So Stranger Things, season one on Netflix a while back, arrived with some hype. But then, actually, more or less lived up to it; as it was entertaining, engaging and, pop culture wise, pretty savvy, as it tapped into our continuing obsession with the ’80s. And by tapped I mean it drank heavily from the well of that decade, from the obvious influence of The Goonies through to ET, Stand By Me and a host of others, the force of nostalgia was strong in this one.
But ’80s love aside, people also had a soft spot for the show because, by and large, it was simple, had a clear story and a bunch of interesting, relatable characters. It went: kid called Will (Noah Schnapp) gets lost in the ‘Upside Down’, aka hell or some such place, and his friends Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), along with his mum Joyce (Winona Rider) and police Chief Hopper (David Harbour) try to get him back, with the help of a rather gifted girl called Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown).
And that slightly thin plot was teased out to us gently and expertly, bit by bit. So it went that, for the majority of season one, none of the characters entirely knew what had become of Will – and by the time they figured out what the Upside Down was and how to get him back, we were already well into the final episodes. This meant there were a lot of loose story threads come the finish, but we forgave them because the show was cool and fun and season two was under way.
So with this second season the story picks up about a year on. Will is trying to live a normal life with his friends – and Eleven, last seen in the Upside Down, has gone awol.
And if almost dying in the Upside Down wasn’t bad enough, the other kids at school – thinking Will back from the dead – start calling him ‘zombie boy’; around the time he becomes troubled by visions of a shadow monster. Poor Will, there’s literally no rest for him.
And without giving too much away it’s fair to say the threat from the Upside Down grows, to the point where most characters are drawn back into the fight once again. Although this time round they’re more clued up and, in a nice wrinkle, have help rather than hindrance from the government scientists that were a thorn in their side first time round.
Moreover, as is the way with a popular show, a second season means bigger budgets, more effects and more characters. So with Eleven out of the picture (in a sense) we get a new arrival to town in the form of redhead gamer girl Max, who immediately becomes the focus for Lucas and Dustin, who just want to impress her. Mike, though, isn’t having any of it, as he stills pines for Eleven and believes she’s still alive somewhere out there.
Another addition this season is Max’s brother, who has moody rebel written all over him. He’s got mullet hair and looks like the lovechild of Rob Lowe and Bon Jovi. He smokes angrily, lifts weights whilst angrily listening to heavy metal. He drives angry (shout out Nic Cage) and, in short, he’s just angry. We find out why, but by that point it was obvious and I just didn’t care. He adds nothing to the season’s overall story and seems to get far too much screen time considering the lack of development of his character either in terms of getting a comeuppance or some sort of redemption.
Max, also, adds little to the story and feels like a stand-in for Eleven, which is not the actor’s fault, she’s just not given much focus or character. This season goes much like season one, in that it feels like the show’s creators are just setting stuff up for the next season, which is actually quite frustrating.
Eleven is an example, in that she’s on her own journey for most of the season, away from the main group. This could have worked for a show with twenty episodes, but in the tight ten that’s come to define modern TV, it feels like an unwelcome detour. We want her back with the gang being the bad ass, deeply complex, troubled, gifted girl that she is.
Other characters from the first season also suffer from a lack of love. Steve (Joe Keery), the ex-boyfriend of Mike’s older sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer) springs to mind. There’s memes going round of how Steve ends up in an exasperated babysitting role for a large portion of the season, forced to look after the younger characters as they go gallivanting off after monsters. This is true, but it’s the most interesting thing about him. He goes from borderline bad guy in season one to selfless hero, protector and mentor (of the younger kids like Dustin) in season two. Basically, what I’m saying is, I wanted more Steve. (As well as more Eleven.)
As an overall show though, it was a decent enough second season and the above points are minor gripes. Perhaps it’s just testament to the fact that I care about the characters that this season’s disjointed feel bothered me so much.
Still, season three is on the way I’m sure and I’ve got to hope it’ll push some characters on further. Maybe I’ll even get to see some sort of justice for Steve.