The ’80s were a lovely time for a lot of us. They gave us so many great films and television shows that many of us still hold very near and dear to our hearts. In this age of remakes and reboots, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who wouldn’t say, “It’s ruining my childhood!” Maybe it’s me, but I think that the ’80s were the last great era where anything within your imagination were possible. And many of us miss the wonder and mystery we once had, before the world was literally in our pockets. The Duffer Brothers already proved they could catapult us back to this time for the first season of Netflix’s Stranger Things. But can they muster the the magic to carry us back yet again with Season 2?
To give you an overview of Stranger Things 2 – as the marketing honchos are calling it – and keep it relatively spoiler-free, here is all you need to know: The Wheeler Parents are still the most out-of-touch parents ever. Joyce Byers has a new boyfriend in her life, but does not let that get in the way of some of the greatest acrobatic feats of grizzly bear and helicopter momming ever to be seen. Also, Joyce continues to punch out of her weight class, win, and look good doing it. Will is stuck in-between worlds and the rest of the party (Mike, Lucas, and Dustin) struggle to help their friend as well as deal with a new possible member in Max and what her role will eventually be. Eleven struggles with being a tween and wanting to be safe from the “Bad Man”, and Hopper has made himself her protector and teacher. Sounds like a lot, right? Well, there’s also a new vanilla human heel to contend with, the Hawkins hospital has a new head scientist, and there’s a looming ever-present threat from the Upside Down.
Many shows in their sophomore season see a dip in the writing, it is even more common when a show knocks its first season so far out of the park. Some of the mistakes shows make include ignoring any possible growth from the previous season, a villain too similar to the previous iteration, or even simply rushing to pull the season together without considering all the angles. In Stranger Things 2, it appears The Duffer Brothers took their time and respected their vision enough to allow this series to flow with a narrative that refuses to compromise.
It is also very clear that The Duffer’s had a huge budget increase this year, and unlike many shows, knows exactly how to put it to solid use. From episode-to-episode, there is a clear line of progression and every interesting pairing of characters they could come up with was exploited to great effect, but it isn’t perfect. Episode 7 – where we spend an entire episode focused on one character’s journey – was a tough pill to swallow. It may have been the only way they could tell the story of this character’s growth, but its placement was jarring and halted the mounting anticipation for what was clearly the climax of the series. Episodes 6 and 7 could have been flipped, which would have upped the suspense and created a much more fluid effect.
The entire cast from Stranger Things 1 is back! Everyone we loved from Season 1 brought their “A” game in Season 2. From the quartet we all love, to the forever-in-a-triangle Nancy, Jonathan, and Steve. Every single one of them, except Barb…let’s all take a moment of silence. Even the Wheeler parents – who were so disconnected to what their kids are doing – are back and even better at being disconnected. As Eleven, Millie Bobbi Brown pulls off some fantastic facial acting and has great chemistry working with David Harbour’s Hopper. Winona Ryder walks the line of sanity as Joyce is once again put through the nightmares no parent should ever go through. Joe Keery’s charm and great hair as Steve Harrington proves why they had to bring in a new heel for the show.
It’s these “new” characters that seem to be the biggest concern this season, as your appreciation of them may vary. Sean Astin’s Bob Newby will play with your expectations in a lovely way, creating a character we think we understand, until we ultimately are taken by surprise with the turns of his arc. Sadie Sink’s Max feels like someone who doesn’t know if she wants to fit in or be on her own as she deals with the turmoil of living somewhere new. Brett Gelman’s Murray is the kind of likable jackass that leaves you wondering if you like him for the right reasons. Paul Reiser shows us as Dr. Owens that he is still that guy you know is bad news, but maybe he isn’t, but he probably is, but…you get the idea.
Dacre Montgomery’s Billy is where the cast feels like it loses its step a little. Sure, he is supposed to be the new human foil for our heroes, we know this because it really seemed like the show would never allow us to forget that. Unlike Steve in Season 1, Billy possesses no redeemable qualities, and it appears the actor’s choices were to overdo every smarmy gross thing his character did. If I fell into a coma for 5 years and the first thing someone said when I awoke was “Billy became a serial killer on Stranger Things 4”, the only surprising part would be THAT was the first thing someone had to say to me. In a world heavily influenced by Stephen King, Billy is very much Stranger Things’ Henry Bowers.
Season 1 of Stranger Things played things close to the vest in regards to the production value of the series. Season 2, on the other hand, it becomes immediately apparent that Netflix gave The Duffer Brothers a much bigger sandbox to play with. The main threat of the season is a wonderfully crafted Lovecraftian creature of great scale, an enormous shadow of threat and dreadful possibilities. The Demidog – Dustin really wants to make it a thing – creatures look like they were made-for-television with a movie’s budget. And unlike the first season, the flips back-and-forth from our world to the Upside Down felt seamless and clean. It’s very hard to have a quibble with the production of this show. The truth is that this creative team have molded together a fully immersive world.
Part of the magic that Stranger Things 1 gave us was a nostalgic look at the ’80s. With that Spielbergian view of history, we were given a game where we could all play “Spot the Homage”. Stranger Things 2 has the same game to it, but the rules have changed, as I no longer care about the homages. I want to live and breathe in this world and enjoy these stories for what they are trying to tell us. Strangers Things 2 brings a magic with it that is more than just glorified nostalgia, it delivers to us a deeper look into fully formed characters that grow and evolve right before our eyes. Much like Mike, Will, Lucas, Dustin, and Eleven – Stranger Things is now my family.