For any show with a viral first season, the fear of a sophomore slump is real. For Stranger Things, the fear is acute. How could the show ever top Season One? Is it even possible to recreate the special feeling of sitting down to watch a series you know nothing about and then realising, holy shit this is the actual greatest? Can we really just dive back into the pop-culture tornado of a million fan theories, memes and funny websites where you can write random words in the Stranger Things font and it’s actually amusing instead of tired and lame? Definitely not, but the Duffer Brothers came pretty close.
Stranger Things 2 isn’t, and never could be, as good as Stranger Things – but I loved it all the same. For me, the most essential part of the series has always been the sense of wonderful nostalgia it creates: bicycles, playdates, middle-school dances, first crushes. It’s f*cking cosy, and that still comes through.
Most importantly, the new season feels like a natural and exciting continuation of Season One – we learn more about the The Upside Down, Nancy and Jonathan’s sexual tension reaches peak angst, and there’s a new terrifying monster. But there are also new characters, and I don’t know about you, but when Netflix made their casting announcements back in 2016, I immediately entered a ‘Who do you think you are coming into MY favorite show?!’ state of mind. But every new character makes sense and enriches the plot – none more so than Sadie Sink’s Max, who’s an absolute genius and gives off major Christina Ricci from Now and Then vibes.
The Duffer Brothers knew their audience on this one, and mirrored any hesitancy viewers might have had over welcoming Max to the show by having her friends hesitate to welcome her to their group. She has to earn her place in their hearts and ours, and she succeeds times a million on both counts. Sink is undoubtably one of the strongest performers of this season, even more so than Millie Bobby Brown, who had my least favorite story arc of the show (won’t go into it right now because #spoilers).
To be clear, 90% of me thought Stranger Things 2 was amazing, and the 10% that didn’t is Eleven-related. But, in the spirit of continuing this math metaphor (HELP), there are at least 10 bonus points to be added thanks to Noah Schnapp’s Will. As we know, Will escaped from the Upside Down with some … issues (if we can call vomiting up a slug ‘issues’), and he spends much of the season casually delivering one of the best child performances I’ve seen. The scenes between him and Winona Ryder (and her new-and-improved haircut) are absolutely gut-wrenching.
I’m also excited to inform you that Stranger Things 2 is extremely tightly plotted. This is very important to me, as one of my least favorite things in life is when TV shows clearly have no idea what they’re doing, and deliver a bunch of terrible episodes that make no sense. The best shows on television are a) usually British, and b) the ones that map out their season ahead of time, cut the extraneous filler episodes, and know that every piece of dialogue should matter. The Duffer Brothers did that to the utmost in Stranger Things 2, and also painted a clear picture of where the show will go in Season Three.
That said, there were some issues. At times, it felt like the show was trying too hard to appeal to its fan base. Yeah, we spent all year making memes about Eleven’s inexplicable love for Eggos, but no one said Stranger Things could get in on the joke, and the season would have felt slightly less forced if it hadn’t tried so hard to do so. The ‘we’re in on the meme too!’ references created an uncomfortable cringe-worthy feeling, like when your dad tries to incorporate teen slang into his lexicon and you’re like ‘noooo, please stop forever.’
Second seasons are always more successful when the show completely ignores its audience and their expectations. For the most part, Stranger Things 2 did this, so I can get over the Eggo references. I ended the season crying due to what I can only describe as nostalgia-induced ‘where did my own childhood go’ emotions, and immediately felt that distinct sense of loss that happens when all good pop-culture experiences come to an end. If I could say one thing to the Duffer Brothers, it would be – to quote Frenchy in Grease – tell me more, tell me more.
Stranger Things 2 premieres on October 27 on Netflix.