Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Stranger Things 2: That’s a Relief!

Last week saw the much-hyped and long-awaited return of last year’s surprise Netflix hit, Stranger Things. A critical success that was also insanely popular, the show is a sci-fi thriller centered on three nerdy, on-the-cusp-of-adolescence boys who are searching for their missing friend, and the mysterious girl with strange powers who appears in town one day. When we watched the show last year, we loved it, even my kids, who didn’t get all the 80s references the way my wife and I did (and why would they? They didn’t live through it!). The show was fun, provided some genuinely scary, tension-filled moments, and, most of all, had those kids. They were cute. They were sweet–and sassy. They had great chemistry and believable dialogue. Even where some of the characters ventured into the realm of cliché (the rich, pretty boy jock; the indifferent parents; the nerdy science teacher), you could mostly roll your eyes and let it go. It was a fun ride.

I approached the second season with trepidation. My experience with series, whether it’s television, books, or movies, is that they eventually fail. Sequels–and with the title Stranger Things 2, the show’s creators branded this like a sequel instead of a continuation–rarely live up to the quality of the original. Happy Days jumped the shark. Twin Peaks lost its way for much of its second season before David Lynch pulled it out of the fire late in its original run. The X-Files collapsed beneath the weight of its ever-expanding mythology, and Orphan Black, which I admittedly have not seen since early in its third season, was threatening to do the same. So I was a little worried about what might happen.

My worries were magnified after the first episode. It started with high action, introducing new characters, then seemed to lapse into too much scene setting, too much catching up. I understand the need to do that; even in this age of always-available shows and binge-watching, showrunners can’t assume everyone’s going to do this. Still, it seemed a little slow and pokey, a little unfinished. As the end credits rolled and the Netflix counter ticked down to the next episode, I wasn’t really sure I wanted to go on. But I did, and I’m glad.

We watched another episode that night, then a couple more the next day, and a couple more the day after that. We will possibly finish the season tonight or tomorrow. And despite the obligatory romantic entanglements that seems like an industry standard, one episode where it seemed a character figured something out way too easily, and one episode that really felt like filler to me, my fears were misplaced. The show quickly found its groove. It felt like the first season in tone, it’s provided plenty of thrills and humor, and it’s allowing the characters most central to the show–the kids–to grow. And it’s done it all without feeling like a straight-up rehash of season one. Stranger Things has not jumped the shark.

Do you watch Stranger Things? How are you liking this new season?

[EDIT: 10/31]: Jemi’s comment makes me realize I asked the wrong question. Consider this also: How do you feel about the continuation of some well-loved series/franchise? Have you ever been pleasantly surprised? Deeply disappointed? Thanks!

7 Responses

  1. No, Jemi, you are not alone! And I suppose the real question I should have asked would have been more along the lines of "Do you feel nervous about the continuation of a well-loved series/franchise?" Maybe I'll add that in. Thanks!

  2. I watched the beginning of the first episode and haven't had a chance to go back. It's not something hubby would need to want to watch too, and if I'm solo I'd rather play League.

  3. I can answer that one! And I am always nervous about continuations. I remember watching LOST way back when and loving the first few seasons. Then it started to deteriorate badly. It's the reason my son doesn't watch series!

  4. I can't think of anything at the minute but I've only heard good things about this. My daughter has Netflix on her laptop. I'll need to ask if she's seen it!

  5. I never watched Lost. It's too bad it ruined series viewing for your son; there's actually been some really good series programming on, though most of those are/were cable or streaming based.

  6. -Donna: understandable. It's nice to watch things with someone, and it's also nice not to add to the hours of TV watching.
    -Nick: at the end of it all, I do think season 1 was better than 2, though 2 was also fun. If you do watch it, I hope you enjoy it!

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