The weight of expectation lies heavily on the studded shoulder pads of Stranger Things 2, the much anticipated second series of Netflix’s homage to the adventurous spirit of 1980 classics such as the Goonies and ET.
Last year, Stranger Things was a slow-burning success. Although it may have felt it came out of nowhere, it graced our screens in July to small acclaim. By the end of Summer, powered by word of mouth, it had already become the year’s most-talked about show. It launched its young stars into fame, won award after award and brought Winona Ryder and her career firmly back on the map. This year the Duffer brothers set out to prove that the show wasn’t just a one-trick pony.Overexposure is dangerous to any show – much less acclaimed shows than Stranger Things have fallen victim to it. However, the hype machine sometimes can’t help itself.
Now, I must admit. It is one of my biggest pet hates when producers insist on creating a follow on series, in certain cases such as the BBC/Amazon’s Ripper Street – there just isn’t any need. It was brilliant, the story and characters were incredible – let’s leave it as it was before it sours and you ruin it for everyone. As the saying goes, you can have too much of a good thing.
However, this is a follow on series I can agree with – and am very thankful for.
When the credits rolled on the final episode of series one Eleven (played brilliantly by Mille Bobby Brown) had just sacrificed herself for her friends. However, the eggo dropping police chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) hinted otherwise. I don’t like spoilers in reviews, but this is the only one I shall reveal: yes, she’s back.
Mike (Finn Wolfhard) Will’s best friend is struggling to move on from his beloved El. Now with a complete set of teeth Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) provides classic light relief to a darker narrative than we’re used to – he is as charming, nerdy and hilarious as before. Whilst Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) carries his charm with ease – remaining the ‘cool one’ in the gang. His younger sister (a new introduction to the story) steals every scene she’s in. Matarazzo and McLaughlin explore more complex accepts of their friendship.
This series however, Noah Schnapp (Will) has much more of a role. Given a more emotional storyline which in term demands greater depth and feeling – easily proving himself to be just as talented as his co-stars. There’s a scene towards the end of the series where I was amazed that someone so young and frail looking can possess such talent.
Easter eggs for future storylines and spot-the-reference moments for 80’s sci-fi and horror fans. The music choice, one again is impeccable. Cleverly, our gang’s dialogue is now laced with profanity, a nod to the fact that they’re growing up. Their on screen chemistry is easy to see.
Joe Keery is given the opportunity to show a different side to Steve – a welcome exploration. David Harbour proves himself, again, to be an incredible actor. His role of the moody, shouty police chief with the dry sense of humour is granted a more caring paternal side. There’s an incredible dynamic between Eleven and Hopper which I think was a brilliant choice to put into the narrative, giving both characters the opportunity to go down avenues not even considered in the first series. I look forward to seeing what David Harbour and Millie Bobby Brown do next.
Winona Ryder, still Joyce, the anguished mother of Will has a new addition to her home with the addition of new boyfriend in fellow Eighties child star Sean Astin – a fantastic addition to the cast and narrative. Astin plays the kind and brainy Bob who’s the manager of the local RadioShack.
The production looks more expensive this time around, however this isn’t flaunted. The action isn’t only confined to the borders of Hawkins. Instead we’re introduced to several new characters as well as Astin to broaden the scope of the show.
I imagine introducing new characters to such a successful show quite the task, you run the risk of finding new actors who may not meet the mark or simply not gel with your original cast. However, Sadie Sink, another tween edition to the Hawkins crew plays a fantastic role as Max.
Yet some didn’t quite meet the mark. Billy, Max’s brutish big brother is supposed to be the new leader of the school and head of a gang of teenage punks. Instead, he’s too Zac Efron fashion shoot to take seriously. He and Max deserved a bit more back story. Although very slow to start with Stranger Things 2 hits its stride in the final four instalments of the series which makes you think whether the narrative could have been balanced out better. The narrative mirrors aspects of classics such as Jurassic Park and Aliens – you could argue that the whole premise of the narrative takes inspiration from that of H. P Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu.
There’s a standalone episode which takes the audience to another location, snatching us away from our beloved gang at a criminally crucial moment – an odd choice which I felt wasn’t worth the risk. The sub-plot came across slightly predictable when more time could have been invested in the main driving plot.
Quite like Will, the show straddles two worlds. Part drama, part sci fi horror – with spades of angst and nostalgia to boot. I can’t help but feel that if a little more time was taken on the show, this could be one of the best shows around.
Contributed Elise Gallagher
Stranger Things 2 is available on Netflix worldwide