TV Review - Stranger Things: Season 2
Yet, even before these numbers, people knew how much of a success this show was due to all the awards it got this year. It was nominated for two Golden Globes. It was then nominated for three SAG Awards. It won the SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series. The true acknowledgment though came when the series was nominated for 18 Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Drama Series. It won 5, all technical prizes, but clearly this show has become a phenomenon.
In my review of the first season, I basically said the show was mostly plot and didn't do a lot of character work. I didn't think the first season was all that scary because it never to my satisfaction made us feel the stakes. Yes, the first season was about a young boy who goes missing and as a result a teenage girl dies, but it's only thanks to the exasperating performance from Wynona Ryder (The Age of Innocence and Edward Scissorhands) who plays Joyce Byers, the mother of the missing, young boy, that we do feel any kind of consequence. It's primal, that of a desperate mother, but that primal feeling was really the only thing that shined other than all the 80's nostalgia. That feeling continues to shine in the second season, but thankfully it's not the only thing.
A lot of people have been criticizing the seventh episode as being the obvious extra episode that isn't adding much, but I disagree. It's not that episode that's the problem. It's little things sprinkled into all nine episodes that are somewhat extraneous and distract more than enhance the story or the people we know from season one.
Aside from being a love interest for Lucas, played by Caleb McLaughlin (Shades of Blue and The New Edition Story), and the third point in a possible love triangle with Dustin, played by Gaten Matarazzo, the character of Max is just a distraction. I'm not opposed to Lucas having a girlfriend, but the Duffer brothers, the creators of the show, really force her integration into the group too quickly. All of a sudden, Lucas wants to tell Max all their secrets involving the supernatural but the show never establishes that Lucas has that strong of feelings for her.
Aside from being a foil or slight bully for Steve, played by Joe Keery (Henry Gamble's Birthday Party), the character of Billy is a waste of time. His somewhat racist undertones were also not appreciated. Honestly, Billy and Max could have been taken out of the narrative, and it wouldn't have changed anything about what happens or the emotional or important beats that the show wanted to hit.
The third character who really wasn't essential this season was the character who appears in the seventh episode, which literally is a departure from the main action that preceded in the first six episodes. Linnea Berthelsen plays Kali, another young girl with supernatural powers. I get the point of the character. She represents what Eleven, the main young girl with super powers, could become. Yet, I think that lesson could have been made without this literal departure from the main action.
David Harbour (Revolutionary Road and Black Mass) returns as Jim Hopper, the sheriff of the town where all this supernatural stuff is happening. This season is interesting because in many ways he becomes a surrogate father to Eleven, played by Millie Bobby Brown. Both Brown and Harbour were nominated for Emmys specifically for their roles and this season proves why. The two actors work extremely well together and their relationship really is at the heart of this season.
Paul Reiser (Mad About You and Aliens) plays Dr. Sam Owens, the last new character introduced this season. He functionally replaces Matthew Modine from the first season, but he's a lot of ways better. He's funnier for sure, even in just slight ways. He continues the work at Hawkins lab to study and control the source of all the supernatural stuff in the town.
Some nitpicks come in a B or C-plot involving Jonathan Byers, played by Charlie Heaton, and Nancy Wheeler, played by Natalia Dyer. Jonathan and Nancy go on a road trip, ultimately to shut down the Hawkins lab. This is another aspect that could have been dropped entirely, mainly because I didn't agree with what the kids were doing.
The Duffer brothers go out of their way to portray most of the scientists both from last season and this season as bad guys or guys who don't care if children die. The exception is Sam Owens, but every other scientist is portrayed as bad, thus the lab needs to be shut down. I get that this is a trope in 80's films and even 90's films, but it's tiring and quite frankly stupid.
Running Time: 1 hr. / 9 eps.
Available on Netflix.