‘The Umbrella Academy’ Season 2 Review: A Confident, Thrilling New Chapter Is Here

     July 31, 2020

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Well, it looks like The Umbrella Academy finally got its shit together.

The live-action series adapted from the Gerard WayGabriel Bá Dark Horse Comics series is coming back to Netflix for Season 2 on July 31: After an intriguing but somewhat spotty debut in 2019, all signs point to series creator Steve Blackman and the rest of the Umbrella Academy team taking critiques on board to make a second season with a tighter story, cleaner execution, stronger performances, and even better world-building. With these revisions in place, Umbrella Academy is poised to make a very confident and attention-grabbing return to Netflix.

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Image via Netflix

Loosely adapted from  Volume 2, “Dallas,” of the comics, The Umbrella Academy Season 2 kicks off with a bang. Really. Picking up in the final moments of the Season 1 finale, we go from the 2019 apocalypse following the Hargreeves siblings face-off with their sister, Vanya (Ellen Page), into the early ’60s thanks to oldest/youngest sibling Number Five (Aidan Gallagher) using his powers of teleportation and time travel. Unfortunately for Five, those time-traveling abilities need a bit of work, because he ends up scattering his brothers and sisters across the first years of the decade. Klaus (Robert Sheehan) and Ben (Justin H. Min) land in 1960; Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman) arrives in 1961; Luther (Tom Hopper) appears in 1962; Diego (David Castañeda) arrives on September 1, 1963; and Vanya appears on October 12, 1963. A small miracle comes in the form of the siblings being spat out of Five’s time portal into the same alley in Dallas, Texas, which helps ensure they’re not kept apart for too long. Meanwhile, Five arrives in Dallas on November 25, 1963, just three days after John F. Kennedy is assassinated. It’s Five’s job to not once again not just make sure the team gets back together, but figure out how to stop the world from ending again once more.

It is blazingly clear from the start of Season 2 until the final frame, nine episodes later, that any issues with the first season’s pacing, story structure, direction, and performance have been addressed and improved. While I was very much on board for what Season 1 of The Umbrella Academy was laying down, it was hard to shake the feeling there was too much fat. Storylines felt a bit too contrived mid-way through the season, character motivations seemed murky in a frustrating way, and there seemed to be a hesitation to lean full-tilt into the absurdities of this world.

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Image via Netflix

Now, I want to live in the Umbrella Academy world. There is a crackling energy humming just below the surface this season. Umbrella Academy is devoted to ensuring your eyes are locked on the screen at all times and fully invested right from the beginning. I want to know these characters, have offbeat superpowers, and explore the alternate history this show has cooked up. Fans returning for Season 2 will be rewarded with a world expanded in a variety of attention-grabbing ways, character explorations which are richer and more thoughtful, and a story which moves at a refreshing clip and holds onto the necessary thrills and key emotional beats which make for a satisfying watch. We’re treated to deeper dives into the more surreal aspects of this world (like Ben’s ghost existence) or the inner workings of the timeline preservation agency known as The Commission. Those dives, paired alongside more grounded looks at how these once-disparate superpowered siblings come together and use their powers to help people other than themselves, make Umbrella Academy feel like an entirely new show; it feels like the show we’ve deserved all along.

What I’m really interested in celebrating, more than the technical improvements, is the much happier marriage of the Umbrella Academy cast to the story they’re telling this season. Everyone — and I mean everyone — is turning in stronger, more emotionally engaging performances which gel even better with the unique tone set in the season. Perhaps this is the case because the show is now making more of an effort to not only reunite the siblings earlier in Season 2, and ensure it’s clear that they actually like each other. Perhaps it’s because the new time period, new enemies, and new revelations that await these characters are way more fun for an actor to sink their teeth into. Either way, you’re going to love the Umbrella Academy cast with your whole damn heart in Season 2, I promise.

As Luther, Hopper readily submits himself to being the butt of any possible joke, allowing him to play against type while endearing us to his character even more. Castañeda softens Diego’s brusqueness from Season 1, allowing for new shades of vulnerability and empathy to shine through that hard exterior. Sheehan absolutely knocks it out of the park as he turns up the dial on Klaus’ tendency to go completely over-the-top in damn near every exchange onscreen. Page remains the quiet and powerful heart of the cast, once again turning in a compelling performance as Vanya’s arc ushers in a queer love story and a compelling grappling with her destructive superpowers. It is such a relief to see the hard edges of each character sanded down and, even better, watch as they interact and grow with each other throughout the season. The Hargreeves are the heart of The Umbrella Academy world and to finally have them acting like a team is one of the most significant and heartening improvements from Season 1.

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Image via Netflix

While I love everyone in the cast, it is Allison and her arc that must be given a spotlight as she confronts what it means to be Black in Dallas in the early ’60s. Allison landing alone in a world where the first establishment she walks into for help is a whites-only diner is an ominous portent of what awaits her. Fans know Allison can more than handle whatever comes her way, but even when she’s up against it, the show at least respects her enough to not put her through the facile emotional wringer we’ve seen elsewhere (see: The Help). This season also honestly depicts the consequences of bravely stepping into the role of a Black Civil Rights organizer in the South, providing a path for Allison to explore what it means to be a hero and how heroism does not require superpowers. The timing of Season 2’s arrival amidst the very real and ongoing fight for equal rights for Black Americans and the recent passing of Civil Rights era icons John Lewis and C.T. Vivian may be accidental. But, when considered and discussed alongside Allison’s development this season, it may also turn out to be a perfectly timed release, too.

There is so much more I wish I could tell you right now about just how good The Umbrella Academy Season 2 is over the course of its 10 new episodes. There is so much to touch on, including the incredible needle drops, the costume design, the rip-roaring banter between seven siblings trying to save the world from an apocalyptic event (again), the surprise plot twists which will have you flipping out or inconsolable, or just how good it feels to have a show firing on all cylinders as it welcomes you into its wild and weird world with open arms. But to touch on these things would be to spoil it. To go into full detail would be to break the spell the season weaves and wraps you up tightly within before it’s even had a chance to do so. Trust me, if there is one thing you don’t want me to do, it is to spoil a season of television even more must-see than its predecessor, arriving at a time when we’re all champing at the bit for new, good things upon which to feast.

 Grade: A

The Umbrella Academy Season 2 will be released on Netflix on July 31. Catch up with Season 1, which is on Netflix right now.

Allie Gemmill is the Weekend Contributing Editor for Collider. You can follow them on Twitter @_matineeidle.

Television