Who ya gonna call?
Stranger Things 2 is the sequel series to the acclaimed smash hit Stranger Things, both released on Netflix. Before we get into the second season, I feel like we should talk about the first one for a moment.
Imagine a ship, peacefully cruising on calm waters. Nothing abnormal is happening, anything on the horizon is handleable and expected. Suddenly, you hear a massive boom, and a cannonball the size of your entire body infused with tiny sharks and erupting volcanoes blows the mast off your ship. What are you expected to do in this situation? Well, you gotta figure out where the volcano-shark-cannonball came from. In this case, the source was Netflix, and the cannonball was Stranger Things.
When this show launched, I was indifferent. I thought it was just some overhyped fad that wouldn’t really be any good upon watching it. In fact, I watched the first episode, and thought I was right. The first episode was kind of slow, and I thought that’s how the whole thing was gonna be, so I dropped it. A few months later, one of my teachers wouldn’t stop talking about it. I’d hear his flip-flops slapping down the hall and knew I was about to hear something about how incredible that freaking show was. So, i watched the second episode.
I could not have been more wrong. Stranger Things turned out to be a thrill ride of 80s-inspired aesthetic. I was blown away by everything about this show, save for some minor flaws I was able to mostly overlook. Mostly. The CG wasn’t always that great, it worked better when it was used for environmental hazards rather than a fully-animated monster, which was good because the show never really showed the monster until the last couple episodes, and even then it was very infrequent. Like I said before, the first episode kind of drags along, and it might turn a new person off. Not to say it’s bad, necessarily, but compared to the other episodes it doesn’t really stack up. It’s quite comforting that the worst episode is out of the way quickly, because the rest of the season is great. I found the show to be exceptional at cliffhangers and final moments of episodes, but instead of being like 13 Reasons Why and relying on that to keep people watching rather than bothering to make a good episode, Stranger Things fills the moments in between with compelling drama, good writing, and likable characters.
So how does the second season fare? Well, it does some things better, and some things worse. To start, the CG has certainly improved. It’s still not great, but it’s better to look at than the first one. I liked Bob, one of the new characters. I thought that the human drama got better between some characters, however I thought it was worse with a few others. The actors are still on top of their game, especially Millie Bobby Brown and David Harbour. These two are phenomenal, especially when they’re together. When these two are on screen together, it’s some of the best moments of the show. There are a lot of great moments, some phenomenal ones at the end of the series, mostly because of the performers. Even the new characters I didn’t like were acted well, which certainly helped.
Characters I liked were the main cast, of course. The four kids, Hopper, Eleven, Mrs. Byers, Jonathan, Nancy, and Steve. All of these people are great to watch, although I felt Jonathan could have had some deeper writing. His stalker photographer side isn’t present at all, which was a little disappointing. The kid I think shined the most out of the four was easily Dustin. Dustin’s character arc was the most interesting out of the four, I felt, and I loved where it went. The only thing I didn’t love about his arc was the new kid. Max.
Max sucks. The actress is fine, I actually thought her performance was great, but her character is just annoying. I found her to be fine when she started out, but as the series went on it was clear that she was just a wrench to be thrown in the gears. Whenever the four were trying to do something, they had the dead weight of Max to worry about. And by extension, they had the even heavier weight of Billy.
Billy, while he was acted well, only serves to disrupt. He doesn’t have any major development until the end of the season, and every time he showed up I knew that the end of whoever’s arc was in progress was just delayed another episode. Credit where credit is due, whenever he was on his own, he was great. But man. Whenever he interacted with the main cast, all he did was intimidate and delay. Not the good kind of delay, the tedious kind of delay. While this was certainly annoying, this wasn’t the season’s biggest misstep. The biggest misstep was episode 7: The Lost Sister.
This entire episode is a bigger delay than anything Billy could ever do. It’s not as tedious of a delay, because it’s an aside episode with a point, but it’s not good. Without giving way too much, it centers around Eleven and five poorly done characters. Each of these five characters are bland, flat, and wholly uninteresting. Their development goes as far as saying their name and cracking a joke or two. It’s still an essential episode, because it has some vital development to Eleven’s character, but this could have been done so much better. I don’t think the idea of an aside episode is a bad one, I actually think that spending time with one character for an entire episode is a golden opportunity to make us care about said character more. And this one does that, but it takes so long to get to the point. It could have been a 20-minute aside within another episode, not an entire 50-minute block. Because it’s an entire 50-minute block, it feels like a sharp dip in quality in an otherwise consistently good show.
Two last problems, then I promise I’ll move on to more positive things. I felt the season as a whole was kind of predictable. There were things that I absolutely did not see coming and shocked me right to my bones, but the overarching stuff was what wound up being predictable. This only marginally made the show less enjoyable, and you might not even care as much as I did, so it probably won’t impact your enjoyment too much. Special shout-out to most of Will’s and Nancy’s subplots to being the most unpredictable, those were always the most fun to watch from a plot perspective. The last negative thing I’ll mention is there was a strange abundance of jumpscare noises throughout. I was mostly able to ignore it because the show wasn’t always horror, but I hope they don’t keep up with this trend in the next season.
Let’s get to the good bits. I’m sure you don’t want to hear me rail on it all day, I know I don’t. So here’s something great: Episode 5: Dig Dug. Wow. Episode 5 is the best episode of this season. Most every arc receives a major boost in development, and it’s thrilling. The finesse with which every thread is unwound is wonderfully done. The transitions are perfectly placed, and every time we cut back to another point we learn something new. The ending is absolutely incredible. I won’t say anything about the plot details, because you need to watch it yourself. It’s an hour long adventure that feels like twenty minutes. It flies by and leaves you breathlessly awaiting what will happen next.
Something else I loved was the aesthetic. This show has a lockdown on pretty much everything needed to distinguish itself from most things and look freaking amazing at the same time. The color grading is incredible, some of the best I’ve seen in TV. Blues and reds pop, which really helps to further the eerie feeling the Upside Down emanates. The cinematography is sometimes breathtaking, other times creative, but always consistently good. I also thought the plot threads, no matter how predictable some of them got, were always entertaining. Except Max and Billy’s threads, those were the only real weak threads. This show knows how to entertain, and in the end, that’s one of the most important things about a TV show. Because of TV’s long-form storytelling format, points where it’s not entertaining or boring are felt with a lot more intensity than what’s normally felt with a movie (usually.) Stranger Things, overall, is very entertaining, and I finished the whole season in less than a week. I am very much looking forward to season three, whenever it arrives.
Season one, 8/10. Season two, 7/10.
Next time: BIG movie. May possibly be related to comic books.
Next next time: Who knows?Connect to me