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TV Review: Stranger Things 2 – Is the Second Season as Good as the First?

Martha Trydahl Martha Trydahl TV Review: Stranger Things 2 – Is the Second Season as Good as the First?Image via IMDb.
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Stranger Things, the Netflix series that launched a thousand memes (and a Chicago pop up bar) is back, just in time to pick out your Halloween costume!

But the big question is…can it possibly be as good as the first season? This review covers the entire second season of Stranger Things, but no major spoilers lie ahead.

Stranger Things has always had a cinematic feel, with overt ties to canonized 80s movies like Stand by Me and Goonies. The second season has been packaged like a movie sequel, it’s even titled Stranger Things 2. Still, television is the perfect medium for the epic-ness of this story. The bingeability of Netflix also lends to the storytelling.

In the first season, we had the awesome sense of discovery as we learned about the Upside Down and Eleven (the exceptional Millie Bobby Brown) while we searched for Will (Noah Schnapp). We have lost that element in the second season, so the show creators (the Duffer Brothers) did the smart thing and let their extremely talented cast lead the way this time around.

The Duffer Brothers (identical twins Matt and Ross Duffer) have admitted that they let their cast inform the characters of their show. The quality of the acting, especially from the child actors is shockingly good. These kids can out-act anyone on basic cable. How can one show be so lucky?

In the character-driven Stranger Things 2, the boys spend more time apart, and their personalities become more fleshed out. There are also some unlikely character pairings and several love triangles to keep the show feeling fresh.

Since it doesn’t look like we’re leaving Hawkins, Indiana any time soon, some new characters were brought to us. Most notably, 80s stars Sean Astin (Goonies) and Paul Reiser (Beverly Hills Cop, My Two Dads).

The Department of Energy and Dr. Owens (Paul Reiser) are surprisingly forthcoming with information this season. And Dr. Owens has a much gentler bedside manner than his predecessor, Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine).

Joyce’s (Winona Ryder) new boyfriend Bob (Sean Astin) is the goofy but reliable partner she needs at this time in her life. But the relationship feels one-sided, so you can’t help but feel like Joyce is taking advantage of him a little bit (#JusticeForBob). And really, isn’t everyone rooting for #Jopper?

There is also a new girl in town, Max (Sadie Sink) the arcade savant, and her psychotic, Post Malone-lookalike brother, Billy (Dacre Montgomery).

In the first season, the Duffer Brothers use Dungeons & Dragons to draw myriad connections and explanations to the show’s plotline. In Stranger Things 2, they use arcade games like “Dig Dug” and “Dragon’s Lair” to draw analogies and set the tone for the season.

Since this story takes place in the early 80s, the lack of technology only adds to the mystery and the tension. Walkie talkies or CB radios are unreliable at best and Morse code works great if you understand it.

Speaking of technology, you will find this season to be CGI heavy. The first season used an actor (Mark Steger) to portray the Demogorgon. This season, the monsters are all created in post production, which changes the feel of the show, but doesn’t take away from the end result.

The Shadow Monster emerges as the new enemy, but we’re not sure what it wants. We do know that it really hates pumpkin patches.

While the first season of Stranger Things had a great pace to the story telling, that element was lacking in the second season. It seemed like the last two episodes (by far the best episodes of the entire season) were outlined first, and the rest of the episodes were written to lead up to the finale.

Unfortunately, that caused a lot of drag during the season, especially with storylines detailing the progression of Will’s PTSD and subsequent issues; the regression of Mike (Finn Wolfhard) as he mourns the loss of Eleven and is lost almost entirely as a character this season; the arc of Nancy (distractingly thin Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan’s (Charlie Heaton) relationship; and Eleven’s transition into real life. These plotlines all took a little too long to reach the somewhat obvious conclusions.

Is the second season as good as the first? Ultimately, I think so. Despite any setbacks in the plot, the series stays true to its theme: the nerds are the heroes.

What do you think?

I’m sure we can expect a third season, although no release date has been set yet. With a typical 15-month turnaround, we should expect it in late 2018 or early 2019.

Grade: A-

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