Genre: Drama/ Science Fiction
Cast: Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin
When Stranger Things premiered in July of 2016, few people knew what the series was about. After its premiere, the sci-fi show and its blend of nostalgic warmth, colorful characters and well-written science fiction quickly found an audience. The show’s popularity grew and grew.
The show’s second season had a lot to live up to. Viewers had expectations and it would be up to the Duffer Brothers, the show’s creators, to live up to them. Fortunately, they did.
The program’s new season, which premiered on October 27th, features a familiar return to Hawkins, Indiana while continuing to grow this show’s unique world. While the first season revolved around the disappearance of one of the main characters (The Vanishing of Will Byers was the title of the pilot episode and that storyline continued throughout the season), this season focuses on a new monster and the consequences of the time Will spent in the Upside-Down.
Aside from its opening sequence, the season two premiere starts slowly. The methodical pace reminds us why we loved these characters in the first place. Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Will (Noah Schnapp) are innocently spending their time searching for MadMax, an arcade-goer who has set the high score on multiple games. It’s roughly been a year since the events of season one and although his closest friends have seemingly moved on, Will remains haunted by the past.
His visions about the Upside-Down and a new gigantic monster reveal that his nightmare is far from over.
The early episodes slowly find focus and as they do, the characters reveal how they’ve changed. Will’s mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) has begun a blissful romance with her former classmate Bob (Sean Astin) but remains committed to keeping Will safe. Nancy (Natalia Dyer) is still dating Steve (Joe Keery) but the pain of losing her best friend Barb last season remains at the forefront of her mind.
“It’s like everyone forgot. Nobody cares,” she says. Fortunately, she hasn’t forgotten and her journey here really brings her supporting character to life.
One of this season’s greatest strengths is that the characters have clearly grown as emotional beings while remaining grounded by their personalities. Will’s relationship with his mother is now clearly defined by her zealous protectiveness. Nancy’s relationship with Steve has become completely unbalanced because of her guilt over Barb’s death.
These characters haven’t remained stagnant and the strong writing team carefully reveal the changed personas of these unique characters.
Despite her importance in season one though, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is relegated to a secondary storyline for much of this new season. It’s understandable that the writers wanted to show her own growth (both as an individual isolated from town in the early episodes and as a person seeking her own path in episode 7) but her absence from the main group feels unsatisfying. Watching her learn and socialize with her new friends in season one was a highlight and her connection with them is missing for most of the season here.
Filling the gap, the writers seemingly add several new characters with ease here though. The rebellious Max (Sadie Sink) is introduced perfectly in the season premiere. In nods to the show’s 1980s setting, the program also introduces Sean Astin, who starred in the beloved 1985 drama Goonies, and Paul Reiser, who co-starred in Aliens (1986) and plays the enigmatic Dr. Owens here.
The introduction of Sam’s obnoxious stepbrother Billy (Dacre Montgomery) adds a darkness to the show but the character isn’t as well-developed as the other newcomers.
With the growth of the cast and the characters in it, Stranger Things has cleverly matured. To their credit, the writers have also added new intrigue into the relationships developed here. A budding friendship between Dustin and Steve is a particular highlight while the expansion of Lucas’ family adds to the story’s strong formation. If the show remains as steady and entertaining as this season, it will hopefully be around for a very long time.
Review by: John Hanlon