“Stranger Things” Season Two is fresh and strange as ever

Zach Steensma—Staff Writer

 

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Unless you’ve been living in another dimension, you’ve probably at least heard of the thrilling Netflix sensation that captivated audiences over a year ago. Stranger Things was easily one of the most spectacular viewing experiences to come out of the current golden age of television. Reviews are in, giving an outstanding 11 out of 10 to the show.

It was both frightful and delightful, a perfectly crafted hybrid that borrowed elements from the works of Stephen King and Stephen Spielberg, serving as a nostalgic and heartfelt love letter to 1980s cinema—the ultimate homage, if you will.

Sort of a Stand By Me meets The Goonies meets Firestarter meets E.T. meets A Nightmare On Elm Street meets Twin Peaks meets… well, you get the picture. It was a bold, ambitious, and ultimately triumphant eight-hour movie.

If you’re like me, you spent the last year-and-a-half of internet hype with relatively low expectations. The skepticism that a new season could ever match the critical and commercial success of the first lingered in the air (and the upside down).

Season One was an incredibly tough act to follow, and trying to recapture the fun and fright of the original was surely a daunting task. But if you ever doubted the marketing wisdom of Netflix, worry no more.  Despite the show’s rising popularity, Season Two succeeds in avoiding the repetitive self-indulgent slump which many shows fall into after hitting the mainstream.

As strange it may sound, it also sets up the show for a promising future, at least as long as show runners Matt and Ross Duffer can continue to justify putting these characters through severe trauma every Fall.

The stellar cast of Season One returns even stronger than before, and it’s clear that the residents of Hawkins, Indiana, have changed over the last year–but the events of the first season continue to haunt them.

The ever-resilient and determined mother Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) remains committed to protecting her son , working now with the intrusive government forces of Hawkins lab, whose continuing experiments are being covered for by local police chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour), as he takes on the role of caretaker for both the town as well as several characters.

The previously established love triangle between Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer), Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) and Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) continues along a steady but delightfully un-clichéd trajectory.

As always, though, the kids are the real stars of the show. The psychic Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), struggles to find her place in the world, as “the AV Club” faces their own personal challenges growing up: Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) and Will Byers (Noah Schapp), “the boy who came back to life,” struggle to readjust to their normal middle-school life following the events of the previous Fall.

Amidst the town’s woes, Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) face conflict within the friend group. There are some fun new dynamics between old characters as different individuals are paired together; most notably we get to see Hopper’s relationship with Eleven, and Dustin’s unlikely partnership with Steve as well as Dustin’s new pet.

The excellent casting continues with new arrivals: Sadie Sink as Max, the new girl on the block who struggles to understand the town and fit in with the boys. Dacre Montgomery plays Max’s psychotic older brother Billy, an antagonistic bully character whose personality reflects that of Steve’s character from Season One. Sean Astin absolutely nails it as heartfelt brainiac Bob Newby, and Brett Gelman and Paul Reisser add an exciting new dynamic with their performances, as well.

The size and scope of the new season is certainly ambitious, and in some ways the show takes a rather safe and frustratingly predictable “bigger is better” approach that so many sequels tend to do. But what elements of mystery the new season loses amid its ever-expanding lore, it makes up for in its more personalized approach to character development. Stranger Things 2 deals with problems of post traumatic stress, domestic violence, and coming-of-age.

The season does indeed pay homage to the same era and genre as its predecessor: there are echoes of The Exorcist, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Ghostbusters, Gremlins and even Tremors; but, overall, Stranger Things 2 serves a much more character-driven story.

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While Season One was indeed a weird and thrilling blend of ‘80s tropes, Season Two is (thankfully) more focused on progressing the overarching plot, and avoids trying to cram ‘80s references into every corner, much to my relief. But the cast and crew still insert them where it is appropriate, all without being annoyingly nostalgic.

It looks as though Stranger Things is here to stay, at least as long as this formula continues to work and the show continues to evolve at a comfortable pace. The Duffer brothers reportedly have two more seasons laid out, and Season Three is already in the works. Let’s all hope this show continues to stay as fresh as Eggo waffles.

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