Let me start this off by getting one thing out of the way: I thoroughly enjoy Stranger Things. I enjoyed the first season and I didn’t totally hate the second season. That being said, this season had so many glaring problems that I felt it necessary to bang out this quasi-coherent review. Take this with a grain of salt, as everyone is entitled to their own opinions and I am not a real television critic.
1. Jim Hopper. Hopper was one of the few characters that had a clear purpose throughout the entirety of the season, and as always, David Harbour gave a fantastic performance. You genuinely believe Hopper’s convictions and the way he cares for Eleven is both heartwarming and well written.
2. Noah Schnapp. Last season, it was a bit difficult to gauge how strong of an actor Schnapp could be due to the fact that we only saw Will Byers in a few episodes. After watching season two however, I was blown away by Schnapp’s performance as Will. As someone who’s naturally a bit skeptical of child actors’ abilities, I can say that Stranger Things deserves credit for casting capable and talented young actors. Will’s character was easily the most demanding of the bunch and Schnapp pulled off being possessed phenomenally. This kid is going places.
3. Winona Ryder*. Duh.
* I have to point out my own bias here. They could’ve filmed Winona eating mac and cheese the whole season and I would’ve applauded the performance.
4. The original score. Brilliant last season, brilliant again this season. Bless you Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein.
1. Poor handling of characters. Not all of the characters had a clear purpose the entire time like they did last season. Mike didn’t have anything to do. Max and Billy didn’t have a purpose. Eleven was just kinda there until she found a subplot that led to an unnecessary episode, and then did the same thing at the climax of the season as last time. And on top of it all, many of the characters’ motivations just weren’t convincing (see: Nancy).
2. Max and Billy. These two contributed nothing to the plot. The writers didn’t know what to do with their existing characters, so why did they bring in new ones? Max just existed as a new girl character to join the kids in the absence of Eleven (and create a useless love triangle). Max’s only contribution plot-wise was putting a stop to her brother, a conflict that wouldn’t have existed had these characters not been introduced. (Side note: why did she just grab a random syringe to do that? Why did all of the kids just stand by watching Steve get his ass kicked instead of piling onto Billy? Ugh. Whatever.) Billy’s motivations were also very unclear. Did he not want Max hanging out with Lucas because he’s just mad at Hawkins and the world or because he’s just racist? Who knows? Doesn’t seem like the Duffers do!
3. Clichés. Take a drink every time there’s a jump scare fake-out or a stock sound effect. Finish your drink every time you can predict exactly what happens next before it’s shown on screen. (Warning: you may end up in the hospital.)
4. Rehash of season one. The Duffer brothers sure knew what made season one popular! How many times were Eggos mentioned? Could they possibly shove any more eighties nostalgia in my face? Did Jonathan really need to play The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” again? (Side note: don’t try to sell to me that Jonathan is punk if he can’t recognize that the girl at the party is very clearly dressed as Siouxsie Sioux. Bye.) Not to mention that the season hit many of the exact same beats as the last: something involving the Upside Down happens to Will, innocent character whose name starts with B dies, the Byers’ house turns into a contemporary art installation to solve a problem, Eleven gets a makeover, every character reunites at the climax to defeat the big bad evil force of the Upside Down, you get the picture.
“Y’know, it’s like poetry — they rhyme.”
— George Lucas
5. Nancy. Oh, Nancy. How could the writers have done you so wrong? The anger Nancy displayed at the beginning of the season about Barb seemed to come out of nowhere. According to the timeline, Barb died a year earlier. While the dinner with Barb’s parents seemed to be the writers’ excuse for her random lashing-out at Steve, the motivation seemed rather weak overall. Her anger at Steve was also unwarranted, and her behavior at the party seemed rather uncharacteristic. Based on how the writers treated the other characters, Nancy’s decisions seemed like nothing more than a forced effort to push along the story and introduce conflict. Besides, how could Nancy have ever hooked up with Jonathan without some forced beef with Steve and a fan service attempt at justice for Barb? (My solution: #GiveNancyTwoBoyfriends)
1. Chapter Seven. Oh my lord. Why was this an episode? What’s the point of upping the budget for season two and adding one more episode than last time only to completely waste it? How can you fundamentally miss that in a nine-episode season, each episode has to serve a purpose in the grand scheme of things? This episode contributed nothing toward the plot. And it wasn’t good, either. The trope of the band of misfits “who society forgot” (real line!) was so cheesy it felt like it should have been on the CW. The characters that were introduced aside from Kali were bland and unlikeable. But hey, as long as fans get their screenshot of Eleven dressed punk saying “bitchin’,” who really cares about quality?
All things considered, this review is a labor of love. I criticize the issues only because I believe a show like this deserves to be held to a high standard. And if we’re being honest, I’ll gladly consume season three no matter what the Duffer brothers throw at me.