When Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá’s offbeat superhero comic The Umbrella Academy was adapted to screen it was a huge success, following Stranger Things and The Witcher as one of 2019’s biggest hits on Netflix. Now, the Hargreeves family is back for a second season of conspiracies, unusual sci-fi creatures and bumbling heroics – and despite a vastly different setting, it’s clear that the ethos this year is if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
You see, The Umbrella Academy season two’s storyline is almost identical to that of season one – but in a collection of episodes as entertaining and engaging as these, it’s surprising how little it matters.
To recap, in the first series we meet a group of superpowered adults, born to different mothers simultaneously around the globe and possessing unusual abilities. Raised by a ruthless billionaire (Colm Feore’s Sir Reginald Hargreeves) to be superheroes and save the world, their dangerous childhood ended up traumatising and alienating the siblings instead, and by the time they’re grown up they’re all estranged with long-existing conflicts.
As a quick roll-call we have super-strong ex-team leader Luther (Tom Hopper), super-persuasive Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman), addict and medium Klaus (Robert Sheehan), wannabe vigilante Diego (David Castañeda), who has the ability to “bend projectiles” (basically meaning he’s very good with knives), deceased brother Ben (Justin H. Min) who is stuck hanging out with Klaus and apparently powerless Vanya (Ellen Page), whose true abilities only emerge towards the end of the first season.
Into this milieu lands their time-travelling sibling Five (Aidan Gallagher), missing since their teenage years but now aged by decades (despite still existing in his younger body) after travelling to the future. It’s up to him to reunite the Hargreeves siblings, find out what they’ve been up to, prevent a near-certain apocalypse and dodge the agents of The Division, a time-travelling agency determined to let Armageddon happen.
All recapped? OK good – because in season two, the storyline sees Five return from the future to find his brothers and sisters scattered and estranged. It’s up to him to reunite the family, find out what they’ve been up to, prevent another near-certain apocalypse and dodge the agents of The Division, and… well, you get the idea.
Of course, there are some major changes in season two. While season one was set in a sort of alternate-present day, season two is set specifically in 1963 Dallas, Texas, a few days before the assassination of JFK, meaning there’s even more time-travel tomfoolery to enjoy. And the siblings, having escaped through time to escape the end of the world in season one, are in very different straits to when we last saw them.
In typical Umbrella Academy fashion the time-jump went wrong, scattering all seven Hargreeves-es across different periods in the early ’60s. By the time Five arrives Luther has a job working for a mob boss, Diego is in an asylum, Allison has joined the Civil Rights movement, Vanya has lost her memory and is working as a nanny while Klaus and Ben have (somewhat inadvertently) started a cult.
Clearly, by arriving in the past the group must have changed something that led to this second, earlier apocalypse – but what? And what does any of this have to do with JFK?
Unpicking this mystery forms the crux of season two, but as with season one it’s only a small part of the fun as we watch the ex-Umbrella Academy students bicker, fight, dodge their pursuers and generally make terrible mistakes all over the shop. To say too much about the wider plot risks spoilers, but fans should rest assured that everything’s just as twisty, violent and surprising as the first season, albeit with all the classic new features time-travel can bring to a story added on.
Anyone who wanted to see more of the characters using their powers will be in luck too – the very first episode sees an extended sequence where all six siblings (plus ghostly Ben) use their abilities to fight off a literal army, while the season finale adds some interesting new twists to what they can all do.
Really, again, it can’t be overstated how much The Umbrella Academy season two is like the first 2019 run. Yes, we know these characters a little better, the setting is a nice refresh and it’s possible that there’s a tighter grip on storytelling with some of the extra season one characters stripped out.
But the slick, fun fantasy storytelling is just as engaging as ever, the laughs are as frequent and with another huge cliffhanger in the final moments, it looks like the straits of our “heroes” are only just beginning.
Overall, despite some familiarity The Umbrella Academy’s brand of charming fun can’t be beaten. Fingers crossed that when it comes to season three, they don’t stray too far from the winning formula.
The Umbrella Academy season two streams on Netflix from Friday 31st July