First look at Season 2NETFLIX

There is nothing particularly spectacular, for the average listener, about the peppy synth-pop intro to Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now”, but for fans of Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy, it is instantly evocative. On the 18th May, following over a year of tantalisingly scarce hints surrounding the second season, the show’s various socials posted a video where the cast had banded together amidst global lockdowns to lovingly recreate the dance scene from the pilot episode, ending with the official date for release. In many ways, this video captured why I am excited to rejoin the Hargreeves family on the 31st July.

Based on the comic series penned by Gerard Way (yes, that Gerard Way) The Umbrella Academy follows a family of former child-superheroes and their “extra-ordinary” sister, reunited after the death of their estranged father.

Among across-the-board talent, I have personal favourites. David Castañeda plays Diego — alias “The Kraken” — whose ability to magically curve any projectile (usually knives) is put to use serving vigilante justice. Without Castañeda’s deft touch, Diego would be a flat carbon-copy of the gruff, macho-type. Instead he is treated with an emotional depth, undercutting without undermining the core humour of this parodic Bruce Wayne figure.

"The show’s proclivity for pay-phones, microfiches and record players is a welcome change of pace from the sleek cinematic universes offered by Marvel and DC"

We see the same comic/tragic duality in Robert Sheehan’s Klaus. Aptly named “The Séance”, his devil-may-care outlook is a crumbling facade — a crippling drug dependency is the culmination of his power to commune with the dead. He is portrayed with the same frenetic energy some of us might recall from Sheehan’s Misfits role, but the 10 years Klaus has on his predecessor show themselves through the quiet fragility the actor brings to later episodes.

Die-hard comic fans might be dissatisfied with Netflix’s Allison, a.k.a “The Rumour”, whose speech holds the power to manipulate reality. The argument that she lacks the grit styling her comic counterpart does a massive disservice to Emmy Raver-Lampman’s performance, though. It is a testament to her versatility that an actress typically at home on Broadway (Hair, Wicked, Hamilton) so expertly navigates the nuanced conflict between Allison’s power-induced narcissistic tendencies and her poignant capacity for empathy.

First look at Season 2NETFLIX

The Hargreeves are more than galvanised action-figures. Show-runner Steve Blackman dials back on the “super” side to these characters, filtering personal failures through the lens of their short-comings as a family unit and accentuating The Umbrella Academy’s wider resonance as an allegory for corrupting child-stardom and the complexity of grieving for an abusive parent.

Soundtrack choices compliment character and world building: Nina Simone, Queen and The Doors join the roster that establishes the subtle nostalgia marking The Umbrella Academy’s cosy, analogue setting. The show’s proclivity for pay-phones, microfiches and record players is a welcome change of pace from the sleek cinematic universes offered by Marvel and DC. Jeff Russo’s original composition also shouldn’t be ignored: at the show’s crescendo, ‘Vanya’s Orchestra’ rises from the melancholic and understated to the dark and operatic, much like the arc of Ellen Page’s eponymous character, the overlooked “ordinary” sibling and self-defined “5th Beatle of the family”.

The romance between Allison and Luther is highly problematic.NETFLIX

But it would be remiss to rave about everything that first attracted me to The Umbrella Academy without recognising its flaws. Many of the writing choices seem to be products of ham-fisted attempts at diversity box-ticking — more than that, some of these blunders are downright problematic.

The romance between siblings Allison and Luther (Tom Hopper) not only plays into a common trope delegitimising ties in adoptive families, but is a jarring shift in tone when the others consistently refer to one other as ‘brother’ and ‘sister’. Complaints that abolishing the relationship goes against the source narrative are null considering that the show already does this in many ways. For one, they have diversified a homogenous cast, though this step in the right direction is poorly handled.

"I don’t think that my personal attachment should allow me to forgive the show’s blatant downfalls, but perhaps it’s with naivety that I look forward to the second season, hoping the writers have been more vigilant"

Allison falls victim to this. The show takes on the comic narrative that sees her throat cut with her sister’s new-found superpowers; uncomfortable viewing, not least because Allison is a woman of colour. Conscious or not, the symbolism is alarming. Allison not only literally loses her voice in the aftermath of her (white) sister’s rage, but since her hero identity is tied in with her speech, she is stripped of her power and thus incapacitated within the male-heavy team.

The show diverges from canon yet again to depict same-sex romance when Klaus embarks on an accidental jaunt to the Vietnam War, where he serves, falls in love with and witnesses the death of fellow solder “Dave”. If a love story condensed into a brief montage and ending in tragedy is the best representation LGBT+ viewers can hope for, I wouldn’t rush to call it progressive.

The head of The Commission - The Handler (Kate Walsh) TWITTER/SARIN5X_X

Most worryingly, The Umbrella Academy has come under fire for anti-Semitic implications. The season 1 antagonist is “The Commission”, a time-travelling assassin corporation whose primary objective is to infiltrate points in history and ‘correct’ the historical timeline. Towards the end of the season, the head of The Commission slips in Yiddish adage as she berates her employees — she translates, “The eggs think they’re smarter than the chicken.” The resultant suggestion that an insidious corporation manipulating society from the sidelines has Jewish roots echoes a pre-established anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that a secret Zionist organisation controls the governments of Western states. In fact, the comparison is so on the nose that it’s difficult to chalk down to a lapse in judgement.


Mountain View

Francesca Mann and Cian Morey discuss how they have translated their lockdown experiences into Lifestream.

I don’t think that my personal attachment should allow me to forgive the show’s blatant downfalls, but perhaps it’s with naivety that I look forward to the second season, hoping the writers have been more vigilant. New wardrobes teased in character posters released a few weeks ago answer the question posed by the season 2 tagline: “When Are They?” The show will follow the comic storyline, taking the Hargreeves to 60s Dallas, with the addition of three new characters played by Ritu Arya (Humans), Marin Ireland (Homeland, Sneaky Pete) and Yusuf Gatewood (Good Omens, The Originals). Without any substantial hints towards the roles they’ll play in the new season, we can do little more than hope that they are treated better than their predecessors. Fan-favourite deceased sibling Ben (Justin H. Min) also seems to be getting more well-deserved screen time, an expected but nonetheless welcome development now Klaus is able to summon his brother into the material plane.

Season 1 showed us that The Umbrella Academy could be a refreshing, trope-twisting romp through the superhero genre if it only stopped itself from falling into the trap of careless writing. All being well, the show I will be tuning in to watch come 31st July will be the show I have faith The Umbrella Academy could be.

Sponsored links

Partner links