Current Issue #488

Stream Time: Stranger Things 2 Review

Stream Time: Stranger Things 2 Review

Stranger Things 2 takes longer to get going than its predecessor, but when it finally does, it is astonishing.

The second season of Stranger Things (packaged as Stranger Things 2 to emphasise the show’s cinematic scope) is better overall than the first season, though not as perfect. The first season was captivating from the start, with a plot that was tighter than the security at a secret government lab.

In the first minutes of the first episode of Stranger Things, itty-bitty George Harrison lookalike Will Byers gets abducted into another dimension. This instigating action drives the rest of the season; as a result the stakes are always high, and the exposition never feels forced.

The structure is rather different in Stranger Things 2: Jim Hopper and the Chamber of Fungus. For the first few episodes, things are at rest. There are new characters, all of whom eventually offer terrific value, but in the initial episodes they are given little to do but introduce themselves to the viewer. Sean Astin (best known for playing Samwise Gamgee in Lord of The Rings) shows, once again, that he’s great at playing the sweet, somewhat buffoonish sidekick. Very impressive also is the bully Billy Hargrove, played by Dacre Montgomery, who is overshadowed only by his delightfully unimpressive facial hair.

The first few hours of the season don’t have much to offer in terms of suspense. In lieu of a plot, 80s references have been crammed in to help the exposition go down, and mullets, hairspray, cock rock and Reagan Bush ’84 posters abound. The cinematography is sensational throughout — just about every shot looks as though it could be a standalone movie poster — but for the first few episodes the stirring aesthetics serve as a consolation, rather than a compliment to the story. It is all very pleasant, quite watchable, and there’s plenty of foreshadowing, but one begins to worry that that, much like Will Byers in that first episode, the magic has disappeared. Never fear! Around episode four everything starts to come together. Finally, we are treated to an abundance of the suspense and desperation that made Stranger Things must-watch TV in the first place.

Our young protagonists all return for Stranger Things 2: Electric Flickerloo, having given outstanding performances in the first season, and they are even better here. Millie Bobby Brown (011) is absent or brooding for the first part of the season, and the series improves proportionally as her role expands. Joe Keery, playing Steve Harrington, has winningly transitioned from surly antagonist to affable leading man. There’s not enough space in this review to gush over all the wonderful performances, so let it simply be known that there are many, many performances worth gushing over here.

Stranger Things 2: The AV Club’s Bogus Journey is a massive, expensive, fantastic and flawed diamond. Despite a few missteps it remains, like its predecessor, the single best reason to take out a Netflix subscription.

James McCann

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James Donald Forbes McCann is a writer and award-winning stand-up comedian.

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