Stranger Things 2 is out and every bit as entertaining as season 1. Here’s my rundown of the good, the bad, and the ugly.
- The acting. It was great in season 1, but season 2 is even better, especially the adults with Winona Ryder leading the way. Of the kids, Will Byer is captivating. Kudos to Noah Schnapp. We didn’t see much of him in season 1, and now we know what we were missing.
- Russian conspiracy theories. They never get old, do they?
- Video games. You can’t have an 80s show without someone setting a record on a game and being pissed when it’s broken—especially by a girl!
- Reagan/Bush campaign sign in the Wheeler’s yard and in the storefront (double exposure!). It brings back memories of the good ole days.
- Nancy Wheeler gaining weight and getting a good haircut. She looks healthier and prettier. Whoever fed Natalia Dyer pizza between season 1 and season 2, we all thank you.
- Jonathan’s taste in music. He prefers the counter-culture anti-pop 80s stuff, and for that I applaud him. If the Duffers slip in the Dead Kennedy’s at some point, I’ll be pleased.
- Steve’s hair. Steve with his own Lucille. Steve as a totally awesome babysitter. Steve with a can of Farrah Fawcett hairspray.
- The ET reference when Eleven dresses up as a ghost to go out on Halloween. Hopper refuses to let her go. “We don’t do stupid!” The kids in ET could have used that advice.
- Ghostbusters costumes. Dustin’s trap is on point.
- The chemistry between Mike and Eleven is electric, even for actors so young. Finn and Millie… shall we start some rumors?
- Dustin’s teeth. Grrrrrrr.
- Nancy drunk. “This is bullshit. It’s bullllll shit. It’s bullshit.”
- Nancy and Steve dressed as Tom Cruise and Rebecca DeMornay from Risky Business. Showing up as a hooker, then getting drunk, gives Nancy some real street cred.
- Kali’s power. Making someone see whatever you want them to see is super cool.
- Hopper and Eleven’s relationship. It’s turbulent, but underlying it are so many real emotions of loss and need that you want Hopper to adopt her. Instead, he locks her up in a house for a year, for her own good, of course.
- Alien references. Hunting for the Pollywog in both Alien and Breakfast Club fashion is a combo I did not expect.
- Will’s map. Joyce Byer’s loves to totally mess up her house for a higher cause—love for her son. I respect that.
- Madmax. Sorry, but I found her annoying and disruptive. I kept expecting her to have some special power, a tattoo with number 009 on her arm. Something. But all I got was a contrived character injected into the plot to create conflict between the four boys—and to give Eleven a reason for skipping town. Max probably has more to add in season 3 (let’s hope), but I needed a little more from the redhead in season 2.
- Mondale/Ferraro campaign sign in Dustin’s yard.
- Bob. I’m not a fan even though I love Samwise Gamgee, I mean Sean Astin. And the reference to The Goonies is appreciated. But the relationship with Joyce has a creepy, cheesy vibe that makes me squirm every time they’re onscreen. The make-out scenes are simply uncomfortable. Zero chemistry.
- Murray Bauman, the crazy journalist—a conspiracy theorist who is convinced the Russians (or aliens—one and the same?) are in Hawkins. Is he still around, working at The New York Times? I wonder….. But it isn’t his conspiracy theories that put him on the bad list. It’s the way he urges high schoolers Nancy and Jonathan to share a bedroom—it has pervert written all over it.
- Billy. Do you see a pattern here? I don’t really like any of the new characters. But Billy is probably the most irritating. He is injected to create conflict for Steve, but with nothing interesting about him. We find out late in the season that he’s a jerk because his dad beats him. No? Really? Sorry, but too cliché. Could we not have something more original?
- Aliens references. Aliens wasn’t released until 1986, so Paul Reiser showing up falls flat on the nostalgia scale for me.
- Bob risking his life to open the gate as demodogs prowl the halls like velociraptors. Jurassic Park wasn’t released until the 90s, but I didn’t mind because it fit with the plot and I was ready for Bob to go anyway.
- Mr. Wheeler. Just because he’s the worst father ever.
- Three Musketeers candy bars. I agree with Mike. They’re nasty.
- The depiction of Lucas and Max hooking up. Okay, hear me out, especially if you were born after 1980, and you don’t know what things were really like in the 80s. Lucas is black. Max is white. Mixed-race couples are totally accepted now, but in 1984, in a small town in Indiana, well, that would have raised some eyebrows. Having them crush on each other and then dance without comment is anachronistic. Never a good thing in storytelling. At the very least, Lucas could have said to Max, something like, “Won’t people stare?” and her saying “I don’t care.” Bold, brash, and the topic is briefly addressed. It’s still unrealistic, but it’s better than two middle schoolers unrealistically leading the way in cultural transformation.
- Mrs. Wheeler’s hair. It was bad in season 1 and it has only gotten worse. Along with her makeup. But in the writers’ defense—this was the decade of big, bad hair.
- The upside-down shadow monster. This goes without saying. That is one creepy monster, and it’s not even a “thing.” It’s pure evil.
- The demodogs. I don’t know where they came from and how the slug that Will spit up in season 1 turned into a demodog monster and not another demogorgon, but they work. It expands the upside-down universe, and the faceless beasts are as ugly and scary as their biped counterpart.
- Billy’s hair. This is a very poor man’s version of Rob Lowe’s in St. Elmo’s Fire. Billy’s hair looks like a bad wig. Not to mention, going shirtless at school is cheesy and gross. Someone also needs to check his birth certificate, because he looks about 25, much too old to be a high school senior. But given the douchebaggery of his character, maybe he failed a few grades—back when they actually failed people in public school.
- Eleven’s punk makeover. I agree with Hopper. It was bad 80s MTV style. It’s still bad.
- Gremlin Dart. I knew he’d eat the cat. And they show it. Of course they do. Dustin should have taken the hint—when a cat hisses like Jonesy from Alien, it’s a sure sign that thing you’re carrying isn’t a cute amphibian.
- Eleven’s temper. Make sure you have good housing insurance if she’s going to stay with you. But you’d be grumpy too if you were raised in a lab, submerged in water to face a monster, hunted by bad men, forced to live in the cold woods for more than a month, separated from the love of your life, and then locked in a cabin with Hopper as your only companion—when he shows up on time.
- The Siouxie Sioux (and the Banshees) girl who greets Jonathan at the Halloween party. I don’t blame Jonathan for confusing her with someone from KISS. Never a good look.
- Dustin’s hair at the school dance. He used the Farrah Fawcett hairspray thanks to Steve’s advice, but it looks as bad as Duckie’s in Pretty in Pink—a worthy imitation, despite the movie not being released until 1986. We can all imagine Dustin parroting the Duckman: “If I really have a solid for a girl, I’ll ride by her house on my bike. I’ll do it like 100 times in a day. And it’s really….. It’s intense.”