Film & TV

Stranger Things season 2: How good is it, anyway?

We’ve been waiting almost a year for the second season of the Duffer brothers-Shawn Levy from-out-of-nowhere hit show Stranger Things, and it finally streams on Netflix on Oct. 27. If you haven’t re-binged on the first season, here’s where we left off: Will Byers is collected from the Upside Down by his mother, Joyce, and Jim Hopper. I say “collected” because although he’s returned, he’s not quite the same. In the final episode of season one, we see him coughing up a slug of some sort, and it’s not at all tiny. Eleven has killed the monster, after which, she vanished, leaving Mike, Dustin and Lucas behind. We all know from the trailers that Eleven will return in season 2, but what exactly will the kids of Hawkins, Indiana have to deal with next?

Stranger Things season one took us by surprise when it filled a Demogorgon-sized gap in last year’s TV landscape for several reasons. There was the much-awaited return of Winona Ryder, the mainstream goth icon of the pre-millennial generation, who plays Joyce Byers, a struggling single mother. There’s the show’s unparalleled commitment to recreating the Eighties, down to its killer soundtrack — they had me at Toto, to be honest. There’s Mike, Dustin and Lucas, this ragtag team of kids that become a small town’s unlikely heroes, in a dark, sci-fi drama. Which is new, because usually it’s a handsome guy and his good-haired brother. And then there’s Eleven, the girl with a buzz-cut, played by the trailblazing Millie Bobby Brown, who quickly became a household name, your favorite Halloween costume, and fashion world royalty. It’s the ’80s TV show we wanted, created in retrospect. How will season two ever measure up?

Let me tell you, it does measure up. One of the trailers is titled, “It’s grown.” They could be talking about the show right there. In an interview with EW, Finn Wolfhard (Mike Wheeler) said the second season is on Red Bull, whereas the first one was on Coke, and I couldn’t agree more. Set a year after the events from last season, in Halloween of 1984, the second season sets the pace from its first episode. Right off the bat, you know that you have to be glued to the screen the whole time — no bathroom breaks, no live-tweeting, complete and undivided attention required. The gang is doing a lot more now. They’re much more entwined with the adults, whom by the way, we get a to know a little more about as the season progresses. New characters are stirring things up: Paul Reiser plays Dr. Owens, Will’s PTSD doctor; Linnea Berthelsen plays Roman; Darce Montgomery plays Billy; and Sadie Sink plays Max, Billy’s sister and second female, after El, to be invited into the all-boys club.

The story becomes much more elaborate, like a web now, which something you may have guessed would happen if you read between the lines in season one. I admit, I didn’t — I was completely present and invested the whole time — so all of season two’s WTF moments, I reacted to precisely with that. Part of what I enjoy about watching TV shows is seeing how much foresight is required to create them, and how much restraint it must have taken to not make a party out of season one and just put all the monsters in there.

With the expansion of the plot comes the expansion of the budget. Variety reported that each episode in season two cost $8 million to make. All that $$$ went places, literally, as you will see in the second season how it’s now just home-school-Upside-Down anymore. There’s a world outside of Hawkins? You bet there is. That budget went into making the monsters, as well. As you probably already saw in the poster (and no, this is not a spoiler because we all know that the VILLAIN IS ALWAYS IN THE BACK, cc: Star Wars), the possible next threat to Hawkins is a giant spider-like creature they’re calling the Shadow Monster, which haunts Will in what he calls his “now-dreams.”

Now the real question is, exactly how binge-worthy is season two? Netflix is dropping all nine episodes at once on Oct. 27 — will you be able to stop after just seeing the first? In my case, the answer is NO. As Matt Duffer told Rolling Stone, “Each episode is building on the last one. It gets much crazier than it ever got in season one.” This greatly affected my watching habits. After the first episode, which started with a sort of disorienting introduction that looked nothing like Stranger Things and ended with an unexpected revelation, I couldn’t put it away. So, yes, it is digestible, if not in one sitting, at the very most two.

Aren’t you glad a long weekend is coming up?







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