Shows like Stranger Things are hard to classify. It is technically a television show, but the structure and the way they are consumed are all more comparable to movies. It’s not even marketed as “Season 2.” On every poster and trailer, it is Stranger Things 2. The best way I have to think about each season of Stranger Things is as a movie. Last year the first season of Stranger Things came onto the scene and immediately captured the attention of millions. It became a rare piece of monoculture in a world where there are fewer and fewer shows that “everyone is watching.” This year we were given Stranger Things 2, and in the spirit of 80s sequels, it is basically the same thing but bigger. More characters, more monsters, and another generic antagonist. With one glaring exception, it is a really good season, but I would say that the first season is definitively better.
We are introduced to most of the new characters in the first episode of the newest season. Max (Sadie Sink) is the new member of the kid’s group and becomes the love interest of both Dustin and Lucas throughout the season. Her brother Billy (Dacre Montgomery) is introduced as a bully/bad-boy archetype, and honestly, I have no idea why he is in this season. Bob “the Brain” (Sean Astin) gives terrible advice but definitely grows on you throughout the season. Besides that, the only new character I really want to mention is the conspiracy guy, Murray Bauman (Brett Gelman), who has by far the best line of the season and was a joy to watch.
There really is so much to love in this show. The ending is ultimately heartfelt and satisfying. The kids are all incredible actors and are completely compelling. Something as simple as all of them dressing up as Ghostbusters shouldn’t make me smile, but it does. The parents are amazing caricatures. Winona Ryder is great. Nancy and Jonathan have a satisfying storyline. Every scene of characters just hanging out is pure pleasure. Hopper and Eleven have a great dynamic. Dustin and Steve is somehow the best thing about this season, and how in the world did Steve become my favorite character. If you aren’t Team Steve after this season, I simply don’t know what to say.
Where the show made a mistake though in the “similar but bigger” approach to this season was the fact that, for me personally, I don’t care about a lot of the plot mythology about the upside down. I just want to hang out with these characters, and all the moving parts of the plot kind of weigh the whole thing down. One example is that because of the way the show has developed Eleven, you basically have to treat her like Superman and keep away from the main problem because if she was there she could almost immediately fix all the problems. It’s definitely a problem they will deal with in upcoming seasons, but hopefully in a different way.
I really did love this season, but I’m worried about the direction they are moving. Characters are infinitely more interesting than the plot in this show, and in this season the balance of focus shifted significantly more towards the direction of plot.
I suppose I’m nostalgic for the first season, which is ultimately on brand for a show with nostalgia essentially built into its DNA. I fear the best season of the show may be behind us, but I hope that I’m wrong. Stranger things have happened.