The Umbrella Academy has returned and over the weekend I finally got around to finishing off the second season after an extended run that saw me start at the beginning and then work my way through.
Like so many Netflix projects before it, it's based on a comic book series, in this case, one by Gerard Way (who also happens to be the frontman of My Chemical Romance). However, before we go any further, here's a quick scene-setter to get everyone up to speed (which also neatly encapsulates the first season without really spoiling anything):
Seven siblings born on the same day in the same unusual circumstances grow to have special powers and eventually get caught up in an epic adventure filled with action, adventure, and time travel. Throw in a robotic mother, a talking chimp, an eccentric billionaire (who doesn't much like kids despite the fact that he adopted seven of them), and the end of the world, and you've got a rather unique proposition.
Time travel sits at the heart of the experience. As someone who finds this subject absolutely fascinating, I had to let go of logic when considering the consequences of time travel and the way that it is handled across both seasons. There are so many unanswered questions, mostly relating to the purpose and powers of the Commission, an organisation responsible for looking after the timeline and making sure that everything that should happen does. It's here that the series comes a little unstuck, in this season more than the first. Thus, it's best that you just don't think about it too much, lest the wheels come off completely.
If you can live with a bit of narrative dissonance, you'll find the rest of the show to be hugely entertaining, with the super-powered siblings heading back in time to un-end the world once again. This time, however, the apocalypse is tied to events that unfolded in Dallas in 1963, when JFK was assassinated. Following on directly from the end of the first season, the siblings are sent back to Texas, arriving in the same spot but at different times in the years leading up to the fateful day when the president drove through Dealey Plaza.
As mentioned, the time travel element can often be handled less than elegantly, however, dropping the brothers and sisters in such historically significant circumstances does at least make things easier to follow. It's also a chance to bust out to classic cars and eye-catching historical costumes, and there's also no escaping the institutional and social homophobia and racism that blighted the era. Of course, there are a lot of parallels that you can draw between then and now, which helps these moments to hit all the harder.
The biggest miss in this second season is the dynamic between Hazel and Cha-Cha. Instead, we're introduced to new, more... Swedish assassins. The bold character designs once again speak to the series' comic book origins, but these new enemies are nowhere near as charismatic as the Commission's hit squad from the first season, and I felt the absence of that particular sub-plot.
The new '60s setting certainly helps freshen things up though. The twists and turns continue to arrive at a fairly steady pace, and many of them I simply didn't see coming. In that respect, The Umbrella Academy is a constant delight and this second season does a great job of switching between eras with clarity, regularly serving up chunks of backstory that pours new light on the main characters and their respective motivations.
The thing that I enjoyed the most, however, is the savage sense of humour that veins throughout the whole production. There are some brilliantly funny moments in there, and the banter between the siblings is frequently great. The advantage of having seven leads is that there is room for different relationships to develop and grow, and this ever-shifting family dynamic is often the thing that powers the narrative forward.
Another major positive is the quality casting and the subsequent performances of the actors. There isn't a weak link between them, but that's to be expected if you've got a cast that includes the likes of Ellen Page, although it's fair to say that Aidan Gallagher steals the show once again as Five, the old man trapped in the body of a schoolboy. The whole cast convinces and there are some seriously slick sequences brought to life by well-choreographed moments, decent special effects, all of which is reinforced by the series' distinct visual identity.
So, if you can ignore the odd time travel-related plothole, there's a lot to enjoy in this second season of The Umbrella Academy, with the siblings given more room to grow against the backdrop of a truly bonkers storyline that doesn't pull its punches and has plenty of surprises to share. It might borrow an idea or two from the likes of the X-Men and Heroes, but thanks to its unique sense of style and wicked sense of humour, this second season is well worth a watch.