Commentary: Netflix’s ‘Umbrella Academy’ makes family dysfunction more fun than saving the world
The “Umbrella Academy’s” superhero troop possesses the ability to sprout octopus arms in battle, travel through time, commune with the dead and blow their enemies’ minds — literally — with the power of suggestion.
But it’s not the clan’s crime-fighting skills that set it apart from television’s crowded field of onscreen avengers. Netflix’s highly entertaining adaptation of Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá’s comic book series continues to mine the Hargreeves’ family dysfunction in Season 2, ratcheting up their sibling rivalry to mushroom-cloud, apocalyptic levels.
The series, which returned Friday with 10 new episodes, picks up where Season 1 left off: The seven Hargreeves children, who were selectively adopted for their abilities by an eccentric billionaire and then trained in the art of saving the world, are now adults who barely escaped a 2019 apocalypse. They transported back in time with the hope of averting the End Times.
But now we find that doomsday has followed them back to 1963, where they haphazardly landed in Dallas and must face another cataclysmic chain of events. But why?! It turns out the crew are such a squabbling mess, they brought the Rapture with them — and now they must band together to avert it. God help the planet.
It was going on 3 a.m. on a warm night in July, when Ellen Page slid into a seat at a craft services station off an alley in downtown Toronto’s financial district.
Their race to stop nuclear war is a blast unto itself. The misfits are digital beings in an analog era, with myriad psychological hangups, daddy issues, “Star Wars” references and weird powers that they don’t even understand. They love and hate one another yet bond over a collective anger toward their late father — a dynamic that anyone with siblings will appreciate.
The gang’s neuroses tangle with the call to action when they drop into a city that’s still home to segregated lunch counters ... and is days away from hosting President John F. Kennedy’s motorcade through Dealey Plaza. Hulu’s “11.22.63,” based on the novel by Stephen King, covered similar terrain but in “Umbrella Academy,” with its interest in special powers and family dynamics as well as the past itself, there’s more to 1963 than an impending apocalypse.
Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman), who has the power to talk anyone into anything simply by saying, “I heard a rumor that you [fill in their horrible fate here],” intersects with the civil rights movement when she runs into a “whites only” diner. She has the ability to change this injustice, but as last season taught them, messing with timelines can have devastating consequences.
Klaus (Robert Sheehan) has the ability to communicate with the dead but uses drugs to mute their incessant chatter. He becomes a guru figure to an early hippie movement. Luther (Tom Hopper), who is inhumanly strong and has the unfortunate upper-body physique of a chimp, and his brother Diego (David Castañeda), who can throw knives around corners, cross paths with figures like Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby.
Netflix’s “Indian Matchmaking” gestures at, but rarely delves into, the social pressures of the arranged marriage system. Ask someone who’s been through it.
It’s a pile-on of events that doesn’t always track, and it’s further complicated by the antics of a killing squad sent by the Commission — a corporate-like entity in charge of protecting the timeline from meddlers. But the chemistry among the characters and the sharp writing make “Umbrella Academy” a fun and fast-paced ride through absurd circumstances. It’s accompanied by a lively, curated soundtrack of old and new songs, originals and covers (just like last season), highly stylized retro fashion and plenty of snarky humor.
Wizened Number Five (Aidan Gallagher) gets the best lines. The time-traveling assassin may look like a schoolboy but he’s actually a man in his 50s who made a couple of critical errors when jumping decades. Ben (Justin H. Min), the one with the tentacles, who is dead but functions through Klaus, ends up playing a pivotal role by Season 2’s dramatic climax when they fight an army sent by the Commission.
By the close of the season, the Hargreeves actually pull together like a functional family. Even the most unstable of the bunch, Vanya (Ellen Page), seems to find herself and make peace with her siblings. But just when you think the series might collapse into the humdrum normality of a happy ending, it leaves viewers with another impending catastrophe that threatens to rip them — and the planet — apart.
Let’s hope they remain a dumpster fire of a family, for the sake of Season 3.
‘The Umbrella Academy’
When: Any time
Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)
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