Stranger Things 2 review: The boys and girl are back in town
The Duffer Brothers are growing nostalgic even for themselves
Stranger Things 2: There must be some kind of way out of here . . .
A few episodes into Stranger Things 2 (Netflix, now streaming), which returns with increased doses of nostalgia and escapism for these troubled times, one of the original gang of adventurers gives a newcomer the low down on season one.
In a private room in a jangling video arcade, she listens intently to this story of paranormal suburbia, unconscionable scientists, parallel realities, mysteriously abducted children, telekinetic new friends and escaped ravaging monsters – a dot-joining narrative between Stephen King and Steven Spielberg. “I liked it,” says Max (Sadie Sink), by way of critique. “I just felt it was a little derivative in parts. I wish it had more originality.” Touché.
It’s an interesting mea culpa from Matt and Ross Duffer, the twin creators of Netflix’s surprise smash from last year, who hardly seemed bashful about its studious imitation of 1980s movie childhood before.
Most of the pleasure of the first series lay in its unapologetic lifts:unswervingly loyal prepubescent friends charge around Small Town USA on bicycles; furtive teens lose their virginity and best friends at house parties; and nerve-frayed adult Winona Ryder (the show’s proudest 1980s collectible) contorts herself into several coils of crazy.
For its return, set one year later in 1984, the Duffer Brothers have extended the range of their references to include the brooding cyberpunk of Terminator, the gothy misfits of The Lost Boys and the combat-filled catacombs of Aliens. But their keener fixation may be with season one, as though now nostalgic for themselves.
Barb, the tragically deceased internet meme, is now a more conspicuous absence, spurring will-they-won’t-they couple Nancy and Jonathan into frisson-filled investigations. Audience favourite Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) is more prominently featured, given a critter subplot straight from Gremlins. And Will, rescued from the Upside Down, has indeed Come Back Wrong, slipping between this world and apocalyptic visions of a universe in ruins.
Given the Duffer Brothers are so keen to recapture that formula, it’s irritating that they conspire to keep Eleven (the excellent Millie Bobby Brown) apart from the group, bivouacked in the woods with police chief Hopper and given a side journey into her own origin story.
Yet it does allow them to gently explore protective parenting and sundered families, just as posters for the re-election of Reagan/Bush remind you about Cold War anxieties. (And those alert to its preoccupations with creative imaginations and obedient consumerism will note the kids’ migration from Dungeons and Dragons in the basement to Dragon’s Lair in the gaming arcade.)
The compulsive thrill of the series, however, is something more innocent and undiminished; the breathless assembly of awed kids, melodramatic teenagers and defensive adults, standing their ground against screeching, malevolent, otherworldly forces. It might not seem like much, but that’s just what we did for fun before the internet.