The Return of a Pop Culture Phenomenon: “Stranger Things 2” Review
If you’re anything like me, you’ve binge-watched the newest season of the hit Netflix show “Stranger Things” the day it premiered on October 27th. If you haven’t yet watched the second season, don’t worry because there will only be very mild spoilers.
If you’re not familiar with the show, the first season centers around a young boy named Will Byers who goes missing in an alternate dimension (aka the Upside Down) in November 1983. His mother, friends, and the police chief must confront a monster called the Demogorgon and other supernatural forces in order to get him back. The search for him is complicated by the appearance of a strange little girl with telekinetic powers (that’s Eleven, the badass girl you’ve been seeing all over social media) who helps his friends find Will. I know, it all sounds very sci-fi and improbable, but it is done in a believable way that keeps you hooked throughout the entire series. If all this information is new to you, please come back to this review after you’ve binge-watched the eight hours of the first season (in addition to the nine hours of the second season).
The setting this time is October/November 1984, roughly a year after the action of the first season. The Duffer brothers (the geniuses behind this show) have stated that they were heavily influenced by James Cameron’s work, “Ghostbusters,” “It,” “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” and, of course, “E.T.” But for those who are really paying attention, they’ll be rewarded with a lot more references to 1980s pop culture. Who could miss the Reagan/Bush sign standing proudly in front of the Wheeler house? Or the boys in their “Ghostbusters” Halloween costumes? There are tons of videos on YouTube where there are side-by-side comparisons of scenes in the show with hit ’70s and ’80s movies.
The overall pacing of this new season is very similar to the one before: it’s a slow build-up but it really pays off for the second act of the season. “Chapter One: MADMAX” reintroduces us to our favorite characters and gives us an opportunity to see where they all are a year after the events of the first season. By “Chapter Six: The Spy,” the action starts to pick up and the season really starts to deliver on its promise of being “bigger” than before.
Last season, the main sets of characters (the kids, the teens, and the adults) only joined together in the second to last episode. This time, we see more interactions between these characters that lead to interesting and unexpected duos. There was a hint of a potential Hopper/Eleven relationship last season and we see that evolve into a more father/daughter type of bond for this next installment. One of the more surprising, but hilarious, team-ups is between Steve and Dustin. Their dialogue provides some levity to the otherwise dark season, so imagine what you will.
The Duffer brothers wanted to make the second season bigger in scale and more cinematic than the first. And they certainly delivered. Viewers see that the Demogorgon monster is just the beginning of the Upside Down’s wrath on the town of Hawkins. The main showdown is more dangerous and there’s much more at stake, such as the very existence of the world. Despite the larger than life premise, “Stranger Things 2″ stays grounded with its character-driven narrative. The show places a lot of importance on the relationships between characters and their personal development as well as how they interact with each other. We get to see glimpses of Lucas’ and Dustin’s home lives, as well as an entire episode dedicated to Eleven’s search for her family and identity. There’s also an exploration of the relationships between the other main characters, in addition to how they interact with newcomers Bob, Max (or should I say MadMax), and Billy.
One of the standout performances this season is delivered by Noah Schnapp, aka Will Byers. Since season one was centered around his disappearance, there weren’t many scenes featuring him (other than in flashbacks of course). Seeing Will interact with the rest of the boys is almost like a seeing a whole new character emerge. We get a sense of where he fits into the group and it’s refreshing to see how he acts when he isn’t trapped in the Upside Down. However, we do know that there is something wrong with him and he has some sort of connection to the Demogorgon. I won’t say much about it, but I will say that this plot point is the main conflict of season two.
Overall, this second season definitely lives up to the tremendous hype that had been surrounding the series since the first season was dropped in July 2016. Die-hard fans will be excited to know that “Stranger Things 2” is as good if not better than its predecessor while there will certainly be some new fans of this show based on the huge reaction seen on the internet.