Geek Interview: The Umbrella Academy Showrunner Steve Blackman Says The Show Is The Best Cure To Today’s Apocalypse Suite

They say that history repeats itself, and it’s purely coincidental, while also most certainly prescient, that the events of The Umbrella Academy Season 2, which started filming last year, actually mirrors the reality of 2020.

After the cataclysmic cliffhanger in the first season, the siblings find themselves stuck in 1963 in Dallas, Texas after time-jumping away from the apocalypse in 2019. This time, they learn of another apocalypse happening in ten days, and they have to band together once more as a family to try and stop it from happening.

But what’s interesting is that 1963 was the year of a Presidential crisis, with the assasination of John. F. Kennedy, and also the March of Washington, regarded as the pivotal year of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. Fast forward to 2020 and things have worryingly stayed the same – the US has a Presidential crisis with Trump, and the Black Lives Matter movement has taken on a strong emphasis in American history.

And that upcoming apocalypse in the show? Mankind is dealing with all of the social issues above, while at the same time fearing for our own physical well-being due to the threat of a global COVID-19 pandemic. Talk about coincidence.

“It’s so interesting that we started shooting the show before the pandemic, and then we finished the show, and we’re in the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement,” said showrunner Steve Blackman. “I think family is everything. And I think the idea of reconnecting in times of crisis is a really good theme. We all want to come together, and I think this is what the Hargreeves family does in Season 2.”

The Umbrella Academy showrunner and writer Steve Blackman

Like in the first season, the siblings are all estranged once more due to being transported to Dallas, but separate from one another. Factor in the imminent apocalypse and the assassination of then-President John F. Kennedy, and you have a recipe for a crisis. It’s precisely in the “reconnecting in times of crisis” that makes The Umbrella Academy Season 2 so apt in today’s context. 

What’s also interesting is that the Canadian-American writer-producer, alongside the cast and crew, never expected Season 2 to be released at such a time, given they had wrapped up filming and post-production earlier this year.

While one of The Umbrella Academy’s central themes is about the importance of family and reconnecting with one another, Season 2 also touches on societal issues that are still very relevant today. Again, Blackman and his team didn’t expect the current Black Lives Matter movement to take place during this time, when Season 2 would release. There was no political message whatsoever for him. But now that these aspects are in the conversation in recent weeks, he sees it as an opportunity to add perspective to that conversation.

“The truth is we wanted to show what it was like for Allison to be a person of colour in Dallas in 1963, or Vanya being a person who is gay or queer,” Blackman explains. “We didn’t go into Season 2 trying to give a message or to do more than just to show how hard it was to be someone like that.”

“I think it shows us now, with the issues we’re dealing with Black Lives Matter, that we’ve made some progress, but there’s a lot more progress to make towards ending racism and violence. And we just have to continue to try to do better, as a group, as a people. We don’t want to repeat the lessons of history; we want to do better.”

This was certainly not the future the Hargreeves family envisioned in 2019 when trying to stop the apocalypse from happening. But if there’s anything the Hargreeves siblings understand — and what many fans can absolutely relate to — it’s the importance of coming together as a family in times of crisis. You know, sans the constant bickering and infighting in between.

“This is what family does,” Blackman tells Geek Culture with confidence. 

Klaus (Robert Sheehan) has to wrestle with the idea that he’s the leader of a cult while trying to rekindle his relationship with Dave (Cody Ray Thompson), who died in Season 1; Vanya (Ellen Page), now an amnesiac, has to come to terms with moving on from her past sins and coming out as gay; Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman) becomes heavily-involved in the Civil Rights Movement as an African-American woman herself; and so on. 

“Even though the siblings are estranged and apart during crises, they find a way of coming together and helping each other, and I think that’s extremely relatable, especially when we’re going through such a terrible pandemic. We’re all sort of leaning on our families to get through it.”

But as dark as The Umbrella Academy can get in tone, it also doesn’t shy away from lightheartedness. Already from Season 1, we know just how tight of a unit the actors who play the Hargreeves siblings are, and it shows in their shared scenes, which are, more often than not, hilarious. 

It is precisely this kind of heartwarming goofy nature of the siblings’ dysfunctional relationships that help to warm the cockles of viewers’ hearts during these troubling times. Hence the making of the hilarious work-from-home Season 2 teaser trailer back in May.

“[The trailer] is something I came up with; we wanted to give the fans something because they’d waited so long,” says Blackman. 

“I mean, it really takes us about 18 months to shoot the show from start to finish — pre, shooting, post – and we knew that would be at least a year before we came out again. We were really at the height of quarantine here, which we still are, but I wanted to give the fans something, and then I just reached out to the actors and said, ‘I need you to dance at home alone, with whatever you’re wearing and have fun with it.’ And they did a great job.”

Structurally, each of The Umbrella Academy’s two seasons are referenced from the first two of three graphic novel collections, with Apocalypse Suide and Dallas influencing Seasons 1 and 2 respectively. 

Already, Season 1 deviated from what the original graphic novels did quite a lot (and still managed to tell a solid and coherent narrative throughout). Season 2, on the other hand, is somewhat more focused on Dallas itself, despite being a lot more diverse in location in the comics, which is quite a huge deviation, especially for those who read the comics. 

Greg Rucka, writer for The Old Guard comic book series and also the screenwriter for the live-action feature film adaptation for Netflix, previously expressed his discontent with how the source material isn’t being given the proper respect it deserves in Hollywood.

Blackman understands the pressures of “translating” one medium to another, and given the already complex nature of the comics by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá, it’s only natural that somethings have to change to fit the live-action TV format. Of course, having come from a predominantly TV background where his CV includes producing the likes of Private Practice, Fargo, and, more aptly, book/comic-to-screen adaptations in Altered Carbon and Legion, he knows full well the challenges of such a feat.

Instead of trying to protect the integrity of the original comics, however, Blackman instead embraces the differences between TV and comic. Having worked very closely alongside Way and Bá, have come up with a show that has, so far, won over the hearts of its fans, primarily due to how well it tells a narrative that is both coherent and universally relatable.

“[Adapting from the comics and making it your own] is a challenge. The good news is that I’ve talked to Gerard and Gabriel about this, and we all know that there’s a graphic novel and a TV show and they don’t have to be the same thing. They can still respect each other and still help each other [creatively],” Blackman muses. 

“For example, I think Gerard is taking inspiration for what we did with Ben [in Season 2] that isn’t in the graphic novel, and modifying how Ben fits in the graphic novel going forward, which is a wonderful coexistence of two mediums. So I’ve never tried to disrespect the source material, I love it. At the same time, TV’s its own beast, and we have to respect how we do that as well.”

The Umbrella Academy’s second season is certainly shaping up to be a solid venue of entertainment for many fans, who are no doubt still in quarantine at the time of writing. But already, Blackman’s got his eyes on working on a third season, which is undoubtedly based on the third and final arc of the graphic novels: Hotel Oblivion

While it’ll still be a ways to go before we can even get snippets of Season 3 (since, well, Netflix has yet to put pen to paper on a possible renewal), Blackman has hopes that it will culminate in an ending that is befitting for the cast of characters, as well as the outstanding work by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá.

But that’s a tale for another time. For now, he’s just looking forward to seeing fans come together to enjoy seeing the cast themselves coming back together on screen to while the quarantine blues away.

Season 2 of The Umbrella Academy releases on 31 July exclusively on Netflix.

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