Warning: some spoilers ahead...
The first season of Netflix’s “Stranger Things” was a phenomenal throwback to the best decade ever, with a modern flourish that helped it stand out from classic 1980s flair.
With great performances all around and a unique science-fiction intrigue, “Stranger Things” quickly cemented itself as a part of the golden age of television. The show’s second season retains most of that momentum with a few noticeable stumbles along the way.
“Stranger Things 2” introduces a fresh slate of new characters on top of the beloved established cast. One character is returning after being previously sidelined last season, and becomes an integral part of the narrative through his tragic connection to the Upside Down. Among the super-stuffed serving of newcomers, one character that caught my attention was Joyce Byers’ new boyfriend, Bob, played by Sean Astin.
Picking up in 1984, about a year after the first season’s events, “Stranger Things 2” deals with the aftermath of the Demogorgon’s presence in the town of Hawkins, Indiana.
The extra-dimensional gate to the Upside Down has opened wider since then, and Will’s bittersweet return to Hawkins is plagued with visions of an enormous shadowy creature invading the town.
Meanwhile, Nancy is haunted by the memory of her dead friend, Barb, the kids befriend “Mad Max” Maxine while Police Chief Jim Hopper grows closer to a familiar face.
Season 2, in fact, has so much going on that it begins to leak quality as it continues. Where the first season successfully converged a series of separate storylines and characters, the second diverges widely, which offers more variety, but makes it a bit tough to care about everyone and everything.
Particularly annoying was the arc involving a group of rebellious punks led by a new character, Kali, better known as Eight. This gang kicks the first episode off with an uninspired chase sequence, and they don’t come back into prominence until the seventh episode.
Apart from being trite miscreant stereotypes with cringe-inducing dialogue, nothing was compelling about this group of characters — and a whole 50 minutes dedicated to them felt like a bad investment.
“Chapter Seven: The Lost Sister,” was the one grating experience I had throughout all nine episodes, as it centered around these annoying rebels I never invested in. There was even a segment that very obviously ripped off a scene from “X-Men: First Class.” What’s worse is that the episode rudely interrupted the suspense capping the sixth episode off. Getting sucked out of so much tense build-up for this digression was a steep low in the season.
There were also many flashbacks used near the beginning of the season that could have been easily inferred. These flashbacks annoyingly interrupted the flow of the narrative, but they were at least heartwarming enough to warrant some enjoyment.
Many other moments were uncharacteristically predictable and often didn’t feel earned. For one, a love triangle between Nancy, Steve and Jonathan springs up after already feeling previously resolved in the last season.
Also, Eleven’s anticlimactic return and Will’s involvement with the Upside Down were easy to spot from a mile away. Despite being enjoyable to watch, a lot of crucial moments in this season lacked the impact they needed to leave their emotional impressions properly.
However, every moment with the principal kids was pure gold. Pairing Steve with them was a nice, inspired touch that led to some great character moments. Still, I was a little let down by how little focus was given to the kids this time around, as they were such a central component in the first season.
I may sound too harsh out of disappointment. But rest assured, there are many, many positives outweighing the negatives. As before, “Stranger Things 2” is a beautiful show, from its gorgeous art direction to the expert cinematography paired with movie quality CGI. I was constantly awed by the visuals, especially when the Upside Down’s roots and portals were involved. And, as always, I really dug the 80s vibe.
In the end, I did come out of “Stranger Things 2” satisfied. This season was not quite as streamlined as the first, and it spent a little too much time worldbuilding for future seasons. I had a good time, though, and I can’t fault the show for being always good and only occasionally great.
Overall solid, but lacking:
Hector Valverede is a culture reporter with the Daily Lobo. He primarily writes movie reviews. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter