Stranger Things 2: The Second Season

Stranger things 2 poster

Stranger Things was an unexpected hit when it premiered last year on Netflix, not just with genre fans but the wider public. Everyone loved the series’ homage to ’80s sci-fi and horror films  and vintage Stephen King books. Given all that praise (and Emmy nominations), it’s not a surprise that a second season is now here.

Stranger Things 2 picks up about a year after the previous season in Hawkins, a small Indiana town that could easily double for a Spielberg setting. The preteen boys Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin) try to carry on with their lives even though in the past season they had incredible, out-of-this dimensional experiences. Many of the characters like Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), the psionic girl raised in an evil government agency, Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder), Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer), Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) and Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) return and they all have separate story arcs as the start of Stranger Things 2 deals with the aftermath of the previous season.

In a nod to Gremlins, Dustin discovers a creature that he keeps as a pet, which turns out to be related to the otherworldly demogorgon creature they faced. Meanwhile, Mike is preening for Eleven, who is supposedly dead, but in reality, the psionic girl who is kept hidden from the outside world by Hawkins’ sheriff Jim Hopper (David Harbour). But Eleven is starting to rebel since she wants to reunite with Mike and learn about her past. This desire brings about unexpected developments for both El and Jim.  As for Lucas, he falls for a new girl that the boys meet, Max Mayfield (Cadie Sink), and her arrival brings some friction to the gang. However the core of Stranger Things 2 lies with Will, who is suffering from being abducted by the demogorgon last season. Not just by being teased by bullies in school but by having nightmarish visions of a giant monster threatening our dimension that soon becomes real.This is odd to say for a TV series in its second season, but Stranger Things 2 feels more like a movie sequel. That is probably because of the second season’s structure. It starts off as a slow burn by taking its time to reintroduce characters and bringing in new faces and situations. The first few episodes are more of a mystery and we are not sure what is the main threat. However, by the fourth episode, Stranger Things 2’s tone shifts into full-on horror mode as genuine jump scares fill many scenes and the thrill factor is amped up as our dimension is threatened once more.Like the first season, Stranger Things 2 effectively captures the mood of those beloved ’80s genre films featuring believable kids that anyone can relate to. The homages this time subtly shifts to mid-80s classics like Ghostbusters (the boys even dress up like them for Halloween), Gremlins, The Goonies and even the nightmarish aspects of A Nightmare on Elm Street. The boys and the other characters are for the most part three dimensional with their own quirks and faults. Even the government agents in the series (this time represented by Paul Reiser) are not cut from the usual bad guy stock. The characters have their own separate journeys and you can see how they are changed from what they experience.Although the second season is as good as the first, it must be pointed out that some of the characters don’t get as much attention as others. This should not deter anyone from watching the second season because it has so much to offer. Also, as mentioned before, the second season starts off at a slower pace. It lacks the immediate hook that the first few episodes had in the previous season. This may turn off some viewers expecting the same thing, but be patient, because Stranger Things 2 delivers the thrills and scares in a topnotch production.

 

Lewis T. Grove

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Stranger Things: A Tribute To Classic ’80s Sci-Fi and Horror

Stranger Things Poster

Summer TV series, especially genre ones, have been hit or miss in terms of quality. Sadly, many often fall into the miss category (see Under the Dome and Zoo as examples). But Stranger Things streaming this summer on Netflix is definitely one of the best TV series to come out in a summer season.

Will and Mike Stranger ThingsTaking place in a small Indiana town during the ’80s, Stranger Things is an homage to all the memorable sci-fi and horror tales from that period. Many critics are comparing it to early Steven Spielberg films but that isn’t a fitting description. This series is darker, less whimsical and a better comparison would be to an early Stephen King novel that has had a superior live-action adaptation. Then it throw in elements of the lower-grade genre efforts from that time but executed better and a soundtrack that would fit in nicely with a John Carpenter film. It may sound like a mish-mash but it works. The reason why is that despite its ’80s trappings and callbacks to films and stories from the era, Stranger Things has a timeless and unique feel.

The eight-episode series begins when a boy, Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), disappears after a night out with his buddies. A mystery develops as other characters try to find out what happened to Will. But we, and his mother Joyce (Winona Ryder), learn that he is actually trapped in a dark, parallel dimension and stalked by a flesh-eating monster without a face. As this happens, his friends Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) meet a strange and quiet girl known only as Eleven (Millie Bobbie Brown), or El for short. It turns out she is an escapee from a nearby government facility run by Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine) that has been developing her telekinetic and telepathic powers to enter the same dimension Will is trapped in. These experiments opened up a gateway between the two dimensions and the monster that threatens Will is now also preying on our side. Naturally, Dr. Brenner and his associates don’t have her best interest at heart and are pursuing her as she hides out with the boys.

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One of the reasons why Stranger Things works so well has to do with the characters and how they are portrayed. This is critical in the case of the children. Their performances seem genuine and their dialogue is authentic. By listening to them, it doesn’t feel like some adult wrote their words. If any of the young performances were sub-par, the series would’ve tanked. But thankfully, these young actors were well chosen especially Brown and Wolfhard. El says little but is very expressive and tortured while experiencing life outside the facility. All the while, El displays an appropriate childlike response to the outside world.

Joyce Byers and Company in Stranger Things

Other standout performances include Ryder as Will’s distraught and determined mother and David Harbour as Chief Hopper, a broken disgruntled sheriff who finds a path to redemption as he gets drawn into the mystery of Will’s disappearance. Other young performances that deserve shoutouts are Natalie Dyer as Nancy Wheeler and Charlie Heaton as Will’s older brother Jonathan. Aside from the stock evil government types, the characters are not one-dimensional. They have flaws and quirks but rise to the occasion when the time comes.

And there is plenty of meat for genre fans in this story. El confronts monster Stranger ThingsOwing thanks to classic sci-fi films from that time like The Thing, Alien and The Fly, Stranger Things delivers actual jump scares and gross out moments and the monster is disgustingly original and disturbing. The people behind the show (The Duffer Brothers) wisely kept its appearance vague until the final episodes and its full revelation won’t disappoint horror and sci-fi fans. Finally, Stranger Things has many Easter eggs and tributes to classics from that time that would delight fans of Star Wars, The Thing and more, but it doesn’t go overboard. With that said, the series isn’t perfect. Although its characters and dialogue are fresh and above average, the same can’t be said for some of its plotting. At times there are contrivances and certain developments are too familiar. Still, the series on the whole is enjoyable and hits its goals.

At eight episodes, the series took the right amount of time to tell its story while dropping hints of further developments. At the same time, not every question is answered so hopefully a second season will be commissioned because the warmly familiar and disturbing worlds of Stranger Things are worth revisiting.

Lewis T. Grove