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Netflix show in review: “Stranger Things 2”

Nate Nelson, Features Reporter

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Last year, “Stranger Things” quickly went from an intriguing show to a full on media phenomenon. You couldn’t go a day without seeing something about what quirky thing the main group of kids did this time, why the title sequence was so refined, how the Duffer Brothers came up with the concept and other miscellaneous related stories. Others would post half hour long videos analyzing the references and callbacks of the show, as well as stylistic influences and inspirations. People loved its full realized 1980’s aesthetic and just couldn’t get enough. So of course, Netflix immediately greenlit the next season, titled “Stranger Things 2” which released late last month.

It’s important to note the lack of a season next to the name this time around. The Duffer brothers cut the season from the name in favor for a number, as they saw the show as a more of a sequel than a second season, and I would have to agree. While a second season of a show tends to continue and further develop the story and ideas, sequels have a knack for playing their hand too close to their chest. “Stranger Things 2” is a sequel that plays it safe; it tries to replicate the magic of its predecessor, and flounders heartily.

Now, I’m going to preface the rest of this review real quick. That sounded pretty negative. “Stranger Things 2” is not an awful show. The dialogue is witty, visuals are gorgeous, and it makes for a decent Saturday watch. The Duffers still understand what people like: the combination of Amblin-esque child leads, quirky comedy, 80s aesthetics and a good amount of horror. But in comparison to the first season, it is weak as hell. The pacing is off, characters get left behind, the main villain doesn’t feel like anything more than a spooky cloud, and there is a godawful bottle episode that comes off as a trial run to a spin off. Nothing feels as fully realized as it did the first time around, and instead comes off as just a long retread.

First, regarding the pacing, “Stranger Things 2” is one episode longer than the first, but it feels four times as long. It takes about 4 episodes for things to get going, and wraps up in under half of the finale. It’s just all over the place. The Duffers took too long to introduce the main antagonist, and then wrapped everything up way too neatly in the end. While “Stranger Things” ended with the question of what will come next, “Stranger Things 2” will make you ponder what the point was to begin with.

The Mind Flayer, teased as a massive sky-enveloping creature, rarely feels as such. The Demogorgon from last season was a phenomenal horror creature, with visible influence from everyone from John Carpenter to David Cronenberg. The Mind Flayer’s inspiration is a giant, malicious cloud. It’s the same mistake “Green Lantern” made with Parallax and “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” made with Galactus. Clouds aren’t villainous; they’re clouds. They just happen to be an easy thing to replicate through CGI.

And of course, there’s the big problem: episode seven. I don’t want to share too much about the plot, but it involves a side trip out of the small town of Hawkins, Indiana to the city. Aside from Eleven, none of the main characters are so much as mentioned until the final seconds. This comes right before the penultimate episode of the season, as everything is ramping up in action and complexity. It’s like the Duffers specifically chose that spot to infuriate audiences, and ends up being the absolute low point of the entire series.

Even so, there are some good changes. Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) goes from being the most hated character of season one to the cool uncle character. His interactions with the kids, particularly Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), is full of character and playful fun, and it’s easy to not only relate to him, but feel empathy after the events last year. The kids are as enjoyable as ever, with most of them getting both solid development and their own fun scenes (sorry Will, you’re stuck as a plot device again).The B plots were, on the large, entertaining, particularly the one involving Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton).

But that’s the most I can say. I was honestly hugely disappointed with “Stranger Things 2.” I wanted to love it as much as everyone loved the first season, but there are so many missteps, mistakes and just complete misfires for me to say it’s good. It’s not awful, but that doesn’t change how badly they messed this up. “Stranger Things 2” isn’t just more of the same, it’s more of the same with a weaker vision. If they clean up for the inevitable 3rd installment, and bring things back to the brisk fun that it started with, then maybe we’ll be able to forget about this. But as it stands, “Stranger Things” is just another franchise ruined by a terrible sequel. 2/5

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