Stranger Things is a love letter to the 80s based around a young boy vanishing into thin air. As friends, family and local police search for answers, they are drawn into a creepy and atmospheric mystery involving top-secret government experiments, terrifying supernatural forces and a very strange little girl. Season 1 of the show has a score of 96% on Rotten Tomatoes, while Season 2 has the slightly lower score of 94% on the same site. Looking at those scores, you might suspect that season two does the same things as season one, but slightly less well, and you would be right. People like what Stranger Things does, and they like it a lot, but that doesn’t mean the show is without faults, despite what these astronomical scores imply.
What Stranger Thing does not do is plot, and Season 2 is no different. The plot basically boils down to keeping the kid called 11 away from the big bad, until the last episode, when she comes in and kicks its ass. Another thing this season does not do well is address the fallout from the season before. The citizens of the small town of Hawkins have pretty much adjusted to the horrors of the demagorgon and some even have friends up at the lab it emerged from. Apparently the “bad people” have left the lab now, so it’s okay to just wander in and chat with the scientists inside. Everyone is just getting on with their lives as if nothing ever happened. The pacing of the show is off as well. The early episodes dawdle along with everyone staring at pumpkins and scratching their heads, followed by some episodes where everyone is wandering around or drawing tunnels, and then wrapping up with two episodes of frenetic and deeply predictable action.
So, if Stranger Things 2 does all these things so badly, why is its score so high? That’s because, the things it does do well, it does very well indeed. What Stranger Things does is nostalgia and atmosphere, and it is this that makes the show so enormously enjoyable.
The first episode starts among the nostalgia of a video game arcade, and is centred round a game called Dig Dug. As Mashable explains, Dig Dug is a classic video game where players control a character called Dig Dug, who digs into subterranean tunnels and defeats the monsters within, just like the in the show. In the final episode, Mike, Lucas, Dustin, Max, and Steve enter the tunnels to lure monsters away from Eleven and Hopper. They wear handkerchiefs and swimming goggles, and these are a reference to one of two monsters found in the game. Then, as Eleven is using her powers to close the gate between Hawkins and the Upside Down, the giant monster unleashes a gout of fire. That burst of fire is a reference to the fire-breathing attack used by monsters in Dig Dug.
Also, as Jalopnic points out, cars are another way Stranger Things provides that hefty jolt of nostalgia we all desire. My favourite is a sleazy 1978 mobile-lounge Chevy Van, but probably the car that will stand out for most people is a Chevrolet Camaro. This is the new bad kid’s car, and he tears ass round town in it. There is also a Toyota Van that belongs to an investigative reporter, and it is just a thing of beauty. Tellingly the Jalopnic journalist who provided the details to go with what I just saw as cool cars says in the article.
I think the first season may have been a bit stronger overall, but I enjoyed season two, and the car-casting game was as good as ever, which is really about half of why I watch anything on television at all, if I’m honest.
Suburban architecture, as Elle Decor details, is another route to nostalgia that the show explores. In season 2, the show returns to the terrifying locations of the 1980s, recreated in contemporary Georgia. The lab that houses the rift to another dimension is really the old Georgia Mental Health Institute, a former psychiatric hospital, for example. The houses are gorgeous examples of suburban modernism and there is fake wood, floral-patterned wallpaper, lots of brown and other earthy shades, especially gold, and plenty of avocado green.
As Variety writes, the sounds of Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein have grown even scarier as the show that they do the music for has grown stranger. They create synth music that is nostalgic and atmospheric, but for season two they have incorporated more traditional horror instruments, like the waterphone, and blended them into electronic sounds. They also incorporate the concept of “uncanny valley” in much of their songwriting for the show. Dixon says:
It references robots and AI. There’s a point when something looks so real and sounds so real, that it’s almost convincing, but there’s something fundamentally not right about it and you can’t quite tell what it is. It’s not human, but it’s so close to being human that it scares you. Sounds that are almost human, or kind of like voices or a baby crying or an animal, but a bit weirder… those end up making some of the scariest songs.
Stranger Things, especially season 2, is in no way a show with succesful storytelling, but it just drips atmosphere, character and nostalgia. As the scores on review websites show, if you approach it for what it is, it is a very rewarding viewing experience. It is a work of art, an amalgum of diferent elements, actors and atmosphere that will hit you right in the emotions. In other words, excellent TV.
Start Reading the Dark Galaxy Trilogy
The first book in the Dark Galaxy Trilogy, always the best place to start, is Galaxy Dog. It’s a little more old-school and fun than a lot of the sci-fi that is around at the moment. It has spaceships, robots, battles, and brave warriors rebelling against an evil empire. Click the book cover and go to Amazon to buy it now, or follow this link.