'Stranger Things' season 2 takes a big risk while reminding you why you fell in love with it in the first place

  • The second season of “Stranger Things” isn’t as seamless as season one, but it stays true to the characters and world everyone fell in love with last summer.
  • The exciting, spooky new season gives other characters the spotlight, like Lucas, Dustin and Steve, but a plotline focusing on Eleven falls flat.
  • The season’s biggest strength is that it never tries to top season one.

Warning: very minor spoilers for “Stranger Things” season 2 ahead.

When “Stranger Things” came out last summer, it was a quiet surprise that quickly gained enough buzz to convince me to watch it. I usually don’t take TV recommendations from people I don’t know, but I heard so much about this new Netflix show from creators Matt and Ross Duffer, described as “Spielberg in the 80s,” that I watched it all in one night and loved it.

Fans loved the first season partly due to its obsession with ’80s movies like “E.T.” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” It’s a formula that Steven Spielberg perfected: outcasts in suburban America encounter something of a different world, and there’s some family and teenage drama mixed in to make it more dramatic and relatable.

The second season of “Stranger Things,” available on Netflix beginning Friday, October 27, is likewise filled with nostalgia, and it follows a similar structure to the first season, with plenty of call backs to it. Joyce (Winona Ryder) covers her home in something in an attempt to solve the mystery of her son Will (Noah Schnapp). I’m not telling you what is, but it’s not Christmas lights. Nancy (Natalia Dyer), once again, has boy drama. The boys encounter another bully in newcomer Billy (Dacre Montgomery). Will and newcomer Dr. Owens (Paul Reiser) have Upside Down drama. And Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) continues her journey of discovery and identity.

But “Stranger Things” season 2 also gives other characters the spotlight. Compared to the first season, Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Steve (Joe Keery) are given more screentime, and the space needed to introduce new characters like Bob (Sean Astin) and Max (Sadie Sink) comes at the expense of other characters like Hopper (David Harbour), Joyce, and Mike (Finn Wolfhard). Tragically, there is not much Mike, though every second he is on screen is a treasure.

And as much screen time as Will gets, we still don’t get to know him more than we did by the end of season one. His personality still feels empty, his only connection to the audience being his connection to the Upside Down.

With nine episodes — one more than season 1 — “Stranger Things” season 2 isn’t as seamless and tight. A season-long plotline involving Eleven’s self discovery starts off strong, but takes up way too much screen time when viewed in light of its ultimate impact. In an attempt to remind us once again that it is the ’80s, this plotline introduces a team of forgettable crust punks that we will hopefully never see again.

By the end of season 2, it doesn’t feel like we’ve discovered that much new information. Eleven could’ve come to these conclusions on her own. The writers underestimate Eleven’s intelligence and understanding here, and the character is at her best when she’s in Hawkins. But I do admire the writers for taking a risk with a focused episode, one that takes place entirely outside of Hawkins, even if the final result does lack the impact of similarly focused episodes of “You’re the Worst,” which is currently leading the pack in character-focused TV.

All flaws set aside, the best thing about the second season is that it never tries to top season one. Like Steve’s hair, it’s doing something similar but exploring new possibilities — for both the world and its characters, who we fell in love with so easily last summer.

Another thing “Stranger Things” season 2 does so well is fighting its own predictability. We always know that all of the kids are gonna be alright, and that the season will end with a classic 80s song. But so much happens along the way that you forget that the ending is exactly what you were expecting.

“Stranger Things” season 2 has a lot of heart. It heightens the scares, the laughs, the teenage drama, and its synthetic score, making season two well worth your time — though you might not be as surprised as you were when the show came out of seemingly nowhere last summer.

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