If you’ve not watched it or don’t care about it, maybe move on? Cheers.
Now, I loved the first season of Stranger Things. It married the whole Stephen King High School weirdness thing with some rock-solid eighties references that weren’t so much NUDGE WINK as embedded in the storyline and showed a lot of love and affection for the period. The second series, STRANGER THINGS 2, launched on Hallowe’en and we just got round to finished it over the weekend. How was it? Mm. About 60% of the first season, I’m afraid.
The first and last two episodes were very good, the last two being right up there with the previous series. And stuff happened. If anything they were too rushed and needed room to breathe, which I’ll come on to later.
Hopper (mostly) was interesting, but kind of went off the rails when he fell into the tunnels. He’s a cop, his storyline is about investigating, so why make him just stand around while El runs off? Bad writing there. Great acting, though.
Steve and Dustin were as unexpected as the first season. Some solid writing here — dark humour in the face of sheer terror. Pairing these two up was a stroke of genius as it let Dustin’s geekery develop and served to show how Steve had grown. It did happen too late in the series…
Dustin was the star again. He fills that Data/Chunk comic-relief role from the Goonies — who couldn’t love his RRRRR teeth — but gave him a really tragic arc this time. The inverse of save the cat; save the monster, it kills your cat. Horror lives off people making decisions — the good stuff is where bad decisions are made for good reasons, not just daft kids going into a house. Dustin taking in Dart felt like it could’ve been the right thing to do, but he kept covering it with lies.
Max. I liked her character a lot, but she just wasn’t given enough to do. Given how stuffed the show became, she could’ve been saved for season 3 and nothing really changed.
Lucas was a kind of bland character in the first season, though I found myself warming to him on a second viewing, but his storyline with Max showed a stronger side of him. Some really good moments like the Venkman tag. And his sister was brilliant.
The strength of the first season, IMHO, was how the flipped the most-striking-looking boy (Will) from being the hero of the piece, as would so often happen, to being the damsel in distress and giving the hero role to Mike. Who was a bit weird-looking. But his character shone through. The second season seemed to want Will to be the lead, which cost them all of the great chemistry the other three had developed with El, while giving most of the “hero” moments to an actor who’d basically got lost in a parallel universe in episode one then reappeared for seven and eight. Will is just an empty vessel and not particularly interesting, I’m afraid.
Nancy and Jonathan (it took me a minute to remember his name). They’re just so boring. Neither actor is any good, though at least Nancy looks older than 12 in this series. Jonathan (is that even his name?) seems to have been cast for looking a bit like River Phoenix and Christian Slater. Neither character really did anything in this season, except some guff about Barb, one of the strangest phenomena in recent times. But maybe some people got something out of their predictable romance?
Bob was just Sean Astin. Yawn. Ever since he caused a million asthma attacks at the end of The Goonies, his career has been the cheese in Lord of the Rings or just rubbish parts, e.g. his role in 24 which has one of the most over-acted death scenes ever. His character here was supposedly going to be round for one episode but when they cast him, they expanded it. Well, should’ve kept it as one episode. His heroic sacrifice was handwavium, too — I’ll be honest and tell you that even, in the eighties, a government institution’s security system isn’t going to be written in BASIC (it’d be C on a Unix mainframe) and, even it if was, you don’t sit down and right some sort of loop code then get it to run first time. I really wish they’d stop using computer stuff as plot points — it’s really not exciting and just doesn’t work like that. Have another reason for him to sacrifice himself or you know keep him alive and up the romantic tension between him and Joyce.
El’s storyline was just boring. Fair enough Hopper keeping her away from the world, but her visiting her mother felt like it should’ve been under Hopper’s watch to give her something to riff off. “Oh my mama showed me that because she wanted me to find them” is a tell of bad writing — rather than have her and Hopper do some investigation, she just guesses at the answer to move the plot along. And going to Chicago (very easily) was just dull. A whole episode with a gang of people killing people. Yeah, so obvious. The stinger set up something interesting — I thought they’d travelled to the Upside Down version of Chicago. There’s a lot of interesting stuff they could’ve done with all that but they just didn’t. Feels like a lot of treading water for season three. Yawn. At the end of that tedious bottle episode (while, let’s not forget, the rest of the cast were in grave danger) El ends up with a plan (find Papa and kill him) and another plan (she thinks people in Hawkins are in trouble) but somehow decides to go home so she can Deus Ex Machina the hell out of the story. Again, bad, bad writing. Maybe ending the season with the knowledge that Papa is still alive, but not there.
Billy. Just why? I thought he was going to have a number on his wrist and maybe just maybe be interesting. 8 and 11 are good, so it makes sense that one of their number would be a wrong ‘un. Why not him? No, he’s just . . . A guy. Who looked at least thirty and I thought he was Max’s dad for a while.
NO UPSIDE DOWN. What were they thinking? That was the best bit — a whole world that mirrors ours which has gone hideously wrong and is filled with demons. No, let’s have a cloud monster that kind of does something. And a lot of smaller demogorgons.
It was all over the place in terms of what it was about. Season 1 had one unifying storyline — where is Will? This was chaos. Will’s PTSD, new girl, El’s boring hunt for her mother, Mike doing nothing, Dustin being brilliant and stupid, Nancy and Will’s brother (what’s his name again?) doing some vague Barb stuff, Hopper doing some investigating then watching people do stuff. And so on. In a lot of ways, it felt like they were paying too much service to their fanbase (the Barb meme — she was a really bad character in the first series, miscast and boring, yet got so much love online). What was this one about? Self-indulgence.
And I’ll finish with structure and pacing. The Walking Dead (which I loved up to a point) always had serious problems with structure and pacing, spending long episodes with no forward momentum but then pushing into exhilarating phases. Stranger Things had no pacing issues — in fact, it’s one of the things I loved best, they started at a “movie” (hate that term but I’ll go with it) pace then kept it up for eight almost-hour-long episodes. 2 started with three boring reflective episodes, then introduced another threat, then had a weird El episode, then two episodes which should’ve been the back half of an eight-episode season. They broke Aristotle’s four-act structure by carving it into nine, giving far too much weight to the first act (it got four episodes), did the last two in two episodes and forgot to make the second act interesting. Call me a twat if you want, but the reason that structure works is it’s equally paced and gives sufficient weight to all of the elements — setup, action, resolution. Deviate from it and you go all lopsided. It’s something I’ve made a mess of before and it’s very interesting seeing it play out here. Very disappointing too as they had the perfect structure with the first season — eight episodes maps to each of the “sequences” you’d get in a screenplay, with each one ending on a cliffhanger or a reversal.