Stranger Things (2016), one of the most critically- and commercially-successful Netflix Original shows, has returned for its second season. Considering the incredibly high bar set by the first season, it is nothing short of remarkable that Stranger Things 2 is able to match it.
Stranger Things 2 takes place in 1984, one year after the events of the first season. Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is still missing. Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) is in a successful relationship with Bob Newby (Sean Astin), but is struggling to care for her son Will (Noah Schnapp), who is experiencing horrific visions of the nightmarish world of the Upside-Down where he was held captive. Meanwhile, Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) and Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) are caught in a love triangle over Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer), while Season One’s lead gang–Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Galen Matarazzo), and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin)–are faced with the arrival of feisty new classmate Max (Sadie Sink) and the discovery of a mysterious reptilian creature.
The original Stranger Things gained a cult following for good reason: It combines ‘80s nostalgia with memorable characters, an emotionally-driven plot, and creative sci-fi thrills. Stranger Things 2 continues on in this same tradition, following quite a similar plot structure, while expanding the story beyond Hawkins, Indiana, and devoting more time to the subplots of individual characters, most notably Eleven’s quest for her origins and identity.
As expected with this series, the cinematography, lighting, and sound design are flawless, creating a suburban world at once comfortingly familiar and terrifyingly unpredictable. Stranger Things 2 looks and feels like the ‘80s Spielberg movies to which it pays homage, down to the most minute details, including decor, costume design, and an absolutely stellar soundtrack (if Oingo Boingo, Duran Duran, and Devo aren’t already on your November playlist, they will be soon).
The standouts of Stranger Things 2 are three of its cast members. Sean Astin is every bit as sincere and heroic as he was as Sam in The Lord of the Rings, and Natalia Dyer steals all of her scenes with a nuanced and heart-wrenching performance. However, the unlikely hero of Stranger Things 2 is Joe Keery as Steve Harrington, who went from Season One’s insufferable jock to Season Two’s witty, courageous, and upstanding hero, complete with a killer new uniform of sunglasses and a barbed baseball bat.
Perhaps the only major disappointment about Stranger Things 2 is the lack of significant character development among its leads. Nearly all of its characters, apart from Steve, are effectively the same as when we met them in the very first episode, and do not have any meaningful arcs. Moreover, viewers who complained that the monsters’ designs and “evil scientist” plotlines of Season One were derivative will not be appeased by the generic Lovecraftian creations on offer in Stranger Things 2.
The new additions to the cast slide seamlessly into the established universe, but have not yet received enough development to cement them amongst the returning cast. Max in particular is an enigma, and it will be interesting to see where the writers take her in the future. However, as it stands, it is a shame that the most prominent female addition to the cast is never really allowed to show anything other than varying degrees of a snarky “tough girl” stereotype.
Stranger Things is unlikely to make any new converts in its second season, but loyal fans will undoubtedly be charmed by the return of its snappy dialogue, thrilling action, heart-wrenching drama, and genuinely loveable characters. The bar has once again been set very high. Here’s hoping that Netflix will be able to match their own masterpiece when Season 3 premieres next year.