Last year, everyone I know was enthralled by Stranger Things. I know I personally loved the wonderful 80’s geeky vibe, and the weird mix of sci-fi with a Goonies/Stand By Me vibe. It was a beautiful series with all the right touches to make you feel like you were right there in the 1980s again trying to figure out problems without the benefit of more recent technology. With a show as successful as this, you have to expect that there will be a sequel.
To be honest I was worried. I loved the mystique of the first series so much that I didn’t want to risk anything ruining it for me. I knew at some point I was going to need to just do it though, and so last weekend the wife and I binged all 9 episodes. Before I drop into spoiler territory (below the fold) let me give the tl;dr: I enjoyed Stranger Things 2, and if you enjoyed the first one, you probably will to.
First though, I need to talk a little bit about what I didn’t like. I felt like one of the strengths of the first series was that it started with a bang. Within 10 minutes Will had been kidnapped and the search was on. There were a few slow moments at times, but I loved how it dropped you into this world and let you figure it out as you went. Stranger Things 2 doesn’t do this. Instead of a big bang to start the series, you end up with 3 episodes that felt slow to me. They contained a lot of good world building, but I felt like season 1 built the world as it went, instead of setting the stage.
Once you hit episode 4, everything takes off and it’s non-stop action for the rest of the series. I feel like the final 3-4 episodes were some of the best ones I’ve seen on TV in a long time. I just had to be willing to wait through the meandering opening to get there. I’m happy that the ending paid off, but hopefully if there is a season 3, they’ll revert back to the formula that I felt made season 1 so good.
My other complaint was the romantic settings. I hated the whole jealousy triangle between Mike, Max, and Eleven. Thankfully, they didn’t play it up much at all, but for a moment I was really worried that this would be a major storyline of the season. I also really didn’t care who Nancy ended up with, but the morning after scene in the creepy reporters house was pretty hilarious.
Apart from the slower pacing to start, there were tons of things that I loved about this season. The introduction of Max was a nice change, and gave the team something to work around. Instead of everyone in the group having full knowledge of what was going on, there was a new character that didn’t and everyone had to navigate those tricky waters. It helped really address the issue of how you deal with something so odd and strange and unbelievable. The fact that Max rejected it completely to start was perfect. She was a real human, who needed more than some wild stories to convince her of what was going on.
I loved every time Eleven was on screen. I felt like her performance were so strong that I wanted more. I especially wished that Eleven had come back into the picture sooner so that we could have gotten more of her as the plot rolled out. Maybe if they had moved a couple of those slow episodes to the end, and extended out the finale it would have given her more opportunity to shine, especially while she interacted with the group. I enjoyed her growth journey, and it was cool to see her develop more social skills, albeit from bad daytime TV.
The Hopper and Eleven dynamic was good, although I felt like the temper tantrum scene got to be a bit much. That was such a powerful scene that I wanted more time to unpack it between the two characters. I’m not sure what to expect from El’s adoption by Hopper, but I’m sure it will be an interesting dynamic of any season moving forward.
Finally, one of the best thing about this show, was when it was an ensemble cast on screen it worked so, so well. The beauty of it was that the kids were actually playing their age. These weren’t 19 year olds pretending to be 13. They felt authentic, and when you stuck them all in a room, or a dank upside-down tunnel, they truly shined. It’s what made movies like Goonies and Stand By Me work, and it’s what continues to make Stranger Things an amazing show. I’m sure I’ll be worried when the inevitable season 3 comes out, but I’m happy enough with season 2, that perhaps they might be able to pull of one more great story in Hawkins, Indiana.