The Umbrella Academy Season 1 adapted Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá’s bestselling comic into a popular superhero extravaganza that introduced the Netflix audience to the mayhem that is the Hargreeves’ family drama.
In Season 2, which time-travels the Academy members into the middle of Dallas in 1963, the hijinks continue in an entertaining, unpredictable season that moves the saga forward into truly dope territory — while retaining some of the first season’s original flaws in pacing and plot cohesiveness.
There’s no doubt that Season 2 is fun as hell. Everything that was good about Season 1 is back, including the endearing dysfunction of the Hargreeves siblings, inventive fight scenes scored to pop and rock hits, and laugh-out-loud funny dialogue that needs to appear on a merch line (I would buy a Five Hargreeves “I’m the daddy here” mug in a heartbeat).
It’s one of the rare shows where simply putting three characters in a hair salon and watching them hang out is equally as rewarding as watching a team of superhumans fights Soviet soldiers in an apocalyptic battle sequence, which is a credit to the strength of its cast and script.
Season 2 also does reasonably well incorporating more complex topics into its repertoire, following up on the concept of time-traveling its modern characters into 1963. The show rightfully incorporates Allison Hargreeves’ status as a Black woman thrust into the heart of Jim Crow by having her join up with a branch of the Civil Rights movement.
Allison participates in demonstrations against racism while acknowledging the fact that her power (mind control) would be both a game-changer for her work in that era and morally wrong to abuse. The execution of Allison’s plotline is not perfect — it’s hard not to want her to start rumoring it up far before she actually brings the thunder — but the beats of her story are some of the season’s strongest.
In Season 1, young cast member Aidan Gallagher was a series highlight playing the grumpy, older-than-his-years Number Five. Gallagher is still astounding in Season 2, serving up Five’s barely concealed contempt with a side of genuine care for his dumbass siblings.
Season 2 also does more with actor Justin H. Min, whose character Ben Hargreeves was underserved in the previous season due to him being, well…dead. Ghost Ben is a bigger presence this time around, and his scenes with his medium brother Klaus (Robert Sheehan) give needed depth and context to their relationship.
If there is still one Hargreeves left behind in Season 2’s character development, however, it’s Diego (David Castañeda). His inferiority complex over being the Umbrella Academy’s Number Two is over-utilized, reassigning him from the grimdark, Batman-y sibling into someone who can’t do anything right.
Even giving him Season 2’s primary romantic subplot can’t rescue his character from feeling like a repository for the writers’ running Google Doc of mean one-liners, which is baffling considering Castañeda’s genuinely funny performance. Season 3 would do well to let Diego make a joke instead of being one.
Diego does get a few good fights in Season 2, though, as do many of the other characters. The Umbrella Academy ups the ante this season with fantastic action scenes set to the show’s trademark unexpected (but perfect once you hear them) musical cues. Seriously, no other show has needle drops like these.
Frank Sinatra, KISS, The Backstreet Boys, Billy Idol, and The Stranglers all have prominent tracks on the season’s soundtrack, and that’s without even going into a ska cover of Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy” that marks the last time anyone should be able to use any version of that song for a fight scene. The Umbrella Academy rocks hard — even when it falters.
Season 2 messes up when it gets too caught up in how cool its ideas look or sound and overstuffs its plot with characters and beats that don’t really need to be there. There’s a trio of unnamed Swedish assassins who contribute almost nothing to the plot yet pop up nearly every episode, a shady secret society accomplishes little and only seems to feed (not solve) the series’ ongoing mystery about the origins of Reginald Hargreeves.
Another flimsy stab at the first season’s attempt to make its viewers root for legal incest, and a handful of other flashy plot buttons and knobs that simply don’t do much when pressed or pulled. Spending time on these hinders the plot and pacing once again, hampering Season 2 with the same lack of urgency that made Season 1 seem slow and low-stakes despite the apocalypse.
The end of the season also suffers from overstuffing, introducing concepts and characters that will probably appear next season (if The Umbrella Academy gets one, and it almost certainly will) but arrive largely out of the left field.
It makes for an action-packed finale, but The Umbrella Academy needs to work on spreading out the exciting bits over the course of a season as opposed to allowing them to clump up at its high points and disappear entirely at its lows. Clumpy or not, fans of The Umbrella Academy will likely be all-in on Season 2’s Dallas adventure and begging for the next adventure the minute the final credits roll.
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