Thursday, October 22, 2020

“The Umbrella Academy” Season 2: Everything Season 1 Wasn’t [Review]

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Derrick Murray is a Los Angeles based stand up comedian, writer, and co-host for The Jack of All Nerds Show.

It is rare that a TV series is given a shot at redemption, and “The Umbrella Academy” season 2 does not throw away their shot. Netflix has had a number of season 1 originals plagued by poor writing and meandering plot threads. Even season 1 suffered from a number of storytelling mishaps.

But season 2 seems to have found its groove, doubling down on all the strengths that its predecessor had and giving us the show we deserve. Some shows just need more time to find their bearings, and while doling out chances does not always balance the risk to reward, “The Umbrella Academy” season 2 is a risk worth taking.

SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT, SERIOUSLY.

Okay, we warned you….

“The Umbrella Academy,” photo courtesy of Netflix

When we last left our band of misfit hero siblings, they were attempting to stop their sister Vanya from ushering in the apocalypse. Five’s plan was to teleport them out before it hits with the intention of transporting everyone back in time together. Unfortunately for the Hargreaves siblings, Five drops everyone off at different times between the years of 1961-1963.

The last to arrive, Five discovers that the apocalypse followed them. With some help from his old commission friend Hazel, he is sent back 10 days prior, where all of his siblings are living out their new lives in Dallas. He now must get them back together again and stop yet another world ending event.

There are so many strengths in “The Umbrella Academy” season 2 in comparison to its mediocre predecessor, it’s hard to know where to begin unpacking them all.

Beginning with the writing and storytelling, the writers seemed to have done an incredible course correction. Season 2 feels focused and purposeful, choosing to keep the “round up the family, save the world” as the front and center plot thread. This allows them to do away with overcomplicated or unexplained exposition and subplots without payoffs. While there are new additions to the cast, they feel belonged rather than fringed.

Netflix

While everyone is given the spotlight at one time or another, it feels far more connected this time around. Subplots add to the core of the season rather than contribute to unnecessary confusion. Establishing the family seemed to be a challenge in s1, leading to an imbalanced of care and concern for most of the ensemble and forcing certain characters to the forefront at the expense of others. That is no longer the issue here. All of the heroes are unique and interesting in their own right, making “The Umbrella Academy” s2 feel far more complete and robust.

In addition, its 1960s backdrop adds another layer of purpose to the season. By incorporating aspects of the times like the sit-ins and police brutality, the show traveling back in time makes it eerily relevant today. It is also handled with care, never feeling preachy or overreaching, and never getting carried away with trying to deliver a message over telling the overall story. By focusing on the simplicity of the show’s main plot, it gives more weight to its complex subplots, something many other attempts on Netflix have not seem to have mastered yet. Under the gorgeous visuals, cheeky humor, over the top violence and killer soundtrack, s2 has something to say.

“The Umbrella Academy,” photo courtesy of Netflix

The new and returning cast are all fantastic as well. Each sibling is given more individual screen time this season, balancing out the Klaus heavy season 1. While Klaus (Robert Sheehan) is certainly a scene stealer, it was at the expense of the others. Here, everyone gets their moment.

From Allison’s participation in the Civil Rights Movement to Five (Aidan Gallagher) trying to correct his mistakes and end his continued battle with The Commission- all of their stories matter. The lives they’ve been forced to live in their short years in the 1960s all say something about who they are, adding a layer of individualism to the siblings that transcends them above being defined by their powers.

When they inevitably come together to face down doomsday, we want them all to win, both individually and as the Umbrella Academy superhero unit. Lila (Rita Arya) and Allison’s husband Ray (Yusuf Gatewood) are welcomed additions to the cast as well, again adding to the purpose of the overall story through their subplots without bogging down the pacing. There really isn’t a bad performance here, with Netflix finally syncing superb acting with stellar writing.

photo courtesy of Netflix

Lastly, the show is powered by its biting and quirky humor as well as its killer soundtrack. As mentioned, the show sports impressive visuals and hyper stylized violence, but the musical choices capture everything that makes the show binge worthy. From a Swedish rendition of “Hello” by Adele to watching Allison and Ray fight off assassins to “Backstreet’s Back” by the Backstreet Boys to digging deep with the forgotten 90s gem “Avalanche” by The Butthole Surfers, the music strengthens the absurdity of the show without crossing the line. This is akin to “Guardians of the Galaxy” level soundtrack and the show is all the better for it. Paired with humor, the show is as fun as it is poignant.

TOM HOPPER as LUTHER HARGREEVES in episode 20 of THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY Cr. COURTESY OF NETFLIX/NETFLIX © 2020

The Umbrella Academy season 2 is everything season 1 should have been. While s1 wasn’t necessarily bad, it was average outing for Netflix at best. Luckily, the streaming service has given the show another chance. By doing so, s2 is allowed to breath and stretch its legs, giving viewers a glimpse into what the show is truly capable of the second time around.

Perhaps its only downside is that you have to be familiar with season 1 before diving into its follow up.

They are so closely tied together that despite being drastically different in their levels of enjoyment, you can’t have one without the other. if you even mildly enjoyed season 1, you will be rewarded. If you haven’t watched either season, know that 2 is the reward for stopping the apocalypse. Well, at least one of them.

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