Tue. Oct 27th, 2020

TV Review: Season 2 of ‘The Umbrella Academy’ is less melodramatic but remains unfocused and repetitive

It’s nearly impossible to not think about Doom Patrol while watching The Umbrella Academy, the Netflix original show based on Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá’s award-winning comic book of the same name — most especially given how both of these superhero shows deal with the subject of past trauma. But where the former excels at portraying the characters and their struggles in an empathetic way, and while doing so embracing the bizarre nature of its original source, the latter unfortunately fails to capture the depth of its characters and premise, and instead, turning them into a family melodrama that feels exhausting rather than compelling.

The problem is not that the cast is bad, or that there’s not enough engaging subject to explore from the story. But it lies more on the writers’ desperate attempt to make everything looks so edgy and hip to a point where it forgets that at its core, it actually has an already-interesting premise about how childhood trauma can inform the way people grow up that’s enough to make the show a standout even without all that exaggeration.

Season two, which will be released on Netflix this Friday, luckily decides to sideline the melodrama in favor of more high-octane actions and real character-driven moments. And for quite a while, it works to make the season a little more thrilling. But at the same, the show sadly still suffers from the same issues that happened in season one. The plot remains incoherent and overcrowded; the pace is off-putting; the villains are way too cartoon-ish and have no clear motivation; and worst of all, the whole end-of-the-world threat just feels painfully repetitive. It’s frustrating because the first episode of season two has a big potential to take the show into a different, more interesting direction. But alas, it just keeps coming back to the same dull stuff that we’ve seen countless times before.

The basic foundation of season two, which is loosely adapted from the second volume of the comic book, looks just like a carbon copy from the first season. A threat from the apocalypse is still looming in the background, but its sense of urgency doesn’t feel potent at all this time around. Mostly because we can all guess that at the end of the day, the siblings will somehow find a way to prevent it from happening. The main characters, who at the end of season one were sort of coming together as one unit, are now scattered to deal with their own personal stuff once again. The only difference is that now they’re separated in various timelines in Dallas, Texas.

Klaus (Robert Sheehan) and the dead Ben (Justin H. Min) are thrown into 1960, where the former is now becoming a cult leader. Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman) is in 1961, now married to a man named Ray (Yusuf Gatewood), and is involved in the fight for civil rights, while in 1962, Luther (Tom Hopper) aka Number One is now working as a bodyguard to a very important man. Diego (David Castañeda) and Vanya (Ellen Page) are both thrown into 1963 — though in different months — with the former gets locked up in an asylum where he meets the enigmatic Lila (phenomenally played by Ritu Arya) while the latter is losing her memory, and now living at a farm as the nanny to the son of Sissy (Marin Ireland). The only person who knows about the doomsday is Five (Aidan Gallagher), which means that once again, it’s now up to him to reunite his siblings and find a way to save the world from extinction.

Throughout the first half of the season, we follow Five as he attempts to come up with a plan all the while tracking down his siblings one by one. And though Gallagher’s onscreen presence remains charismatic just like in season one, the story is anything but. In fact, it’s at this moment where the show begins to lose most of its steam immediately. Not just because the whole process of reuniting the siblings feel tiresome, but also because the resentment and the rivalry between them seem to be superficial this time around. Aside from egotistical reason, and far from compelling personal pains, the show just can’t seem to find a strong reason to rationalize the siblings’ reluctance to believe what Five says.

What’s frustrating about any of these is that, by keeping the siblings in different places, the show just robs itself from an opportunity to capture the best part of the first season, which is the dysfunctional dynamic of the siblings when they’re together in one room, either to try to make sense of the shared trauma that they’re all experiencing growing up or to just simply bickering and bantering some nonsense. Worse, the minute the siblings are finally reunited, the show always finds a way to break them up together again and again. It’s not until the season finale that the show really allows them to be together as one unit, fighting alongside each other and defending what they believe is right, which ultimately makes the previous nine episodes feel like nothing other than a setup to the big battle at the last episode.

The new characters, outside from Lila, also don’t add much to the story other than to unnecessarily overcomplicate the show’s central mystery. There’s a trio of ruthless Swedish assassins, whose motivation until the final moment of season two remains vague; a man obsessed with time-travel introduced in the first episode also doesn’t have anything much to do either. Even some familiar faces from season one suddenly reenter the picture without any logic to justify their reappearance.

If there’s one thing that can be praised about season two is probably the cast, who, despite not having meaty materials to work with, somehow still manages to be fantastic throughout the season. Outside of Gallagher, who remains the show’s secret weapon, Raver-Lampman and Arya are delivering top-notch performances too, both tenacious and charming at the same time. Sheehan’s performance also remains hilarious. But it is, of course, Page who stands out among the ensemble, displaying Vanya emotions, even the one that she hides inside, in a way that is believable but also equally subtle. It’s honestly a testament to the cast that even when things get increasingly frustrating, the show remains watchable until the very end.

The Umbrella Academy season two tries to aim for something big: a superhero show that’s both edgy and quirky but still also has heart. And while the actions are always thrilling, and the cast remains engaging, the show fails miserably the minute it tries to do so many ambitious things at once while never really allowing the depth of its premise to speak for itself. For a show focusing on a group of siblings trying so hard to move on from the past, it’s funny that this season can’t seem to do the same.

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