In season one of Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy, based on the comic book by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba, there is an apocalypse in 2019 caused by our titular dysfunctional heroes. Now that we are sitting in a rather ‘doom and gloom’ 2020, 2019 as the harbinger of an impending apocalypse seems rather obvious in retrospect. My bet is that from now on shows with apocalyptic premises will need to go the extra mile to convince us of their “impending doominess”.
That is perhaps why the tonal shift in The Umbrella Academy’s season 2 works in its favour. It does not stray from its earlier premise of the dysfunctional Hargreeves family causing another apocalypse. The show picks up immediately from Season 1’s ending. Five, our time travelling assassin trapped in the body of an annoying teenager manages to successfully time-jump with the Hargreeves siblings into the 1960s, saving them from the apocalypse caused by their sister Vanya.
However, the time-jump is not all that accurate, and the siblings land a few years apart, between 1960 and 1963 in Dallas, Texas. Five, the last one to stick the landing, immediately finds himself in the middle of the US-Soviet war that quickly ends with global nuclear annihilation in front of his eyes. Saved at the last moment by Hazel, one of The Commission’s former operatives, Five is time-jumped back ten days and given the task of rounding up his siblings to prevent the end of days. This apocalypse now has something to do with them, JFK’s assassination, and their father Reginald Hargreeves.
Meanwhile, the Hargreeves siblings have managed to, in the years that they were apart, find their own way in the 1960s. Luther is a body guard to a mob boss, Allison is now married and a Black rights activist as well, Klaus has his own hippy cult with assistance from Ben’s ghost, Vanya has lost her memory and is taken in by a loving Texan family and Diego is a in nuthouse – attempting to escape and prevent Kennedy’s upcoming assassination along with fellow asylum patient Lila, a refreshing new addition to the series.
What season 2 does well is tweak the tonality of season 1 to a much lighter, zanier territory. Season 2 feels more like Dirk Gently, Doctor Who or The Tick, rather than Dark – which I think works in its favour. But it’s not like Season 2 doesn’t have its flaws. There are Deus Ex Machina plot moments and villains like the ‘The Swedes’ and ‘The Handler’, will prompt the occasional eye roll. The soundtrack, while fantastic, is overused in the initial episodes and you never really see the characters develop beyond their father’s shadow. Lila’s eventual reveal is another rushed misstep compensated by the fact that the girl kicks some sweet ‘posterior’ through the show.
But these flaws are compromises the audience can afford to make, as the show delivers a far more fun, engaging, and expansive experience this time round. It expands on The Commission and The Hargreeves legacy and does not take itself half as seriously as it did in season 1.
The dumb jocks in the family, Luther and Diego shine, and Tom Hopper as Luther delivers a great performance. We are treated to some cool and slick fight sequences that harness the full spectrum of the siblings’ power set. There’s lot more visual and action scale as well and you could easily mistake Umbrella Academy as a well-produced one-off from Fox’s X-Men universe. NEW MUTANTS ARE YOU LISTENING!!
There’s a moment when one of the protagonists asks a poignant, philosophical, and dumb question about how milk knows when to become yoghurt. It is clear that Umbrella Academy knew it had to become yoghurt after a rather tame season 1. As a result, some of its flaws are perhaps just a part of the curdling process.