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Netflix’s ‘The Umbrella Academy’ season two is a fantastic follow-up

Netflix’s ‘The Umbrella Academy’ season two is a fantastic follow-up

Netflix’s ‘The Umbrella Academy’ season two is a fantastic follow-up
August 07
19:10 2020

Content warning: “The Umbrella Academy” season one spoilers

“When you were a baby, you were bought by an eccentric billionaire. He raised you in an elite academy with six other siblings with extraordinary powers, but in the year 2019, in order to avoid the apocalypse, we jumped into a vortex and ended up being scattered throughout the timeline in Dallas, Texas. Any questions?”

Based on Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba‘s off-kilter superhero comic, Netflix’s “Umbrella Academy” has graduated to its sophomore season after a decent, if somewhat-flawed debut last year.

After season one, the dysfunctional Hargreeves family escape the apocalypse by time-traveling to 1960s Dallas, all entering at different points in time. Unaware of each other’s locations, they try to make new lives for themselves until Number Five (Aidan Gallagher) returns with a warning that the apocalypse has not only followed them, it’s connected to JFK’s impending assassination. Against a shadowy cabal, silent Swedish assassins and time itself, the Hargreeves must stop the apocalypse once and for all.

With season two, the creatives behind “The Umbrella Academy” go for broke. If season one was a promising, if not entirely consistent punk album, season two is a sublime follow-up — the writing is tighter, the cords sturdier and the overall sound is much more distinctive.

This promise is front-and-center with the characters — each member of the Hargreeve family, and even the supporting cast, has a character arc consistent with their season one selves while taking them in meaningful directions.

First, Luther (Tom Hopper) is far more sympathetic here, acknowledging his serious flaws even in his worst moments. While he does occasionally screw up and still acts like a big lug, his idiocy is more chuckle-worthy.

Vanya (Ellen Page) also gets to do more than just suffer and be manipulated, with her storyline having her befriend an estranged family, find actual love and her subplot being one of the emotional pillars for the story.

Number Five is still as haughty and self-important as ever, with an ego twice the size of Mars. As justifiably cocky as he is, he’s given this hilarious subplot in the second half, providing by far the funniest moments of the season.

Balancing comedy and drama like last time, Klaus (Robert Sheehan) continues to struggle with sobriety and disillusionment with the cult he’s founded. During this, the ghost of Ben (Justin H. Min) plays off him in ways that provide both levity and gravitas.

Similar to Five, Diego (David Castañeda) also gets knocked down a couple pegs and his lone-wolf approach to everything gets deconstructed into the ground. This is especially highlighted by his fantastic supporting character, Lila (Ritu Arya), whose off-her-rocker behavior and wry sense of humor clashes fantastically against both him and Five.

Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman) must also struggle with the racist policies of the time, working with her activist husband Ray (Yusuf Gatewood), to advance civil rights while struggling to keep her old life separate from her new one.

To go deeper into what’s going on with the Hargreeves and their supporting case in season two risks spoilers, so I will just say each storyline has fantastic supporting characters who continue to emotionally anchor the pretty out-there plot. If audiences liked the Hargreeves family in season one, they’ll love them here and they might even come to like the ones they didn’t the first time around.

While season one threw out almost all of the wackier aspects of the comics, outside of the family and the Commission, this season leans far harder into Way and Ba’s “anything goes” approach. There’s a trio of nigh-unstoppable Swedish assassins, an intelligent, cigarette-smoking goldfish leading an assassin’s guild and time-travel shenanigans that go to some truly weird places.

This is all done in a way that still feels consistent with season one’s approach to world building, while bringing the overall style closer in line with the comics. Yet, while everything feels stronger in comparison to season one, the antagonists do leave a little to be desired.

While this season’s trio of silent pursuing antagonists, The Swedes, (Kris Holden-Reed, Jason Bryden and Tom Sinclair) have surprising humanity to them, they don’t match up the near-completely absent Cha-Cha (Mary J. Blige) and Hazel (Cameron Britton). They don’t help their own case by having them repeat Cha-Cha and Hazel’s basic strategy of blazing away at everything that moves. Still, it was probably best they didn’t reuse nearly every antagonist from season one.

To briefly delve into spoilers regarding this season for this sole paragraph, the writers brought back the Handler (Kate Walsh) through a retcon. While Walsh is even more hammy and devious this turn around, it felt a little like the writers weren’t entirely sure how to get themselves out of a corner that didn’t exist in the first place.

Also, they get in the way of a more interesting antagonist, A.J. Carmichael (Robin Atkin Downes), the aforementioned intelligent, cigarette-smoking goldfish leading a network of assassins. He has a cool design, yet he’s underused.

The ending also throws a lot of new information at us that wasn’t really set up. It’s not distracting, but it does rely a little much on happenstance and rug-pulling.

Still, this second serving of “The Umbrella Academy” is even more deliciously idiosyncratic than the first, with more meat to its characters, a spicier story and a stronger embrace of its fantasy kitchen-sink comic roots.

Final rating: 4/5

Featured image: Courtesy Netflix

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Will Tarpley

Will Tarpley

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