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STRANGER THINGS: SEASON 2 brings the same great 80’s nostalgia with mediocre plotting and pacing…

Posted on October 30th, 2017
Posted on October 30th, 2017

by Coop Cooper

This season picks up nearly a year after the last one ended. Still traumatized from being trapped in the ‘Upside Down’ dimension, Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) has visions of a gigantic, tentacled shadow monster attempting to break its way into our world. His mother, Joyce (Winona Ryder), periodically takes Will to the kindly Dr. Owens (Paul Reiser) at Hawkins National Laboratory for psychological and physical checkups, but the doctor may not be telling them the entire truth about Will’s condition. Meanwhile, the super-powered Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) has escaped from the Upside Down and is found by Chief Hopper (David Harbour) who keeps her safe and hidden from Hawkins Lab in a cabin in the woods, but she runs away in a quest to find out more about her past. Meanwhile, Will’s friends welcome the newcomer Max (Sadie Sink) into their group while Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) finds an alien ‘pollywog’ creature from the Upside Down and raises it as a pet. Also meanwhile, Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) and Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) hatch a plan to get justice for their friend Barb who is declared officially ‘missing’ but was actually killed by a creature from the Upside Down which in turn was covered up by Hawkins Lab.

As it did in the first season, the second season borrows a lot from movies of the 80’s. It utilizes tropes from “Gremlins”, “Goonies”, “E.T.”,etc… It also borrows from a few 70’s movies like “Alien” and “The Exorcist”. It is also heavily inspired by Stephen King’s “It” which probably owes its current movie adaption success to the popularity of “Stranger Things”.

Character-wise there are a few nice touches that are an improvement over last year’s transgression of making some of the main characters unlikable. Its amusing to see the good-natured, hapless jock Steve (Joe Keery) get dragged into the danger again. Most notable is Sean Astin’s new character, Bob “The Brain” Newby who serves as an affable love interest for Winona Ryder’s character. There aren’t many satisfying story arcs for most the characters until the very last scene, and the lack of focus in the overarching story is to blame for that. One of the more likable ones receives an unnecessarily cruel death scene after an especially heroic moment that is such a downer, that it nearly stops the story in its tracks. Mercifully, Winona Ryder is given better scenes to work with than the histrionic panicking she did all through the first season. Likewise, Harbour’s character is slightly less of a jerk this time, and his heroism makes up for the personality flaws in his character.

The kids get better scenes as well. Mike (Finn Wolfhard) is less naive and more brooding and complex since he and Eleven were separated at the end of the first season. Eleven herself gets to experience more isolation and heartbreak this time around, but this new season gives us hope that her days of suffering and solitude may be coming to an end. Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), one of the better actors in the bunch, gets a budding love interest while Dustin, the resident super-nerd, gets some tough lessons in growing up. The biggest arc comes from Will who gets a lot more screen time, showing off Noah Schnapp’s superior dramatic acting ability in comparison to his primarily comedic co-stars. Hopefully his character’s suffering is also at an end because he experiences more horror this season than any of the other characters combined. Nancy and Jonathan go off the reservation for a bit too long, but the results of their efforts for Barb were ultimately satisfying. Hopefully the creators of the show will get wise and bring Barb back in some way, which is something every fan of the show wants to see **hint, hint**.

Stranger Things” overwhelmingly succeeds when its tackling the sentimental 80’s nostalgia and tone, making the final scene in the second season – the ‘Snow Ball’ dance – a real pleasure to see. Alas, there isn’t much of a cliffhanger this time as there was in Season One, but perhaps this will clean the slate a bit so they can potentially move in a different (possibly better?) direction for next season. Plus, the kids are quickly approaching high school age so it will be fun to see them tackle strange situations while also graduating from their adolescence.

Although I give this show a hard time, it really has a ton of potential and I hope the show’s creators, the Duffer Brothers, spend some time nailing down plot and pacing issues since they already have their core concept and characterization locked in. This season was about on par with the last in terms of quality with some aspects improving and others deteriorating, but I have hope and that alone is enough for me to await impatiently for “Stranger Things: Season 3”.

Rating: 3 out of 5

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