I was originally going to write a way longer introduction explaining what Stranger Things is, but then I realised that everyone already knows what it is (except my mum for some reason) so I’m not going to bother doing that. All that really needs to be said is that I really liked season one on pretty much every level, from acting to writing to score to far too many more elements than I can mention. I liked it a lot.
Season two picks up almost a year after the end of the first season and deal with the repercussions of Will’s experience in the upside down as he continues to see visions of that world, as well as the disappearance of Eleven after the season one finale.
The cast is still really great, and this season’s use of pairing together specific characters in unexpected duos works to enhance that. The pairing of Hopper and Eleven works really well in elevating the performances of both while naturally progressing their character arcs. Dustin and Steve work well off each other to give Dustin more of his own arc, and also make me hate Steve a bit less (but I still do hate him). Similarly, pairing Lucas with the new character of Max works to develop him more. The characters of Dustin and Lucas probably had the least attention when it came to individual development outside of the group in season one, so I liked how this season worked to develop them individually.
Moving onto the new characters, Sean Astin is great as Bob, playing a likeable and well-meaning character who still gets his own heroic moments despite being a bit unaware of everything. Some people think the character of Murray is a bit over the top as a conspiracy theorist character but I liked his presence and Brett Gelman managed to make it more entertaining than a generic archetype. I also really liked Paul Reiser as the new government figure of the season, contrasting him actually being there as a genuinely empathetic character trying to fix things against the stereotypes of films in the 1980s being largely anti-governmental (including the smart move of casting the guy who played that same role in Aliens to do it). Billy is an abusive racist who looks like he’s made of grease and the less said about him the better.
At first, while I was watching it, I felt like the stakes hadn’t really been raised compared to last season, but the more I’ve thought about it the more I like that it feels more like the Aliens to season one’s Alien. The stakes aren’t necessarily higher when dealing with smaller enemies, but it allows it to evolve upon the villainous element when the next season comes around and the leader comes forth.
Now for things I didn’t like – the use of so many 80s songs bother me. In season one, they focused on using the score to emulate the 80s feeling of it, with only a few songs being used for specific scenes to resonate strong character moments (i.e. Should I Stay or Should I Go being used to emphasise a bonding moment between Will and Jonathan). Season two uses 48 songs in nine episodes, and it’s really jarring, especially as a change to season one. Almost none of them mean anything, and a lot of them aren’t even really playing in the scene, it’s just an unnecessary song pasted over. It feels like an overemphasis on reminding the audience it’s the 80s by saying it rather than making it feel like it naturally through the style.
Like most, I absolutely hated episode seven. I’d argue most Netflix shows can be improved by cutting an episode’s worth out of a season (Marvel shows especially), but this one is literally an episode. It places a massive buffer after episode six’s dramatic turning point, effectively cutting the narrative momentum at the knees. All of the building up of the first two-thirds of the season struck down immediately for a cutaway episode that isn’t even good. The gang of characters just feel like a bad version of the Rowdy 3 from Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (a VERY good show I highly recommend). The episode completes a character arc for Eleven and develops her powers more, but I don’t think it particularly went the right way about doing either of those things. It’s an episode that can be skipped over by a sticky note that says “she’s a bit better at her powers now”, and just on the whole I hated the episode a lot.
I wasn’t a fan of the Reagan references either. They worked in some cases (i.e. Mike’s parents) but mostly they felt like an overload of people mentioning Russia in a way that didn’t feel natural considering season one was already well into Reagan’s presidency and the Cold War. I would call them a red herring, but they never get brought back so the references don’t even go anywhere by the end of it. It’s a small thing but it bothered me.
All in all, despite my big rants about certain things I really enjoyed this season and would say it comes pretty close (but not quite) to being on the same level of greatness as season one. The things I loved about season one were improved upon, and it introduces some solid new elements to work upon when it comes to the next season. I’m eagerly looking forward to it.