Netflix’s season two of “Stranger Things” is a big blend of sci-fi monster movies, political thrillers, preteen romances and government corruption. It has a splash of anarchists and heavy homages to “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Red Dawn,” “Gremlins,” “Carrie,” “Aliens” and “Ghostbusters.”
We return to Hawkins, Indiana one year after the events of season one. Will keeps having “now memories” of the Upside Down. Nancy is dealing with guilt over Barb and a possible love triangle between herself, Steve and Jonathan. Eleven is hiding away with Hopper, and Joyce is dating Sam from “The Lord of the Rings.”
Similarly to season one, this feels more like a movie than a TV show. There are very few, if any, standalone story lines. Everything flows from one episode to the next. This not only makes it easier to binge all nine episodes, but it helps it feel more cinematic.
Barb’s parents are still holding out hope that she’s alive. A conflicted Nancy convinces Jonathan to help her uncover the lab, and the direction that leads down is so much fun to watch. It feels like “The Americans” with a little hint of “Silkwood.”
Dustin’s stupidity surrounding his new pet had me screaming advice at my TV, but his newfound friendship with Steve is amazing. When their paths cross, it really works. The actors play off each other well, and their pairing made all their scenes fun.
Apologies to “This is Us,” but “Stranger Things” features the best mom currently on TV with Joyce Byers. Rather than do the typical thing that every mom does in a movie or TV show like this, she believes her son. We don’t have to spend the first half of the season convincing her the Upside Down is real. She seems like a realistic and caring but terrified mother.
While I didn’t find Hopper’s story line to be as interesting as last year, it really helped shape his psyche as this flawed character. He loses his temper, but tries his best. It really makes him seem grounded as a character and easy to root for.
The second season goes where many sequels have gone before. Eleven gets a more fleshed out backstory, which features some strong elements but by the time we get to the later episodes, it becomes uninteresting. It doesn’t feel like a genuine character moment, and that story line ended up falling flat.
The inclusion of the “demo-dogs” doesn’t work as well as last season’s Demogorgon. With this year’s bigger budget, they were able to include more monsters, but they never really seem to pose much of a threat. They’re an attempt to go “bigger and badder,” and it doesn’t really work.
Also, without getting into spoilers, in the latter half of the season, all of the individual story lines connect but it feels sort of contrived. Everyone conveniently shows up at the same place at the same time, which was needed from a narrative perspective, but they could have found a more organic way for all of the plot lines to come together.
Season two of “Stranger Things” isn’t perfect, but if you liked the first season, you’ll enjoy it. It has all the thrills, humor, heart and scares of a good ’80s movie. It feels like a really strong nine-hour science fiction movie, not the second year of a TV show.
– Published in The Montclarion on Nov. 2, 2017