‘The Umbrella Academy’ Season 2 finds our heroes chilling in the 60s
One glance at the promo photos for The Umbrella Academy on Netflix basically provides all the necessary context for the show. The cast members look insouciantly towards the camera, each precisely checking a different demographic box while simultaneously conveying a mystique that lands perfectly in that sweet spot between “cool” and “convention.” It a Benetton ad you can stream. Supposedly, 45 million households pounced on it during its first month, making the recently-released second season a foregone conclusion.
Based on a comic created by Gerard Way, the angsty frontman of the pseudo-emo alterna rock band My Chemical Romance, the family dysfunction of The Umbrella Academy supposedly symbolizes the dysfunction of band life. Or something. Mostly, as translated to TV, the story seems to mash a dash of X-Men and a bit of Doom Patrol into a blender with a generous helping of later career Wes Anderson. The alienated core characters each possess a quirky superpower and man, they feel all kinds of deep feels about their abilities…and each other. They are weird, they are twee, get used to it.
Season one lays out the story’s hooky premise. On October 1, 1989, 43 women around the world gave birth simultaneously, though none were pregnant when the day started. An eccentric billionaire traveled the planet and acquired seven of these children, raising them as a collective while studying them and their various powers. Along the way, one dies, one travels back in time, and the others scatter away to live their own private, broken lives. The story begins as the survivors reunite to mourn their father’s death and commiserate in their collective misery.
Suddenly, Number Five, their still-teenaged time jumping brother, quite literally falls from a storm in the sky to inform his family that he’s returned from the future to stop the apocalypse. Doomsday havoc ensues, and things get predictably cataclysmic, culminating in (spoiler!) the end of the world. To avoid the destruction whizzing across the planet, the team time jumps, landing at various points throughout the early 1960s in Dallas, Texas.
Season two picks up where each character landed in the 60s, showing us how The Umbrella Academy uses their time in the past to dabble in the fabulous tropes of the era, like guru hippy drug culture, civil rights, secret lesbianism, and, of course, fight clubs. Nobody worries about messing up timelines or impacting the world, because they need to live their lives, man. When he realizes they’re all in the same place and time, Five rounds up his siblings. Together, they fight off evil Swedish assassins working to eradicate their existence, investigate their father’s involvement in the JFK assassination, and there’s yet another impending apocalypse the gang’s gotta stop. It’s season one all over again with shortened eps and fresh sets.
Often, shows of the fantastical stumble around throughout their first season, struggling to find both tone and purpose. I dare anyone to rewatch season one of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Supernatural without squirming in discomfort at least once per episode. They were flat out terrible in ways beyond clunky CGI and Jared Padalecki’s hair, but they had spunk. Audiences love shows of the supernatural and superpowered because the thematic symbolism resonates and that activates our heart sectors. When The Umbrella Academy rolled off of the assembly line, there was no room for substance or depth amidst all the sleek style. It’s a product made to serve Comic-Con lines, not storylines.
The talented cast does their best with the material at hand, selling a (gross) brother/sister romance, a teen who’s an old man, and a ghost who longs for life, but the most egregious problem here is that The Umbrella Academy is simply not loose enough to be fun. I like seeing talented actors do cool shit, but even more than that, I want to feel things and root for them as they overcome struggles, rather than passively watching as they feel things and struggle.
I want absurdities to laugh at, but when the show reaches for humor, it involves someone farting in an elevator while everyone reacts to the smell. That simply doesn’t cut it, so to speak. The Umbrella Academy engages in ample button pushing, cramming together heaps of action, drama, and surprise, but it feels like nobody ever stopped to ask why. And the fact is, so long as it looks good, nobody cares.