The Umbrella Academy season 2 review: Making dysfunction beautiful again

It took nearly a decade for The Umbrella Academy to make it to the screen, but when the series finally made its debut on Netflix in February 2019, the streaming service found itself with another hit. The Umbrella Academy returns for a second season on July 31 with much of the show’s original cast and creative team reprising their roles, along with a few new faces.

Season 2 finds the dysfunctional family of superheroes transported back in time after fleeing the apocalyptic events of the first season. Now stranded in Texas during the early 1960s, the Hargreeves siblings must find a way to reunite and return home while simultaneously protecting the past and saving the future.

THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY AIDAN GALLAGHER as NUMBER FIVE in episode 201 of THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY Cr. COURTESY OF NETFLIX/NETFLIX © 2020

In a season bookended by two of its most exciting episodes, the second story arc of The Umbrella Academy measures up to the high mark set by season 1. Not only does season 2 deftly juggle multiple timelines and narrative threads, it adds even more depth to its colorful cast of characters who manage to become even more fascinating the more we find out about them.

All together now

It required a world-ending event to make the former members of the child superhero team overcome their personal grudges in the first season of The Umbrella Academy, and season 2’s premiere episode — penned by showrunner Steve Blackman — offers a spectacular reminder of just how powerful the remaining members of the family are.

The first episode of the new season is one of the series’ best, offering a recap of the characters, concepts, and emotional arcs of season 1 while simultaneously teasing the exciting potential of the team, and what stands in the way of them realizing that potential. Given how much narrative material was introduced across season 1’s 10 episodes, and how much time has elapsed since the series premiered on Netflix, it’s a credit to the show’s creative team that the first chapter of season 2 avoids feeling overstuffed.

THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY (L to R) ROBERT SHEEHAN as KLAUS HARGREEVES, EMMY RAVER-LAMPMAN as ALLISON HARGREEVES and ELLEN PAGE as VANYA HARGREEVES in episode 205 of THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY Cr. CHRISTOS KALOHORIDIS/NETFLIX © 2020

However, as the episode’s title suggests, Right Back Where We Started does reset the story a bit for season 2, forcing the team to find each other all over again — both literally and metaphorically — over the course of a 10-episode arc that has them trying to avert yet another apocalyptic event.

It would have been easy for season 2 of The Umbrella Academy to slip into telling the same tale twice, but instead, the series opts to explore how the events of the first season changed the characters and their relationships to each other and the world around them. They’re clearly different people after season 1 (for better or worse), and how that informs their approach to life and the problems presented by being stuck more than 50 years in the past is a central theme of season 2.

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Returning cast members Aidan Gallagher and Robert Sheehan continue to be the show’s breakout stars, portraying abrasive teleporter Number Five and ghost-channeling Klaus, respectively. The pair are still the show’s most fun characters to watch, but the second season does a nice job of letting the rest of the Hargreeves siblings shine, too.

THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY EMMY RAVER-LAMPMAN as ALLISON HARGREEVES in THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY Cr. CHRISTOS KALOHORIDIS/NETFLIX © 2020

Of the series’ returning stars, Emmy Raver-Lampman expertly carries the weight of the season’s most emotionally heavy story arc. Dropped in Texas at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, her character, Allison (aka The Rumor), is forced to confront the harsh reality of daily life for a Black woman during that time and place in American history.

After being relegated to a supporting role in the first season, Ellen Page gets more time to explore and expand on her character in season 2. Moving both Vanya Hargreeves and her powerful abilities out of the background opens up a surprising amount of storytelling opportunities over the course of the season, and the series benefits from letting Page build on her character’s deeply troubled background.

With the extra screen time some characters get in season 2 of The Umbrella Academy, others end up being shortchanged. That holds particularly true for Luther, Tom Hopper’s ape-armed Hargreeves sibling who slides into a supporting role in the show’s sophomore arc. That’s a shame because Hopper was one of the standouts of the show’s first season, and although the series’ makeup effects budget has increased enough to allow Luther to show off his man-ape torso this time around, the character never evolves beyond being a lovesick meathead.

New faces

Of the newcomers in the show’s second season, Ritu Arya and Yusuf Gatewood both deliver strong performances as the love interests of Diego and Allison, respectively. Marin Ireland also makes her debut in the series as a character with an important role in Vanya’s life and story arc, and the chemistry between their characters feels authentic as they grapple with the predicament in which they both find themselves.

THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY (L to R) RITU ARYA as LILA and DAVID CASTA„EDA as DIEGO HARGREEVES in episode 204 of THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY Cr. CHRISTOS KALOHORIDIS/NETFLIX © 2020

If the show has a true standout among the second season’s additions, though, it’s Arya.

Endlessly entertaining, Arya’s escaped asylum patient pinballs from one weird moment to the next. Interacting with the eccentric characters of The Umbrella Academy offers her plenty of opportunities to explore her character’s questionable sanity, and she does so in delightful ways — from a simple change of expression that splashes some humor on an otherwise bleak moment, to a clever line that makes her seem like the most self-aware character in the room.

A careful pace

The first season of The Umbrella Academy was hit with some criticism for its pacing, particularly when it came to the season’s middle episodes, which slowed the unfolding story to a crawl at points. Season 2 of the series doesn’t necessarily fix that issue, but it does feel noticeably more lively all the way through.

THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY ROBERT SHEEHAN as KLAUS HARGREEVES in episode 203 of THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY Cr. CHRISTOS KALOHORIDIS/NETFLIX © 2020

Where the first season was bogged down in exposition and origin material during its second act, season 2 benefits from having no such responsibility to explain the characters’ backstories. With the exception of a few rehashed plot points from season 1, the action moves steadily forward — except when it’s jumping back and forth through time, of course.

Not an end, or is it?

The first season of The Umbrella Academy ended on a major cliffhanger, and although season 2 doesn’t leave its audience dangling to the same extent, it teases the next season’s story arc more overtly this time around.

Season 1 of The Umbrella Academy served up a non-ending and didn’t provide closure for the Hargreeves siblings. Thankfully, season 2 wraps up with a better balance of narrative conclusion and forward-looking plot points, a combination that makes The Umbrella Academy feel like a well-crafted, continuing saga.

Season 2 of The Umbrella Academy premieres July 31 on Netflix.

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