Stranger Things took many of us by surprise. It wasn’t its quality because Netflix had released previously solid shows. No, it was its balance of ET like story dynamics, a charming cast and a core intriguing mystery. It also fed eighties nostalgia to us through a drip that made it feel like some illicit addictive drug. But despite its success what would a second season or rather Stranger Things 2 look like? Now that it has arrived we know that it is bigger and it still feels like the first season But is that enough, find in our review.
It has been almost a year since the events in Hawkins that saw Will captured and rescued from a creature from another dimension. Life moves on for Will and his three friends, but something is not exactly right, he senses that something bigger is coming. Meanwhile Eleven lives in secret with town sheriff Hopper and cabin fever is driving her to find answers about her past.
The most obvious direction that Stranger Things 2 was going to take was to include a bigger scope and there is clearly more money involved in this story this time around. A siege at the power station in the back end of the season demonstrates this. ‘Demodogs’ lays waste to the facility, as survivors try to escape. Yet it has been set up by the previous episode ‘The Spy’ in which Will is being manipulated by the Monster or is Will manipulating the monster. It sounds complex but it’s not confusing, it’s ambitious and tense and Stranger Things 2 when it does this feels greater than its first season because it’s stretching itself and not relying on the familiar.
Yet it’s a familiar that makes Stranger Things 2 special and the doubling down on Eighties nostalgia that the audience will love. There is a series of wonderful Ghostbusters jokes that plays across a Halloween. There are Easter eggs, call backs and a soundtrack that will stimulate the nostalgic synapses but never take away from the story.
Still this could all feel like a Museum tour if there was no heart but the core dynamic of these young teenagers is still there. Sure, there is some contrived conflicts but their nerdy care for each other just gives you the feels. The whole cast has grown in acting skills whether it be dramatic or comedic and while much will be made of Millie Bobbie Brown, the whole cast deserves recognition. If your trying to understand it all, the final scenes of Stranger Things 2 is a dance. It involves romance, hair product and friendship and sums up what makes it all work. Oh, Steve is still the best character in the show and his Farah Fawcett reference is the highlight of the whole thing.
One of the glaring problems with Stranger Things’ original season was a reliance on something mysterious without a sense of explanation. The world of Eleven and The Upside down offered us a veiled hint at lore and back story, but one got the impression that there might not be much behind the curtain. Stranger Things 2 seeks to rectify that and in large part succeeds. We get insight into Eleven’s past, the monsters that lurk in the upside down and even the shadowy organisation that manipulates it all.
Yet not everything works as well in and an attempt by Eleven to reunite with other children from her program results in the extremely misguided ‘The Lost Sister’ which offers tasty morsel of clues but offers a horrible homage to the Lost Boys. Great performances and interesting material can’t help but make this little excursion by Eleven work because the tone seems cruel as this gang attempts revenge on the shadowy government employees. It also delays the inevitable reunion of Eleven to the main group which has already become drawn out.
Not every addition to the story is as misguided and the desire to expand the cast of characters is a sliding scale of success to failure. Successful is Paul Reiser and Sean Astin. Paul Reiser is Sam Owens, a Department of Energy executive who manages to give the shadow organisation a conscience and doesn’t simply allow them to be portrayed as the bad guys. Sean Astin, Samwise Gamgee or rather Bob Newby, is boyfriend to Joyce (who is so much more tolerable this season) and is this delightfully nerdy but heroic role model. The delightfully sassy Erica, who gives her older sibling a hard time is wonderful.
Less successful is probably Max, the rebellious Californian skater who is great at Dig dug. She serves as a plot device rather than great character and the way members of the core group treat is perplexing and dumb. But worse still is her step brother, Billy, who gets two noteworthy scenes but his violent unpredictably never goes anywhere. Is he meant to be this season’s Steve because he sure fails at it if he is?
Whereas the first season of Stranger Things had an appropriate setup for the season that came after it. Here there doesn’t feel like a lot of loose ends to tie up not relationally but not in some overarching story. There is an attempt here, but Stranger Things 2 feels complete and while I have no problem returning to these characters there is no urgency to do so. Stranger Things 3 has nothing drawing me in other than an emotional connection.
Stranger Things Review 2 Cheat Sheet:
Stranger Things 2 is largely a success because it retains the elements of the first that made it successful. A great cast, a story filled with heart, nostalgia and mystery. Its attempt to expand its scope however are a mixed bag especially new cast members and almost complete disaster when exploring Eleven’s past. Yet the right balance of entertainment, thrills and humour win out helping us to ignore the sometime glaring faults.
+ A bigger and more ambitous scale.
+ A sense of nostaligia
+ Lots of heart and humour.
+Exploration of the lore of the universe.
-misguided new characters
-no sense of urgency to the show’s future seasons.
-Most of ‘The Lost Sister’ episode.