It has now been over 3 weeks since the cultural phenomenon Stranger Things dropped it’s second season on Netflix, so be warned this will be filled with SPOILERS
If you haven’t watched season one yet, (which why are you reading this article?) here is Eleven herself rapping a recap for you.
Now that you are all caught up, here are my thoughts on the most buzzworthy pop culture obsession of the moment. I thought season 2 raised the bar in many ways. Not only did they make last years villain way bigger, but all the performance were better. All 5 kid actors stepped up their game this season. Noah Schnapp(Will) got more screen time and did not waste it as he gave an emotional performance. Gaten Matarazzo continues to grow his comedic timing. He is the major comic relief for the show, and the scenes building his and Steve’s relationship were some of the best of the season. However, he also showed some emotion when dealing with the love triangle between him, Max, and Lucas, as well as in the final episode at the school dance. I’m sure we will see him in more projects soon. Millie Bobby Brown(Eleven) showed even more range and showed why she is the MVP of the series. She carried multiple scenes where it was only her on the screen, and even a whole episode where the rest of the established cast was missing. She has a great ability to show emotion through her facial expressions and physicality alone. Again, she will become a big star soon. David Harbor’s character Hopper has become iconic. I loved when he had to go back for his hat in one scene, just like Indiana Jones. He also had a dichotomous role as a father figure to Eleven/Jane, while still being the necessary badass, which brought depth to his performance. Steve (played by Joe Keery) continues to become a better character. He can somehow be the tough popular guy when he needs to, while also transforming into a soccer mom/babysitter for the kids. As he said in episode 9 “I may be a pretty shitty boyfriend, but it turns out I’m a pretty damn good babysitter.” Winona Ryder isn’t just a frazzled victim the whole time like season 1. It was nice to see her bring some emotional range to Joyce Byers, which makes you miss her performances from the 80’s/90’s. I also enjoyed the addition of Max, she adding a new dynamic to the group. However I felt her brother Billy and their family’s storyline was somewhat of an unnecessary distraction. Billy was kind of an unneeded character that we spent too much time developing for really the only reason of being an adversary to Steve. Murray, the lawyer looking for justice for Barb, was a nice addition of comic relief, played well by Brett Gelman. Although the episode where he provides booze, Billie Holiday jazz to set the mood, and a room (“How was the pull out?”) for Jonathan and Nancy to have sex, was a little creepy. Paul Reiser was also a good addition to make you not completely hate someone who worked at Hawkins Lab. The role that stole every scene was Erica, Lucas’ younger sister. She cracked me up every time she came on the screen. When she got on the walkie talkie and said “shut your mouth” I laughed out loud.
Now that the focus on performances is out of the way, let’s talk about “That Episode”… Episode 7 was the most polarizing for many. I did feel like it was out of place and broke up the flow of the season a bit. Especially since we were briefly introduced to these characters to start the season and didn’t see them again until episode 7. However, I compared it to Luke’s time on Dagobah, training with Yoda. I do hope Kali returns for season 3, just without her crew.
Some of what I love about Stranger Things is the 80’s nostalgia.
- The way they featured video games this year, instead of board games, showed an evolution of the time from season one, and brought me back to the arcade as a kid.
- We also saw various ads and TV shows over the 9 episodes that were meant to bring you back to the period. We saw commercials for Oreos, and the Terminator.
- Steve talked about using a Farrah Fawcett hairspray, while Eleven watched Susan Lucci soap operas.
- We saw characters using Polaroid cameras, and big bulky VHS camcorders.
- There were Reagan/Bush signs in the yards while Max was dressed as Michael Myers for Halloween.
- We saw Punky Brewster, Cheers, and Mr. Mom on the TV.
- Bob Newby worked at Radio Shack and there was talk about Walkmans, and Viewmasters.
- Hopper said Eleven looked like an MTV punk when she was dressed all in black and wore makeup (“Bitchin'”) after her side trip to Chicago.
