We’ve all been enjoying something of a recent revelling in all things 80s. Whether it be the return of various classic films from the decade like Star Wars or Blade Runner, the explosion of the retro synth genre (which I have become obsessed with lately) or even in our politics, in which we have an unpopular female Prime Minister forging a close relationship with a slightly daft elderly US President.
Long story short, the 80s are back in fashion. And no television show better summed up this warm glow of nostalgia than Stranger Things, Netflix’s beautiful tribute to the decade that fashion forgot.
Now the gang of Hawkins, Indiana return for another spooky sci-fi adventure with the highly anticipated Stranger Things 2. But do they manage to replicate the magic or is the show another victim of the curse of crappy sequels?
It’s 1984, one year after the return of Will Byers who had previously vanished amidst a secretive government conspiracy. Still struggling to recover from his ordeal, Will is haunted by nightmarish visions of a massive entity that seeks to break free from the “Upside Down” and destroy humanity, prompting his friends and family to embark upon a mission to save not just Will, but also the world.
What made Stranger Things such a hit the first time around was its fantastic cast, whose charm and chemistry made every minute an absolute joy to watch. Thankfully these same faces all return for the second time around, with their natural charm and charisma remaining very much intact, with a few of the cast really deserving special praise for their work.
Noah Schapp’s who only appeared sparingly in the first season is finally given a chance to shine as Will Byers, with the young actor giving us a fantastic and sympathetic portrayal of a boy haunted by the horrific ordeal he endured, while also being confronted by new ones.
Millie Bobby Brown who emerged as the breakout star of season 1 as the mysterious Eleven, also returns to give us another terrific performance as the super-powered heroine, with this new season (without spoiling anything) giving her some really meaty character to chew on. Plus, her relationship with David Harbour’s Sheriff Hopper also makes for one of the sweetest partnerships that the show has ever created, with the pairs verbal sparring and heartfelt interactions being quite funny and often poignant.
Among the new additions to the cast, I found myself growing ever fond of Sean Astin’s Bob, a quintessential dorky step-dad type whose dorky mannerisms and dorky hobbies make him such a wonderful and loveable screen presence, with the series also turning him into something of an unlikely hero in more intense moments.
Story-wise, season 2 very much follows the same beats as season 1 with it concerning supernatural and sinister goings-on working their dark magic through the previously sleepy town of Hawkins, Indiana. However, I feel that this familiarity and call back to the previous year is not the hindrance that it perhaps could have been, mainly because the beats that it repeats are the ones that everyone loved in the first place. And you can never have too much of a good thing.
The season even gives a nice little nod to the fan outrage at the death of the surprisingly beloved Barb, with the writers cleverly knitting the real world “Justice for Barb” fan campaign into a clever little sub-plot.
The pacing is still breakneck with the hours flying past with such brevity and fun that you’ll start the season promising that you’ll just watch one episode and then watch the rest later, but before you know it you’ve binged watched the whole thing and are going back to season 1 to start it all over again. Well, you do if you’re me.
The only real weakness of the season was the 7th episode, which, without spoiling anything, felt a bit too much like the creators needed an hour to fill before they reached the finale and really the episode only serves to tie up a plot thread from the beginning of the season. While I’m expecting it to be followed up in season 3, I personally feel like the episode could have been removed without affecting the overall story too much, but that’s just me. Some might get a kick out of the episode for breaking away from the usual format of the show to give us a decent (if unnecessary) rest from the main story.
What is untarnished by the passing of time or the padding of episodes is the warm bath of nostalgia that the gained the series its legions of fans, with the season being filled with little nods and references to all things the 80s, all scored with the joyous synth musical stylings of Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein. Quite simply, this is a show made for nostalgia nerds like me, and I could write volumes pointing out all the little references that I can spot. I just love this show, plain and simple.
With fantastic performances from the returning cast, an engaging mystery that expands upon the previous season while also offering all kinds of possibilities for the future, and a sense of fun and wonder that manages to pave over any flaws that do emerge, Stranger Things 2 is yet another fun-filled spooky trip back to the world of the 1980s. The only real problem with the show is that we have to wait another year for Stranger Things 3, but until then we at might at last finally get “Justice for Barb”.