The Umbrella Academy, based on the Dark Horse comic books of the same name by writer, Gerald Way, and artist, Gabriel Ba, has just begun its second season on Netflix.
The series follows the estranged members of a dysfunctional family of superheroes; individuals who were born simultaneously to women who weren’t even aware they were pregnant. Bought by eccentric millionaire, Reginald Hargreeves, he turns them into a team called The Umbrella Academy, keeping one of them, Vanya (Ellen Page) at a distance, as she exhibits no powers.
At the beginning of Season 2 the group is scattered in time, in and around Dallas, Texas, over a three year period, starting in 1960. Now the team must find a way to reunite to stop a nuclear doomsday.
The series showrunner, writer and executive producer, Steve Blackman, along with show’s star Ellen Page, spoke with members of the TV Critics Association about the new season which premiered on Netflix last week.
Steve, would you like to share a little bit about the second season?
Steve Blackman: Yes, this season was great. We definitely challenged ourselves, both production and story, by going to 1960s Dallas. It was a tumultuous time of upheaval.
This year we dealt with obviously racial injustice, homophobia; some mental issues. We wanted to do some serious stories and not glaze over them, even though we’re in a heightened world.
As for production, it was very tough. We turned parts of Ontario into Dallas in 1963, so it was a challenge. But (the actors) were amazing and our crew was amazing and I think we are very proud of the result.
Season 2 is bonkers in the best way. Was there a line you couldn’t cross?
Steve: We absolutely have certain limitations, in terms of swearing and how much sexuality we can show. We’re definitely a four-quadrant show with very broad demographics, which I think makes us successful. But we wanted to be palatable for younger people, as well as older people.
There was no limitation from Gerard and Gabriel — the creators of the graphic novel — to go anyplace I wanted to go, to deviate in ways, and to also pay homage to the comics. So, I felt very free as a creative person and as a creator, to just do whatever stories I could do with these crazy, fun people.
The episodes in Season 2 are about 45 minutes, versus 60 minutes for Season 1. What did you find out about playing with a shorter episode length, and how did that impact the overall storytelling?
Steve: It was more challenging to write shorter scripts. We were looking at our longer episodes from Season 1 and we felt at certain times they were lagging.
I think we are a very binged show. That’s one of the things that we found out about Season 1. And we wanted this to feel like a 10-hour movie, so you just finish one and you go on to another.
We realized around 45 minutes is the time period that feels pretty good for people viewing at home to just go into the next one. So that was what was the thing that pushed us and made us think, “Let’s shorten our show a little bit.”
You had such a great soundtrack in Season 1. Was it harder to find equally iconic songs in Season 2?
Steve: I don’t think it was harder. I love the challenge. Music is a big part of my life and I think music is another character of the show. So, I definitely wanted to top Season 1 and I already had the list of songs.
Unlike most shows, we don’t add the music after we shoot. We write the music into the show. It’s in the scripts. (The actors) sometimes get to see the songs they’re gonna be playing a scene to a lot of the time, which makes us unique. So, the music is really a big part of it and I think we might have topped it in Season 2. I don’t know yet, I’ll see what the fans say.
Were there any songs you wanted to use but couldn’t get the rights to?”
Steve: There were a few songs. I wanted to get a Miley Cyrus cover of Jolene. We just couldn’t get that rockin’ version that she does. And there are a few other songs that we just simply couldn’t afford, but we mostly got the songs that we wanted.
Ellen, was there any hesitation about being part of another project about a young group of people with special powers?
Ellen Page: No, not in the slightest. I guess for me, because in relation to X-Men, this feels so completely different. They really don’t compare in terms of the actual project itself and the experience as an actor doing it.
Your character, Vanya, had a breakdown that brought on the apocalypse in Season 1. How is she coping with that in Season 2?
Ellen: The end of the first season, she lets out a lot of energy, a lot of repressed emotion, and memories. And it doesn’t benefit the world, because she does blow up the moon.
Where we find Vanya at the beginning of the second season, that release has actually helped her a lot in many ways. She’s much lighter. She’s much more able to connect with human beings in a real way. She falls in love for the first time. She’s more able to be connected to, and in control of, her emotions.
When we see everything surge back up and her have the experience that she has, whilst on acid, you do see the realization of what she’s done overwhelm her, in terms of the shame for what she did to the world. But for the most part, Vanya in many ways is doing a lot better this season.
The LGBTQ theme was a very important element to this season. What did it mean to you be able to tell that story?
Ellen: I think for me to have the opportunity to film a season where Vanya falls in love for the first time and has this experience and have it be with a woman was a really exciting opportunity. And especially since it takes place in the ‘60s, being able to show some of the obstacles at that time obviously in an era where it was illegal, considered a mental illness.
To be able to do it in a show like this, that has the reach that the show has and to tell a story that shows the beauty and the joy that these women have together, but also reflects very realistic obstacles (was great). That was the goal, in order for it to be a positive representation in the world.