Many shows that have such a popular first season often start to drop in quality during the second year. Fans will be glad to know that the second season of Stranger Things is just as good as the first. Better in some ways, worse in others, but overall, on the same level, which is good. Since fan expectations were higher this year than they were when the show started, it’s a relief that they didn’t drop the ball. The Spielberg/Steven King quality is still there, and the continuity from year one is good, without rehashing too much.
The show picks up a year after the end of season one, and we’re reintroduced to our cast, to see how their lives have been changed since last year. Most townsfolk’s lives aren’t all that different but a few of them definitely are. Telekinetic 11 (Millie Bobby Brown) and sheriff Hopper David Harbour), have formed a bond, since Hopper is hiding the fugitive 11 in a cabin in the woods. She isn’t happy with the endless months of isolation and she wants to see Mike, (Finn Wolfhard) who is still obsessing over her. Will (Noah Schnapp) is dealing with being known as “zombie boy” after his apparent death and resurrection the previous year. His mother Joyce (Winona Ryder), has a new boyfriend in the form of relentlessly cheerful Bob (Sean Astin of Lord of the Rings.)
Otherwise, all is normal is Hawkins. Dustin (Gaten Matrarazzo) is still nerdy and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) is still the same dull good-hearted kid. He and Dustin get competitive over new girl Max (Sadie Sink) who plays video games better than they do. She also has a dangerous brother named Billy (Dacre Montgomery). Nancy (Natalia Dyer) is back with Steve (Joe Keery), leaving poor Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) as the third wheel.
Things start to go south due to Will’s visions of impending doom and of a Godzilla-sized Demogorgon. Mama Joyce is worried about these visions and confides in Hopper, who investigates the new head of the Hawkins Research facility, Dr. Owens (Paul Reiser of Aliens). While Hopper is distracted with that, 11 runs off to investigate her origins and learn about her life before becoming a Guinea Pig in the Hawkins lab. Meanwhile, Dustin finds a small, strange creature he affectionately names Dart, before it grows to menacing proportions. And it’s not alone!
This season is more of an equal, ensemble cast than year one was. The first year focused firmly on 11 and Mike as the center of everything. This year, 11 goes off on her own quest, separated from the rest of the cast, while Mike has comparatively little to do this time. Personally, I think it’s a good thing to keep them separated, because it’s awkward watching a love interest between two 10-year-olds. 11’s new father-daughter relationship with Hopper is more compelling than the puppy-love story of year one. This year’s storyline does a superior job utilizing the entire cast.
What’s refreshing is that some of the new characters are not what you assume they’ll be. There are two new characters here who you think will probably turn out to be either villains, or at least jerks. But surprisingly, they don’t! (You’ll know who I mean when you see them.)
The cast, as a whole, does a very good job. Winona Ryder is realistically distraught as Will’s protective mother. (I’m old enough to remember going to movies when Winona was playing daughters instead of mothers. Sigh.) Millie Bobby Brown is quite good as 11 but I have to wonder how she’ll do in roles that require more emoting and dialogue. She is very deadpan and speaks very little, which suits the role of 11, but it’s too early to say whether or not she’ll be able to become a lead actress in other roles. Probably the weakest episode of the season is the one where 11 is the only one of the regular cast members to appear. She doesn’t carry the episode by herself.
On the negative side, the show does try to cram too much into the first episode or two, but it picks up as the season goes along. Some of the dialogue is cliched and corny, but that may be done on purpose, in homage to the source inspiration of Spielberg and King. Or maybe it’s just lazy writing; who knows? Also, Will—who has a lot more to do this season—continues to be annoyingly squeaky and tremulous, while Mike seems more whiny and petulant this year. (When you begin the season by robbing from your sister, you’re off to a bad start.) The SFX and production values are inconsistent but adequate for a small-screen series.
The love triangle between Nancy, Jonathan and Steve is not done very well, because the show seems to want us to root for Nancy and Jonathan to get together. The only problem is that Steve comes across as the more nobel and selfless character here. He protects kids he has no emotional connection to, and gallantly steps aside for the sake of Nancy’s happiness. The script seems to be pushing for sensative artist Jonathan to get the pretty girl instead of popular Steve, but Steve seems the better man in this story.
Stranger Things is an interesting, entertaining show, with a few missteps but is well-above-average. The last episode teases further adventures and I’m sure that the season will go over well enough for there to be a third year. I’d recommend this show. If you haven’t seen the first year, binge watch them both.