Season 1 of Stranger Things was the most lovable surprise hit of 2016, taking sci-fi fans into hardcore '80s nostalgia and the Upside Down while giving us a plethora of complex characters to root for. However, as the threat from the alternate dimension wasn't annihilated by Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), Hawkins's rendition of the Losers' Club are back with additional help to finish things off.
Considering the massive success of Season 1, Stranger Things 2 (that's what the Duffer brothers are calling it) will undoubtedly have to deal with enormous fan expectations, while also answering the plot-threads left open by its predecessor. As critics got the opportunity to view the show before its October 27th release, here's what they had to say.
'Stranger Things 2' Upholds Season 1's Storytelling!
Apart from the surplus pop culture references and John Carpenter-esque music, Stranger Things triumphed because it managed to showcase a compelling story. The Duffer brothers made us laugh, cry and cheer for the endearing citizens of Hawkins, and according to Den of Geek's Michael Ahr, they've managed to retain that magic.
Although Will somewhat supplants Mike as the emotional core of the show, the existence of parallel story-lines, including both familiar pairings and unexpected allies, reminds us of the best storytelling from season 1.
One such parallel story-line involves El’s journey, and those who are looking for a dive into her back story and the development of a more distinct personality for the girl we know as Eleven will not be disappointed. Since one year has passed since the events of last season, how El spends that time informs her search for what “home” means and allows her to choose her own path as she never had been able to before, and that path will definitely not be what viewers expect.
Although Variety's Maureen Ryan stated that the initial episodes relied too much on fan-service, she assured that it becomes negligible during the later half of Stranger Things 2.
Until 'Stranger Things 2' really gets going — and that takes a while — it trails an air of self-consciousness that veers into strained fan service at times. The good news is, the show’s core cast remains an extremely versatile and effective ensemble, and once the story kicks into a higher gear about halfway through the nine-episode season, a lot of the old magic returns.
There are missteps in the second season, many of them revolving around thin or unfortunate writing for some of the new characters. But once you get past the clunky first few installments — which largely restate much of what occurred last season and set up plot points that were easily inferred from the trailers — the drama’s momentum picks up noticeably.
The Show Provides Plenty Of Room For Character Development
While the mysterious history of Hawkins was interesting in itself, the show wouldn't have been as successful if the central characters (Mike, Lucas, Dustin and Will) weren't impressive. In addition to that, as Stranger Things complemented the kids with equally compelling adults like Joyce and Hopper, it had fans excited about how they'll progress in the upcoming seasons. The Hollywood Reporter's Daniel Fienberg aptly answered that question:
It's that ensemble that still makes 'Stranger Things' hum. Matarazzo and McLaughlin may have a little extra exposure this season, and their ability to resist getting hammy remains admirable. Schnapp was offscreen most of the first season, but assimilates immediately, and he and Wolfhard do well when the plot intensifies. The writers have wisely focused on the things that make Steve likable and the things that make Nancy badass, and both actors benefit. In two seasons, 'Stranger Things' has yet to reach the limitations of its diminutive stars, and it's the coming-of-age side of the story for which I have an insatiable appetite.
Indiewire's Ben Travers shared a similar sentiment and added that despite the show's reliance on romantic relationships, Season 2 manages to flesh out its characters by not breaking some pre-established norms.
When 'Stranger Things 2' digs into these characters [Mike, Will, Lucas, Dustin, Joyce and Hopper], it tends to succeed. Matt and Ross Duffer wisely choose not to split up the established generational groupings too much: The boys do their own thing; Steve, Nancy, and Jonathan are still in a love triangle that drives its own plot, and the adults are dealing with the true perils of responsibility.
Though the love-dovey high schoolers remain the show’s worst arc — no matter how the three are mixed and matched, they remain a black hole for chemistry — the rest of the cast mostly benefits from additional time. The boys aren’t pushed too quickly into adulthood and remain a pure-hearted joy.
Season 2 Doubles Down On The Scare Factor
It was evident from the font of Stranger Thing's title and the opening minutes at Hawkins Laboratory that the show will be heavily inspired by Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft's style of horror. A.V. Club's Erik Adams reported that while Stranger Things revives those aspects from Season 1, it also utilizes its run-time to amplify the tension.
It’s here that 'Stranger Things' uses its runtime to its advantage, digging into its characters in ways that make us more fearful for them as they wander deeper into the unknown. The recurrence of paranormal activity in Hawkins compounds their lingering states of shock, in ways that prove the Duffers are nothing if not expert manipulators of emotion.
It’s in Nancy’s survivor’s remorse or Jonathan’s (Charlie Heaton) brotherly responsibility, or everything Millie Bobby Brown pours into scenes from Eleven’s past. The Eleven of season two is steelier and more resilient, but she’s also still a kid, trying to make sense of the world she’s been shielded from and prone to telekinetic outbursts that put a fine point on the primal, two-way street of fear between children and parents.
Although Polygon's Julia Alexander acknowledges Stranger Things 2's scary elements, she says that the show benefits from the horror aspect when it's exclusively used as a framework to progress the plot.
It should be noted that 'Stranger Things 2' is far more frightening than the first season, but it isn’t scary. There are more jump scares and grotesque imagery, but this isn’t 'Halloween' or 'Hellraiser'. 'Stranger Things 2' is still rooted in the traditional, almost trope-like ‘80s sci-fi genre that inspired the first season. That means elements of the season are lifted from the horror of ‘80s films, but it doesn’t ever devolve into a traditional scary movie. To be frank, the horror elements of 'Stranger Things 2' are some of the least interesting, and it was a wise decision to incorporate it as a minor theme.
So, How Does It Compare To Season 1?
While most TV shows begin the next season directly after the events of the previous one, the Duffer brothers took a slightly different route by handling the much-anticipated second season like a sequel - hence the name Stranger Things 2. As that brings forth the obvious question of "which one is the better installment?", Rolling Stone's Rob Sheffield's summation will provide the most satisfying answer.
'Stranger Things' was one of the happiest TV surprises of recent years – a genuine word-of-mouth sensation, a pulp thriller in prestige-TV drag, a show that came out of nowhere to hit a nerve with the audience. It didn't look like a story designed with a second season in mind, but its success meant there had to be a 'Stranger Things 2'. The new season is darker – it's a genuine horror show – but it still has that same emotional power and a mundanely empathetic sense of grief and loss. For all the geek bravado of 'Stranger Things', it's that sense of trauma that makes it something special.
Collider's Allison Keene goes to the extent of comparing Stranger Things 2 to recent shows that stumbled in its second season, to prove the fact that the Duffer brothers have made a successful and delightful return.
But unlike other zeitgeist-dwelling series that suffered tangible sophomore slumps ('True Detective', 'UnREAL', 'Mr. Robot'), The Duffers have managed to recapture what made Season 1 so good while still moving the story forward in necessary ways, with a smartly written and cleverly-plotted script. Like that first season, not everything works perfectly, but its cumulative effect is one that is again joyous, emotional, satisfyingly spooky, and most of all, makes us care deeply about the fates of these outsiders who band together as heroes.
Overall, it looks like critics have lauded the show's cast and the Duffer brothers' direction and storytelling capabilities, but are aware of the trivial problems that were present in Season 1 as well. Yet, as the cumulative effect of the characters, story and nostalgia has surged Stranger Things 2 to 93% on the Tomatometer, fans can relax and expect to be thrilled when it arrives on #Netflix this Halloween.
What are your expectations from Stranger Things 2? Let me know in the comments.