Maureen Ryan writes: A year ago, when I finished the first season of “Stranger Things,” I wrote up some thoughts about the season as a whole — and suggested that it might be a good idea to set the second season away from Hawkins, Indiana. What if, I asked, the second go-round of “Stranger Things” embraced an anthology format, and transported its mood, references and retro vibe to a new place with new characters?
Well, no one was going to follow that suggestion, given how popular “Stranger Things” became. And truth be told, I wasn’t completely sure I wanted the Netflix drama to do that. I enjoyed plunging into the world of Hawkins and savoring Season One’s many fine performances. Returning to those people’s lives certainly wasn’t an inherently bad idea. But could Season Two be as good as Season One?
But in one key way, it couldn’t be. The show is now a known quantity, and so the joyful sense of discovery that accompanied Season One could never be recaptured. Season Two would have to up its game in order to be as nearly addictive.
And there’s no doubt Season Two ran the risk of turning into a nostalgia ouroboros. What if an intensely retro show became nostalgic for its own first season, copied what had made it popular, and repeated the same story (with slightly different pop-culture references) in Season Two? Would “Stranger Things” become a bloated celebration of itself and forget to tell a story, or would it have fun with Stephen King, Devo and “Alien” but still go for the emotional jugular?
Thankfully, Season Two did a respectable amount of the latter, as I noted in my review. If I had to rank the two seasons, I’d still put Season One first, but after a slow start, “Stranger Things 2” turned out to be a solid endeavor, and eventually, in the home stretch, it was a lot of a flat-out fun. Whatever other highs and lows, the last two hours were certainly among the most entertaining “Stranger Things” outings ever. (Spoilers from here on out.)
• Elements that worked well
Excellent new character combinations. Though it was a bit annoying that Eleven was separated from almost everyone else for much of the season, she and Hopper together were generally quite effective. That’s no surprise, given that David Harbour and Millie Bobby Brown are both extraordinary actors. Hopper’s anger toward El was frightening, but Harbour, with his typically detailed performance, made it very clear that his rage was a cover for his deep love for El and his worries about her future and safety.
Steve and Dustin were also pure gold, as were Nancy, Jonathan and their new friend, the slightly sketchy but generally lovable freelance journalist Murray Bauman (Brett Gelman FTW). Nancy and Jonathan’s budding romance was generally quite sweet, subtle and engaging. And Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin is a continual wonder; his attempts to raise and then trap that cute little version of Dart were great … (read more)