ham-hocked, its introduction is not of an overall detriment to the show.
There’s no sophomore slump to be seen here. The season tackles critical current events, as well as a few themes that hit closer to home than one would expect. It’s chock full of exceptional one-liners (and yes, most of them are from Robert Sheehan’s Klaus), and it’ll make you tear up more than once. There are scenes that are difficult but important, and they’re coupled later with scenes that are nonsensical and fun. There’s a great balance, here. That balance stands on its own while still doing a good job setting up the next season for our dysfunctional heroes. There’s a little something for everyone this go around. It’s never normal, always interesting, and certainly worth the weekend binge!
The Umbrella Academy Season 2 is available now on Netflix.
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