Netflix released “The Umbrella Academy” season one back in 2019, mere weeks after the mass cancelation of its Marvel experiment. Since then, the streamer has released several superhero series, some of which are more conventional, like “Raising Dion,” and some which are deeply off the wall, like “Warrior Nun.”
But the return of “Umbrella Academy” is a reminder that nothing on TV is quite as delightfully bizarre as the seven adopted siblings of the Hargreeves family. Season two is a particularly timely story about putting aside your selfish issues and pulling together to prevent the end of the world.
Written by Gerard Way and illustrated by Gabriel Bá, the idea that drives the comic version of “The Umbrella Academy” is much like the one that inspired Alan Moore’s “Watchmen”: What if superheroes really lived among us? In “Watchmen,” Moore asked how it would change society if masked vigilantes and people with superhuman abilities were to walk the Earth. Way, on the other hand, focuses on the impact to these special individuals, specifically mutant children.
How much therapy would these kids need by the time they reached adulthood? The answer, as one might expect, is a lot. These now-grown narcissists could easily fund an entire therapeutic practice.
Klaus (Robert Sheehan) suffers emotional trauma from being able to communicate with the dead, while Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman) struggles with the temptation to manipulate any human she pleases. And those are the simpler problems. Five (Aidan Gallagher) is a time traveler who, due to being hapless at math, is a man in his late 60s stuck in the body of a 13-year-old kid. After sustaining a mortal chest injury, Luther (Tom Hopper) didn’t get a baboon’s heart as a replacement, he got the whole damn torso. Meanwhile, Ben (Justin H. Min) has been dead for 14 years, but not gone. Klaus does the talking — and the bodying — for them both.
And then there’s our lead, Vanya (Ellen Page). She’s the reason the apocalypse happens; her explosive power is a product of decades of repressing her abilities because their father-figure, Reginald (Colm Feore), couldn’t handle a strong woman. The patriarchy hurts everyone, indeed.
The new season picks up where season one left off, with Vanya having set off the apocalypse in New York City and Five attempting a quick bit of time travel to send the siblings back to stop it. But instead, all land in an alley in South Dallas. The issue is that each land in a different time period, scattered across 1961 through 1963. Unsure if anyone else will turn up, each must make their home here, in a new time and place, and wait until the rest of the family, and a new apocalypse, comes along.
On a meta level, not much differs here from season one, which also focused on how the siblings, driven apart by their own trauma and egos, were racing against the clock to come together to save the world. Each character has their same struggles and the same ways of handling them. It’s the ultimate proof that no matter where (or when) you go, there you are. But the new time period does give “The Umbrella Academy” a fresh way to make up for season one’s bigger oversights.
Despite the riskiness of many of “The Umbrella Academy’s” choices, the first season never dealt with the reality that three of these adopted siblings are not white. It was one thing to sidestep the issue with Ben. (He is, after all, dead.) But Diego (David Castañeda) and Allison were both treated in the old-fashioned “colorblind” casting sense, with nary a thought given to how their experiences would be different, especially once they left the safety of their superhero school.
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But sending the group back to the pre-civil rights movement south, one at a time, to fend for themselves forces the series to consider the implications of these choices. Diego gets less of it, as his single-minded determination to “save John F. Kennedy” gets him institutionalized early and often. But Allison’s experiences radicalize her to the point that when her white siblings start showing up, they discover she’s not only become a civil rights activist, but a leading voice in the push for equality.
So the change in time helps inspire the series to correct some of its more glaring errors. But taking the show back to the early days of rock 'n' roll has another silver lining: the soundtrack. Before he began his graphic novel career, Gerard Way became famous as part of the band My Chemical Romance. The music selection in season one’s soundtrack was the show’s secret weapon, with Way digging into his musical knowledge for deep-cut tracks that always fit the moment.
This time, he’s got a whole new era of music to play with. Some of the songs are obvious choices, but others are sheer delights of madness, like setting the nuclear holocaust to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” or using a Swedish cover of Adele for a Viking funeral scene. (And shout out to using Aretha Franklin’s “Won’t Be Long” in the civil rights organizers scene, instead of other more well-known selections.)
The new “Umbrella Academy” season may be a tad predictable. But that doesn’t mean Way's storytelling has lost any of its delightful wackiness, whether it’s using one’s knowledge of the future to start a cult or quoting songs yet to be written as deep and meaningful poetry. Fans will be glad to see the Temps Commission, a bureaucracy dedicated to keeping time, is still involved. (If you think the Hargreeves are oddities, wait until you meet A.J., the “man” running the commission.)
But in the end, when the nukes stop falling and time stands still, this is a heartwarming tale. Considering America's current catastrophe, perhaps this is a story we should all be taking to heart.