Warning : Thar be spoilers here…
If there’s one show at the moment that seems to really capture the social zeitgeist of escapism that we all seem to require in a post Brexit/Trump world, its Stranger Things. Now that Netflix has gone all in (to the tune of $7 billion for next year) on its original production investment, we ‘re starting to see an increasing number of these shows really resonate with audiences. Whilst House of Cards really launched Netflix on to the map (although that wasn’t of course strictly original as its based on the superior UK miniseries of the same name), its shows like this one and The Crown, Mindhunter and Narcos that will keep it there (especially in light of recent revelations).
So in light of the above, Stranger Things is one of those shows that Netflix really needs to succeed. Its also a show that really plays exceptionally well to the ‘binge’ model that Netflix has pioneered for a lot of its productions (one episode aside that I’ll come on to later).
So does this season come up to scratch? Commercially of course we don’t really know, as Netflix have never (to date) released the viewing figures. Critically speaking though and cutting a long story short for a second, I’d say season 2 definitely lives up to the promise of the first, and if you enjoyed that there’s little doubt you’ll enjoy this one.
If that sounds lukewarm in terms of praise, I do have to apply certain caveats to the above. Clearly nostalgia, especially amongst those of us who grew up in the era that Stranger Things depicts, is a powerful beast (bad pun intended). Using those images of 1980’s pop culture resonates for some of us in a way that’s hard to explain but inexorably brings us back mentally to simpler and happier times where the world wasn’t in such a state of seeming chaos. This rose tinted glasses effect does tend to add a little distortion, in terms of perhaps the things that we are willing to overlook in a story and character development. Certainly I have seen a couple of more contrary critics argue this in support of the thesis that the show isn’t perhaps quite as ground breaking as its sometimes portrayed.
I can see that point of view certainly: there are some problems with this season. There are a couple of characters that we became very familiar with from last season that get short shrift this season: most notably Mike (Finn Wolfhard), who doesn’t get much to do most of the season other than mope about Eleven’s ‘death’ (spoiler: she’s alive!) and treat newcomer Max (Sadie Sink) badly when she tries valiantly to build bridges and join our favourite nerd group. There is also an episode here (number 7) which massively breaks up the momentum built by the first 6 episodes and slow things to a crawl, giving us some decent development for Eleven (via some of the most cartoonish characters you’re likely to see outside of a Flash Gordon film) but completely breaking up the tension that had been building up to the cliffhanger ending of episode 6.
The plot is also nothing groundbreaking: the titular smoke monster (step aside Lost) seen in all the marketing is our big bad. It takes over Will (Noah Schnapp, who is an absolute scene stealer and does some amazing work this season) and basically begins to orchestrate taking over our dimension with the Upside down, with the help of some smaller, dog like versions of the original season’s big bad, the Demigorgan. Eleven of course ends up, having to do a repeat of her first season heroics and closing the gate to the upside down for good (well okay, almost certainly not for good or there are no more seasons). So in short, the plot really doesnt do much different from the first season, other than split some of our team up and come up with some noteable pairings (Hopper/Eleven, Steve/Dustin, Jonathan/Nancy) that do shake things up a little.
HOWEVER (and this is such a big however I’ve capitalised it), I still really, really enjoyed this season. Put quite simply, this show isn’t trying to be something its not. Its not trying to be revolutionise episodic television. It’s not trying to give us a life changing message or convey deep social commentary. What it is (as the creators have stated) is essentially one long movie thats being shown as a miniseries. Its popcorn entertainment rather than high art. This is why I believe that the vast majority of people are willing to overlook the more obvious flaws in this season and enjoy what makes this show great to watch. Great performances, some terrific genre fusion inspired set pieces and a nice underlying mystery that isn’t going to stretch your gray matter too much on a saturday night binge fest.
If you’re not looking for anything more than the above (and I think its unreasonable to expect more from this show) then you will definitely really go for this season.
So before I sum up, let me turn away from the negative and highlight some of the great things this season that I enjoyed:
– Noah Schnapp gives an incredible performance as Will this season, giving us an amazing mix of scared child and Exorcist/Omen inspired devil boy vibe.
– Newcomer Bob (Sean Astin, of Goonies fame), who I was convinced was a bad guy right until he got eaten, was a great addition, and showed some terrific decision making from the Duffers in being willing to kill off such a great character, giving us proper stakes for the finale.
– Momentum wise this show was killing it until Episode 7. Fortunately Episode 8 picked up right where 6 left off and gave us a terrific finale.
-Dragon’s Lair (because yes, you cant beat the 80’s for nostalgia)
– The 80’s haircuts were still epic (Steve’s ice cream cone style has to be the standout)
– Paul Reiser (the bad corp slimeball from Aliens in case you cant place the name) turns out to be a good guy! Sometimes its just nice not to have a predictable twist.
– The Snow Ball. A great way to wrap up the finale as all the main characters got a brief moment of resolution (even Dustin). All it needed was Michael J Fox on guitar and we’d have the best nostalgia callback ever.
This is an easy one really. If you liked the first season or you’re a Stephen King/E.T./Goonies/80’s fan then there’s plenty of great stuff to like here. On the other hand if you’re simply a fan of straight forward popcorn, page turning thrillers then you’ll also really enjoy this season. The only way I really wouldn’t recommend this is if you’re perhaps after something that tries to go for a slightly more serious and purely dramatic tone. As I say above, if you want to watch en entertaining, engaging and fun sci-fi thriller with some horror esque twists thrown in, you could do a lot worse than check out Stranger Things.