All great references that provided nostalgia for anyone who grew up in that time.
I also love how much the Duffer brothers jammed this season with so much homage to the 80’s and 90’s films that inspired them. Indulge me while I try to point out some things that maybe others didn’t notice.
- Sean Astin’s character Bob had a scene very reminiscent of his Goonies scene with the treasure map. He also danced with Winona Ryder while dressed as Dracula, a nod to her involvement in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
- The Ghostbusters uniforms scene was a hilarious exchange between the boys and just a funny instance of them growing up and feeling uncomfortably nerdy. It was one of my favorite scenes of the whole season and perfectly written and performed by the boys.
- There were even more Ghostbusters references, like the slime on Hopper’s fingers, and the kids in the tunnels using walkie talkies.
- The scene of Dustin and Steve on the railroad tracks just reminded me of Stand By Me. Stephen King’s presence could also be felt when the demo dogs were in the mist.
- There was even a Nightmare on Elm Street reference, where Nancy goes to Tina’s for a party.
- The Gremlins theme is briefly played in the scene where Dart is escaping the school.
- The scene of Bob resetting the power was very reminiscent of Jurassic Park. As well as the way the Demo dogs attack, very raptor-esque.
- While Will looking out his front door at the monster in red/black colors was very reminiscent of a scene in Close Encounters.
- There was also a definite John Hughes vibe with the party scene, and the Snow Ball. Also just the way the kids are all set in specific high school roles. The popular jock, the hot girl multiple guys want, the nerdy kids, the badass wild kid.
- Paul Reiser’s role alone was a reference to Aliens, as he played a similar character. As well as scenes showing the molting skin, and the flamethrowers, and protective suits were also references to Aliens.
- Will’s possession scene was very similar to the Exorcist.
- And I even caught some Evil Dead vibes when Eleven opened the cellar door, and when Hopper is trapped in vines.
Maybe I am reading too much into it, but I’m sure the Duffer Brothers would verify all these examples as influences on them as they expertly paid homage, without ripping off.
Speaking of setting the tone of the 80’s, the synth score by Michael Stein and Kyle Dixon is amazing. This is one of the few shows that I want to listen to the opening theme on every episode. However, let’s get to that soundtrack. Most of it is current for 1984 and works perfectly. We of course here The Clash again. The introduction of Billy brings some hard rock of the time, Metallica, Scorpions, Ted Nugent, Motley Crue and Ratt are all heard from his speakers. Jim Croce features nicely in a flashback portion of an episode with Hopper and Eleven setting up their cabin in the woods. Cyndi Lauper and the Police play at the Snow Ball. Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton play while Bob and Joyce dance on Halloween. And Ray Parker Jr.’s Ghosbuster theme is of course played. Eleven fleeing to Chicago queues up Bon Jovi’s “Runaway”. We also hear Devo, Duran Duran and Queen in various episodes that all help establish the time period.
I’d like to end with some other memorable quotes or moments from the season.
- Episode 1 when Steve uses the line “Finger Lickin’ Good”
- Episode 2 Nancy drunkenly muttering “Bullshit”
- Episode 3 when Dustin runs from the library “I need my paddles!”
- Bob using “Easy Peasy” in numerous episodes.
- Dustin calling his teeth pearls multiple times and saying “rrrr”
- Ted being useless.
- Billy almost seducing Nancy’s mom.
- Mike being mad at Hopper for hiding Eleven
- Eleven being jealous when seeing Mike with Max the Zoomer
- Steve giving advice to Dustin, “Pretend you don’t care”
- The demo dog in the freezer, that will hopefully come back into play next season.
There you have it, if you haven’t watched yet, I basically just gave it all away. Is it a perfect show? No, but it is damn near close. I love Stranger Things, and think they raised the bar this season. I hope they can continue to bring this level of quality and maintain the core cast for a couple more years, yet also give us closure and don’t overstay your welcome.