“The Umbrella Academy” Season 1 was one of those shows that I liked a lot, forgot about, and ended up never reviewing on this site. While I thought it had some missteps here and there, I thought its cast was solid, its narrative was compelling, and it had just the right balance of relatable drama and weird superhero stuff to keep me entertained. And in an extremely overcrowded genre, it managed to be its own thing.
While some have dismissed it as being an off-brand X-Men clone, “The Umbrella Academy”‘s first season struck a tone that was uniquely its own, sharing more in common with Amazon’s “The Boys” than your standard Marvel movie. I love how every character is flawed and is terrible in their own unique way, and the group having superpowers is treated more of a curse than a blessing.
“The Umbrella Academy” follows seven adopted children with super powers that were taken in by billionaire Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore), who raised and trained them to one day save the world, who is already deceased when Season 1 opens. The group is made up of Luther (Tom Hopper), who has super strength and has the upper-body of an ape, except for his head; Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman), who can mind-control anyone if she says “I heard a rumor …”; Klaus (Robert Sheehan), who can talk to and conjure the dead; Ben (Justin H. Min), who is dead and is only visible to Klaus as a ghost, but can make deadly tentacles sprout from his body; Diego (David Castañeda), who can curve the trajectory of anything he throws, usually knives; Vanya (Ellen Page), who can turn sound into deadly energy, and who caused the end of the world at the end of Season 1; and Five (Aidan Gallagher), who can jump through space and time and is currently trapped in his thirteen-year-old body despite being an old man due to a time travel accident in Season 1. Five previously worked for an entity called the Commission, a time-travel agency whose main job is to protect the current timeline from anomalies that would destroy or alter it, maintaining continuity.
As mentioned before, Season 1 ends with Vanya, who is the most powerful of all seven Hargreeves children, destroying the world by unleashing her previously-suppressed powers (their father had her grow up medicated and thinking she had no powers fearful of how dangerous she could be). Five only saves the family by jumping back in time at the last minute, but it goes astray, with all of them being transported to the same alley in Dallas, Texas, at different points of the early 1960s. Five soon learns that their being there eventually causes a new apocalypse that wipes out the world via nuclear warfare in 1963, so they essentially run from one mess only to start another.
Separating The Umbrella Academy over the course of many years was a brilliant move, as it allows each character to have enough distance to develop independently, and it’s enough time for them to start living their own lives, making their eventual reunion all the more meaningful.
In the time they are apart, Luther becomes a boxer and strongman for Jack Ruby (John Kapelos); Allison marries a Black civil rights activist named Raymond Chestnut (Yusuf Gatewood); Klaus starts a cult while Ben learns he can posses him; Vanya loses her memory and lives with a married couple named Sissy (Marin Ireland) and Carl (Stephen Bogaert), and serves as the nanny to their son with special needs named Harlan (Justin Paul Kelly); and Diego is stuck in a mental asylum after trying to stop the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, where he meets a crazy girl named Lila Pitts (Ritu Arya), who becomes his love interest.
**Light spoilers** This season’s villain is again The Handler (Kate Walsh), who wakes up early on after being presumed dead via a bullet wound to her head, which she apparently survived because she had a metal plate in her head. She is demoted for her failures in Season 1, replaced by AJ Carmichael (Robin Atkin Downes), a talking goldfish with a mechanical body, as the head of the Commission. The Handler is out for revenge against Five and The Umbrella Academy, and plots to take back control of the Commission at any cost.
This was a pretty good season. It clearly looks and feels like it was made for Netflix, and as such, looks perfectly average for a show of this caliber. This is a show completely driven by plot, not necessarily spectacle, though I was impressed with how the show looked in its final episodes, where VFX are used more liberally.
And I found the plot more enjoyable than the first season. Season 2 felt like it could breathe some more and do its own thing, and it really lets its characters play in the backdrop of its 1960s setting — and the new characters it brings from this era stand their own, with Ray, Sissy and Lila being the best new additions to the cast. They could have easily been portrayed as disposable and products of their time, but the show does a great job at taking its time nurturing the main casts’ attachments to them and to flesh them out to the point when it’s time for The Umbrella Academy to inevitably return to 2019, there is real conflict about possibly having to leave their new friends behind.
Klaus has a great side story that you might overlook, as he tries with all his might to save his boyfriend during the Vietnam war, Dave (Calem MacDonald), from enlisting (in Season 1, Klaus time travels to that time period), in an attempt to save him from dying in the war as seen in Season 1, but is thwarted, which I wish the show would focus on more, as it adds depth to Klaus’ character, as the cynicism of his character is directly informed by the tragedy he goes through. Instead, the show has him inadvertently start a cult for shallow comic relief, which is a shame, because Klaus really caught me off guard and surpassed my expectations in Season 1. It feels like the show doesn’t know what to do with him in Season 2, and his cult arc really feels like something the show runners needed to give him something to keep busy.
There was a lot of focus on Vanya in Season 1, as she slowly came out of her shell and eventually destroyed the world in doing so, but I like her more in Season 2. She becomes more comfortable in her own skin, and goes from being an unstable dangerous entity that could kill everyone, to a contributing member of The Umbrella Academy who can control her powers and form healthy relationships. She has a subplot with Sissy, in which they become lovers, and while their love story had its missing pieces and was rushed at times, I think it was decently done. Essentially, Vanya focuses on herself this season, and becomes better for it.
Allison has great chemistry with Ray, and their conflict is believable when he learns of her true identity. He’s the one character I wanted them to bring with them to the future, as he is the most fleshed out character of the new additions to the cast, and is fueled by a great charismatic performance by Gatewood. Part of me feels like we haven’t seen the last of him.
I found Diego much more fun in Season 2, mostly because Castañeda was allowed to have fun with him. Diego takes himself much less seriously in Season 2, which allows him to stand out from every other serious but painfully boring vigilante-type in this genre. It’s a shame that Lila, his main love interest, wasn’t allowed to match him. She starts out as a fun character he meets seemingly by chance, but ends up having a secret identity which, once revealed, ruined her character for me, because the moment her twist is revealed, she goes from a character we like because she’s unusual and interesting, to someone we’re told we’re supposed to like because of her importance. Perhaps Season 3 will make her interesting once again.
This season is by no means perfect, but it’s a decent ten episodes that will keep you engaged. I am optimistic for Season 3.
“The Umbrella Academy” Season 2 gets an 7.5/10