Spoilers ahead for Seasons 1 and 2 of The Hollow.
Arguably the most underrated animated series for kids on TV today just returned to Netflix for Season 2. If you haven’t watched the first season, which arrived about two years ago on the streaming service, you should absolutely stop reading now and go rectify that ASAP; you can watch it or add it to your list here. Season 1 told the story of three teenagers–Adam (Adrian Petriw), Mira (Ashleigh Ball), and Kai (Connor Parnall)–who are forced to rely on one another despite being strangers when they wake up in a mysterious and dangerous fantasy world. It’s basically The Maze Runner meets LOST, for kids, and I said as much in my review of the show’s first batch of episodes. I’m happy to say that The Hollow‘s action-packed intrigue and focus on character relationships continues in Season 2.
Co-created by Josh Mepham, Kathy Antonsen Rocchio, Greg Sullivan, and Vito Viscomi, The Hollow ended Season 1 with quite the reveal. That’s why I’ve warned readers twice–make this three times–before discussing any spoilers. Even the new season doesn’t explicitly address the big twist that came in the finale, though the first episode of Season 2 does a fine enough job of recapping its events in somewhat vague terms. But the mystery of what happened between the end of Season 1 and the beginning of Season 2 is explored throughout all 10 episodes of the new season, so it’s worth knowing where the kids are quite literally coming from before diving in.
Season 1 of The Hollow revealed, at the very end, that the three kids were actually playing a highly advanced virtual reality game called “The Hollow”, hoping that their team would win on the path to fame and fortune. The twist is that Adam, Mira, and Kai are actually flesh-and-blood humans in reality, like you and me; I’m assuming you’re also flesh-and-blood and not some sort of advanced A.I., though you’re also making the same assumption about me. That idea made for a fine finale of what could have been a one-and-done season for the show, but clearly the creators wanted to continue that story. The problem is that they sort of wrote themselves into a corner: Now that the real-world characters had woken up, how could they continue their animated adventures?
Well, that’s exactly what Adam himself wonders when he wakes up at the beginning of Season 2. He doesn’t know, and neither do we, whether he’s back in The Hollow or really back in his real, familiar world. All of his memories of his family and friends seem to be intact, and the same can be said for Mira and Kai once they inevitably reunite, but there’s a knowledge gap between Season 1 and Season 2. And that’s where all of the mystery comes from this season.
There are hints to what’s going on early on, some of them way more obvious than others. Eventually the trio comes around to the idea that they’re definitely not in Kansas anymore and that somehow a Level 2 of The Hollow has kept them in the game. But it’s soon revealed that this game is far more dangerous than before–think Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle vs Jumanji: The Next Level–and that not all players are created equal. That’s all I’ll tease for now, except to say that the mystery isn’t quite as compelling as it was in Season 1, and it’s a little tedious watching the gang eventually connect the dots, but that’s not what makes The Hollow special.
Season 2 gets to flesh out the relationships a bit more. We get an early confirmation that Adam is, in fact, gay; both the pride flag in his room and his outright admission to a confused Kai later on solidify this fact. Mira (and the fans) figured this out when he turned down her advances in Season 1, but there is little romantic entanglement for any of the characters in Season 2; that’s a missed opportunity, unfortunately. However, The Hollow opts to focus on difficult and dramatic friendships, giving the gang every opportunity to make mistakes and try to get out of situations that leave them wrong-footed. New and returning characters will join the fray, further complicating things. And as the past and present merge together, not to mention the real and the digital worlds, it’s no wonder the teens are having a hard time keeping their heads on straight.
Fans of certain villains and supporting characters from Season 1 will get to see a return for some of them, albeit in a different manner than you might have expected. I love the changes that come with characters like the Four Horseman, The Weird Guy, Akuma, and Benjamin and Benjamini, but they’re more for flavor than for moving the story along this time around. Other villains come and go in delightfully absurd and exaggerated fashion. The surprise antagonists this time around, however, are other players who may not even realize just how important the game really is. That’s an interesting twist, as is the Westworld / Devs / Black Mirror-level tech-twist that explains how the “real-world” kids end up playing as their digital selves again. It’s actually a cautionary tale about Big Data; “Always read the terms and conditions.”
Ultimately, Season 2 of The Hollow builds on what the first season established: The stakes are higher, the characters are more diverse and plentiful, and the world(s) they try to survive in are stranger than ever. But the core of The Hollow is in the relationships between the kids that grow, struggle, and sometimes fracture completely. So whether they’re flesh-and-blood or composed of 1s and 0s, it’s their very human victories and failings that make this show worth watching.
Rating: ★★★★ Very good
Dave Trumbore is Collider’s Senior Editor overseeing Streaming Content, Animation, Video Games, and all those weird Saturday-morning cartoons no one else remembers. Test his trivia IQ on Twitter @DrClawMD