This is a spoiler-free review of Netflix’s Umbrella Academy Season 2, which is released worldwide on July 31.
Season 1 of Netflix’s Umbrella Academy was a riotous ride full of bonkers setpieces, quirky character moments, and banging needle drops that suffered only by being released on the same day as DC Universe’s Doom Patrol, which somehow managed to be exponentially more bonkers, quirky, and banging than any of us could’ve predicted. Thankfully, while both are driven by a makeshift family of misfits led by an eccentric and emotionally (and often physically) unavailable father-figure, Umbrella Academy and Doom Patrol have found ways to expand their respective universes and damaged heroes in distinct ways, carving out very different trajectories that are equally enjoyable, eclectic, and insane.
On paper, the premise of Umbrella Academy Season 2 seems as if it might simply repeat many of the same key beats as Season 1: the Hargreeves siblings are accidentally scattered across different years in 1960s Dallas as a result of Number Five’s attempt to transport them back in time to stop the apocalypse that Vanya caused at the end of Season 1, and must now reunite to stop a different apocalypse before making it back to their version of 2019 – all without causing any Back to the Future-esque disruptions to the timeline that might change the future. Oh, and they’re once again investigating a mystery surrounding their father, Sir Reginald Hargreeves, all while battling assassins sent by the mysterious, timeline-protecting organization known as The Commission.
Luckily, showrunner Steve Blackman and his writing staff have managed to remix the show’s premise into a new verse that is even more satisfying than the first, by focusing less on the central mystery (which was undeniably the weak link in Season 1) and more on the dysfunctional dynamics between every member of the Hargreeves clan. Season 2 finds intriguing new character combinations that give each sibling a chance to shine – and by separating the team and forcing them to adapt to their strange new surroundings with outsiders who aren’t aware of their true histories, we get far more insight into their mental and emotional states than we might otherwise.
David Castañeda’s Diego, arguably the most underdeveloped member of the family in Season, 1 is given a hilarious and surprisingly poignant deconstruction here – while he’s often treated as a cheap Batman knockoff with delusions of grandeur (and remains the butt of his siblings’ jokes in Season 2), the show excavates his mental state in fascinating ways that give Castañeda an overdue moment in the spotlight. The same is true of Emmy Raver-Lampman’s Allison, who is forced to deal with the dangerous and dehumanizing realities of life in Jim Crow-era Texas in a way that her white siblings are blissfully unaware of, and Ellen Page’s Vanya, who is suffering from amnesia following the events of Season 1 – a plot choice that easily could’ve felt cliche, but miraculously makes space to reset her relationship with her siblings without wallowing in the baggage of what came before.
The show handles these plot threads with a deft touch that never feels preachy or too self-important, adding depth to the season and helping anchor the plot even when other characters are reveling in the winking absurdity that has become one of Umbrella Academy’s trademarks. Klaus, as per usual, has one of the most ridiculous and pitch-perfect storylines, but the show never short-changes his emotional development, picking up the plot threads of the trauma he suffered in Season 1 when he accidentally got caught up in the Vietnam War. In general, with a little temporal distance from the events of Season 1 (and the preceding lifetime of resentment that had built up between them), the Hargreeves of Season 2 are better able to appreciate each other – even while mocking each other mercilessly – which takes the banter between them to a whole new level and makes the family a lot more fun to spend time with.
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Most of the supporting characters in Season 2 exist as lenses through which we get to know our heroes better rather than fully-formed people in their own right – which is slightly more forgivable in a show with such a large core ensemble – although Diego’s new love interest, Lila (Ritu Arya) adds an unpredictable shot of adrenaline to the proceedings. And Season 2’s villains aren’t half as distinctive or interesting as Hazel and Cha-Cha were in Season 1, although you get the sense that the writers were having so much fun digging into the broken psyches of the Hargreeves family that they didn’t want to pull focus away from the team. Instead, Sir Reginald still looms large, and the show commits valuable narrative real estate exploring the myriad ways their absentee father shaped the Academy into the emotional basket-cases they are as adults.
Umbrella Academy still doesn’t always know when to quit while it’s ahead when it comes to certain action beats or plot threads (a couple of setpieces in the final two episodes severely outstay their welcome, which was also a frustrating feature of the first season), but overall, Season 2 feels far more focused, with a confident sense of what works and doesn’t. Once again, the series pulls off a remarkable high-wire act in balancing its tone; Umbrella Academy Season 2 manages to be funnier and more surreal than its freshman year, even when digging into weightier topics – it arguably spends its entire season unpacking its protagonists’ childhood trauma, but still finds time for an adorable dance number, a tongue-in-cheek deconstruction of time travel tropes, and some deliciously inventive fight sequences, cementing it as one of Netflix’s most entertaining and ballsy franchises.
Source: IGN.com The Umbrella Academy: Season 2 Review