Stranger Things returned last weekend after unprecedented levels of hype for its much anticipated second season on Netflix. I was excited, you were excited, everyone was excited to see the next chapter of supernatural happenings in Hawkins, Indiana. In this viewer’s opinion, Stranger Things 2 lives up to the hype and maybe even surpasses it, providing 9 episodes jam-packed with expert world-building, top-notch story-telling, fantastic performances and loads of 80’s nostalgia. Because of the nature of the shows release, and the knowledge that not everyone has had the chance to watch the entire season yet, our review today will be spoiler free. If you don’t want to know anything at all about the season, I’d slide on down to the Channel Surfing portion of this column, but if you’re just avoiding spoilers, proceed with confidence. And if you’re looking for a place to discuss the show in depth without holding back, let’s chat on Facebook.
Stranger Things 2 succeeds primarily because it succeeds in all of the ways that it did when it took the TV world by storm in 2016. With a story that feels like it could have come straight out of the period, the show plays to our desire for nostalgia without feeling like an appeal to score cheap points with the audience. Like season one, the situation our characters find themselves in feels like it could have come from the mind of Steven Spielberg or Stephen King without being a blatant rip-off of either creator.
To avoid spoilers, I’m going to avoid talking about plot and focus on character. For all of its creepy plot and throwbacks to 80’s movies, to me what makes Stranger Things stand apart is its characters. While most of America (understandably) fell in love with Eleven and Mike (Millie Bobby Brown and Finn Wolfhard, respectively) during season one, I was immediately enamored with the foul-mouthed, wildly enthusiastic spark plug Dustin, played by the incomparable Gaten Matarazzo. Season 2 capitalizes on his irresistible charm by giving us more Dustin early and often. And in a stroke of storytelling genius, much of the season sees him paired up with the character who saw the largest measure of redemption last season, the slimy other-man with a heart of gold, Steve Harrington. Joe Keery is delightful as Steve, who becomes a mentor/reluctant babysitter to Dustin and his friends. The time spent with these two together really sings. I’ve remarked on social media since completing the season that I’m lobbying for a spin-off where Steve somehow becomes Dustin’s guardian. I don’t know what they’d do, some people have suggested that they should be private detectives or just pick-up artists, but I’d be all-in on that show.
The second character highlight to me this season was the addition of Sean Astin to the cast as Bob Newby, the nerdy love interest for Winona Ryder’s Joyce Byers. I’ve heard the Duffer brothers talk about how they didn’t have a large role for the character, but Astin’s appeal and charm caused them to expand the role. I think you’d have a hard time finding anyone who thinks that was a bad decision. Besides the meta aspect of his casting as the former leader of the Goonies, an obvious influence on Stranger Things, Astin brings an earnestness and commitment to the role that puts Bob the Brain in the conversation with Rudy Ruettiger and Mikey Walsh for the second-best performance in his long career (let’s face it, Samwise Gamgee will always be #1).
Overall, other than a late standalone episode that didn’t quite feel like it belonged (you’ll know it when you get there), I really have no complaints about the season. It was everything I had hoped it would be based on what we got from season one. There are bigger stakes, a bigger cast and a bigger foe, but it’s all handled wonderfully to create a satisfying second season. Now it’s time to wait impatiently for the third. Stranger Things can be streamed in its entirety on Netflix.
- The Walking Dead squandered any goodwill it might have gained during the premiere with one of its all time worst episodes. The only redeeming factor is that rather than sitting around and having conversations that we’ve already had over and over again, they were shooting people while they were having conversations that we’ve already had over and over again. I think that at the end, we’re supposed to think that something bad is around the corner, but I couldn’t tell you exactly why. There’s someone named Morales who it appears I’m supposed to remember who has gotten the drop on Rick. There was a walkie-talkie discovered by Carol and friends that apparently means something bad. Someone else got shot in the stomach and the music indicated to me that I’m supposed to care. I’m not sure why. I believe that the show-runners think that they have created a world with many rich and fully fleshed out characters, but in reality there are 6-7 characters that we care about, and everyone else might as well be a walker. I don’t have any idea who Morales is. I think the guy who got shot in the stomach is the husband of the guy with the curly hair. I’m really not sure. And that’s a problem. But at least someone got mauled by a tiger. The current season of The Walking Dead can be streamed on the AMC app.
- Can you imagine a show that featured Dana Carvey, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Louis CK and Robert Smigel? Did you know it really happened? It was at the height of Dana Carvey’s career after leaving Saturday Night Live in the mid 90’s and it was a complete and total flop. Airing on ABC, The Dana Carvey Show created 8 episodes and aired only 7 before the plug was pulled by the network that had only recently been acquired by Disney. The story of its failure is now being told in the great new documentary presented by Hulu called Too Funny To Fail. Full of clips from the show and interviews with the cast, the doc provides a fun oral history into the show’s creation, production and cancellation in the spring and summer of 1996. I haven’t seen The Dana Carvey Show (although I do plan on watching it on Hulu having seen this doc), but as a fan of all of the aforementioned cast, I found it to be a really fun way to spend 90 minutes. I highly recommend it. Too Funny To Fail is currently streaming on Hulu.
That’s all for this week. As always, if there’s anything you’d like me to check out that we haven’t covered, let me know in the comments or in the Facebook group. Join in the conversation about Stranger Things 2 or the Arrowverse there too. Happy viewing!
Jeremy Calcara is a contributing member of the Feelin’ Film team. In addition watching as many movies as he can and writing reviews for Feelin’ Film, Jeremy consumes an unhealthy amount of television and writes about it weekly in his Feelin’ TV column. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.