The Umbrella Academy Season 2 Review: Everything You Loved but With New Problems

With the start of its second season, The Umbrella Academy delivers an opening sequence that faithfully adapts the spirit of the comic series by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá to the screen. Much how the first episode of the inaugural season was able to capture the magic of the world and the characters in just a few minutes, this new season begins with momentum and speed. Picking up from the first season’s cliffhanger, the Hargreeves kids find themselves scattered across time in Dallas, Texas, as the forward movement of the story visualizes the energy found in the source material. That’s nearly where the similarities in Umbrella Academy season 2 and The Umbrella Academy: Dallas conclude, but like the kids in the Academy themselves the series is forging its own identity with the template given to it.

Aidan Gallagher remains the anchor of the series in a large way, attempting to wrangle the Umbrella Academy together to prevent -another- apocalypse. Though it follows a similar pattern to the first in its approach to navigating this outcome, the new season is filled with enough surprises in the little narrative details to make it stand apart. There’s also the matter of its major deviations from the comic books, of which there are many. At times it feels like this straying from the source pulls away from the actual DNA of the series, but overall the differences made by showrunner Steve Blackman and his writers offer an expanded look at some of the characters and tell tales that are simply not possible in the comics, an ironic turn.

Those that were either happy or totally over the individual antics and storylines of the Hargreeves kids will find themselves right at home. Love or hate Tom Hopper’s mopey Luther? You’re gonna get more of it, and it’s some of the funniest stuff in the entire series. Huge fan or could do with less of David Castañeda’s Diego? He’s as grimdark and goofy as ever, but combined with Luther they’re the slapstick power couple that the series truly needed.

Emmy Raver-Lampman’s Allison has the most compelling storyline throughout the new season, bar none. How do you navigate a world where your powers could actively make a huge difference? Is it worth the cost? Can you reconfigure your like for the umpteenth time? There’s a lot of story meat to chew on and it’s a narrative that can only exist in the series. In addition, Ellen Page’s Vanya finds herself without a memory of anything having happened, diving headfirst into a story that not only doesn’t happen in the comics but which offers the most welcome change for her character than any of the others.

Naturally the heavy hitter and king of the conversation is Robert Sheehan’s Klaus. A case could be made for his portrayal of this character as intrinsic to the DNA of Klaus like Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man or Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. He IS Klaus, and it’s impossible to imagine anyone else making this material work and be as genuine in his insanity as Sheehan is. As with the first season, Sheehan’s antics are incomplete without Justin H. Min as Ben, now a series regular. Despite being dead, Min’s character remains the heart and soul of the entire Academy. Though a spectral metaphor for failure in the first season, he’s able to actually be, ahem, fleshed out with great delta and given a fun subplot.

The series quickly does some course corrections from what just didn’t work with its first season in its opening minutes, literally writing those elements away with the wave of a hand. However, they trade the lackluster Hazel and Cha-Cha for newcomer Ritu Arya as Lila, who shares scenes with a host of characters across the series but few of which feel necessary. This isn’t to say Arya does a poor job with her material, she’s fantastic with some great gags over the ten episodes, but the character as a whole doesn’t always work. On the flipside are three new assassins from The Commission, The Swedes, played by Kris Holden-Ried, Jason Bryden, and Tom Sinclair as cartoonish Terminators with questionable taste but a strict sense of Viking tradition.

There are two major issues with the new season though, one tiny and one major. The tiny one is they spend a lot of time making modern references to pop culture, something that the characters can theoretically “get away with” because they’re in the past and no one gets them. The trouble here is that these gags are pretty antithetical to the entire vibe and world created in the first season. I won’t lie that a series of Destiny’s Child and NSYNC bits didn’t make me laugh but they feel out of place and distract from the uniqueness of what makes the world of Umbrella Academy so special.

The larger issue is that the new season has a hard time keeping tabs on the limits and potential of the Umbrella Academy’s powers. Characters will sometimes be “too tired” to use their abilities despite this never being an issue before, but only when it’s at a point of convenience for them to not have their powers. This trend becomes more obvious in the final stretch of episodes but forces the story to grind as weaknesses in the children’s powers are brought up for the first time in the home stretch.

If the first season of Umbrella Academy was about learning to live with your family’s dysfunction and coming together to overcome your troubled past, season 2 is about making peace with yourself. It’s integral for the characters in the series to find a way to live with themselves and where they are while also existing outside of a group. There’s certainly an air of similarity in how it handles the dynamic of the family from the first season, but the individual journeys on display carry the weight more than the group as a whole. Overall, The Umbrella Academy’s second season expands on its idea in fun ways while giving us more of what we love about its titular team. Some moments of plot manipulation or slowness in the pacing bring it down a hair from its first season, but fans will find a lot to love about this new batch of episodes. And as expected, it has a killer soundtrack once again.

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Rating: Four out of Five.

The Umbrella Academy season two premieres on Netflix in full on Friday, July 31.