Why Shorter Episodes Made ‘The Umbrella Academy’ Season 2 a Better Show

     August 4, 2020

Most critics agree that The Umbrella Academy Season 2 is an improvement over the Netflix show’s first season. Not to say that Season 1 is bad – I kind of loved it – but everything seems to feel a bit more cohesive, more satisfying, and frankly tighter in Season 2. That’s no accident. The 10 episodes that comprise the second season of this weird and wonderful comic book adaptation are, on the whole, shorter than the 10 episodes that made up the first season, and this small change of trimming five minutes here and 10 minutes there makes a world of difference. A change that a number of other Netflix shows could learn from.

The average length of an episode of The Umbrella Academy Season 2 is 51.8 minutes, versus an average length of 54.8 minutes for Season 1. That may seem like a negligible difference, but you can absolutely feel the tightness of Season 2. I’m a huge fan of the show’s first season, as it introduced this dysfunctional family of weirdos in bold fashion and dug deep into their individual characters, trauma, and uniqueness in compelling ways. But in almost every episode, you’d hit a scene that felt unnecessary. You could feel it almost as soon as it began. Most of these were just small character moments, little exchanges between Luther (Tom Hopper) and Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman) or more of that cringeworthy relationship between Vanya (Ellen Page) and Leonard (John Magaro), but it almost always treaded territory we’d already been through. Or used dialogue to express what could have been more efficiently expressed with a look or gesture.

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Photo by Christos Kalohordis/Netflix

This isn’t unique to The Umbrella Academy. Prestige TV has a habit of mistaking length for quality, as shows ranging from Daredevil to Sons of Anarchy to even Stranger Things have moments or episodes that drag on just a little too long. Of course Netflix’s entire business model hinges on the fact that you, the viewer, spend as much time watching Netflix as possible so the streaming service isn’t going to complain when episodes come in a little long. And there are exceptions where an hour or longer is needed to tell the full story of an episode. But there’s also value in brevity. I remember being shocked when, in the first season of David Fincher’s meticulously crafted Mindhunter, I hit an episode that was only 34 minutes long. That’s because Fincher knew he only needed 34 minutes to tell that particular story, and wasn’t interested in adding 20 minutes of scenes just to pad out the length. And the episode was all the better for it.

The Umbrella Academy Season 2 is proof positive that while audiences may think they want as much time with these characters as possible, what they really want is as much quality time with these characters as possible. The episodes of Season 2 aren’t short by any means – they’re still longer than your average cable or network drama series – but they really don’t have much fat on them at all. Showrunner Steve Blackman and the show’s writers and editors have made a concerted effort to hone in on “just the good stuff” this season, and boy is it effective.

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Image via Netflix

Indeed, in an interview with Collider’s own Christina Radish, Blackman revealed that he made a conscious decision to craft shorter episodes this season on his own volition, not due to notes from Netflix:

“I just felt like, watching all of the other shows out there in the universe, under 50 minutes is a more digestible amount of time. Certain shows run 56 minutes or 58 minutes. Just subjectively watching the show, I felt that it ran long and I really wanted to tighten it and move it at a much faster pace, this year. That’s why it was edited, and I think it works that way. We still get to tell everyone’s story, which is a challenge, but at a pace that clips along.”

There’s no episode of Season 2 that feels superfluous, and very few scenes that feel indulgent. Yes, by the end of Season 2 I was left desperately wanting more from the Umbrella Academy team. But I’d rather be left wanting more than feeling overstuffed. Efficiency of storytelling is a virtue, and more shows would do well to learn from The Umbrella Academy’s adjustments.

Adam Chitwood is the Managing Editor for Collider. You can follow him on Twitter @adamchitwood.

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Image via Netflix

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