‘Stranger Things 2’ dials the nostalgia up to eleven

Second season is entertaining, but not as focused as the first

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Image via Netflix

Synopsis

A year after the events of season one, the citizens of Hawkins, Indiana are still reeling from the horrors of the Demogorgon and the secrets of Hawkins Lab. However, a bigger, sinister entity from the Upside Down threatens those who survived.

Review

The first season of “Stranger Things” was one of the biggest sleeper hits of 2016, becoming a sensation that introduced modern audiences to popular 80s references and trends. It also helped that the characters were likable and complex and the tone was adventurous with a healthy dose of horror present in a Stephen King story. “Stranger Things 2” continues this formula, but changes things just enough to have its own identity.

Image via Netflix

Without giving too much away, this season does a great job of exploring the characters’ struggles with recovering from the events from season one with complexity. The characters want to create the illusion that the world around them is normal, but are unable to. This is most evident in the character arc for Will (Noah Schnapp) where he’s still trying to overcome the trauma of his experiences in the Upside Down.

Most of the returning cast give more mature performances this time around. Winona Ryder and David Harbour are given more active roles, with Harbour’s characterization of Chief Hopper being further explored as a surrogate father to most of the younger characters. Harbour’s acting ability is given additional room to be showcased and is easily the most engaging out of the whole cast.

Image via Netflix

While this season is great for what it’s trying to be and worth watching, there are issues that need to be addressed so that future installments don’t fall into the same trap.

The earliest signs that there are issues is that some of the newer cast feel shoehorned in, like the young female outcast Max (Sadie Sink) that is befriended by the AV Club (Mike, Dustin, Lucas and Will). Max isn’t given a whole lot to do and mostly serves as a forced conflict between the AV Club.

Another problem is the love triangle plotline that Nancy (Natalia Dyer) finds herself in with Steve (Joe Keery) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton). This subplot was one of the weakest elements of the first season and doesn’t go anywhere this season to make it worth sitting through.

The biggest issue in “Stranger Things 2” was that the seventh episode forced the introduction of several characters and storylines to set up future seasons but they don’t have anything to do with the current narrative. The pointless attempt at franchise building breaks the immersion of the viewing experience.

Image via Netflix

This isn’t saying that this follow-up is bad by any means, as the pros outweigh the cons. The soundtrack by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein is just as addicting as their work before and the examination of loyalty between this group of characters keeps the fans eager to see how they’ll evolve.

“Stranger Things 2” is an entertaining 9-hour experience that will satisfy the fans, but the Duffer Brothers need to make season three more focused. The show doesn’t need to force hype for future seasons as the characters and tone do enough on their own.