The Sunday Magazine: Stranger Things 2


I’ve written a lot in this column about how much the right characters can make me overlook a lot of plotting flaws. If I enjoy the time I’m spending with the characters what’s an improbability or two? Like many who were big fans I watched Stranger Things when it was first released. The thing was I was more enthralled by the quilt of obvious 1980’s “inspirations” The Duffer Brothers were employing. It felt like I had watched a greatest hits of 1980’s genre movies by the time it was done. I enjoyed it but thought one season was going to be enough. I thought the characters had not connected over the nostalgia. After the New Year my Netflix queue was surprisingly clear. I thought I’d watch a couple of episodes; remind myself why I had checked out and be done. Nine hours later I sat there surprisingly satisfied.

It wasn’t because The Duffer Brothers stopped using the 1980’s as plot devices. I would say Stranger Things 2 was even more obvious in what they cribbed from. What hooked me were characters who I didn’t realize snuck up on me in the first season. They were given lots to do which kept me wanting to see what was next. I want to call out a few of them because the actors behind the characters did such a good job.

Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin

First is Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin. To get an idea of how charming he is you only must see him in the Verizon commercials extolling the virtues of FiOS. In 30-second clips the actor makes you smile and sells the service with that charisma. In Stranger Things 2 he is given the Gremlins sub-plot where he brings a strange creature home and as it grows things get out of hand. The other half of his story is his bond with the older high school boy, Steve. Dustin is from a one-parent home and Steve takes him under his wing. Mt. Matarazzo steps up and becomes the heart of the Stranger Things series.

Millie Bobbie Brown as Eleven

The soul is Millie Bobbie Brown who plays Eleven. A child who was experimented on to hone her telekinetic properties she escaped the government at the end of season one. Season 2 finds her in a safe place one which is explained over the first few episodes. Once she decides safety is less important than understanding who she is that propels her last half of season 2. Ms. Brown does all of this with an earnestness which had me rooting for her while also lamenting her leaving her safe place.

David Harbour as Chief Hopper

David Harbour plays Chief Hopper who is always caught in the middle as the weird ratchets up in his small Indiana town. In season 2 he is much more the linchpin which holds it all together. He has relationships to every other character in the cast. That allows Mr. Harbour to highlight that. From telling hard truths to the kids to making the adults understand the stakes. He admits his flaws while standing in front of the danger.

Winona Ryder as Joyce Byers

Finally, Winona Ryder as Joyce Byers the frazzled single mom who has her son being taken over by the monsters in both seasons. I have always thought highly of Ms. Ryder as an actress. In season 2 her fiercely protective mother has found some happiness, but those moments are fleeting in the Stranger Things universe. Ms. Ryder shows the joy and the pain in equal amounts sometimes within a few seconds of each other. She has a showcase where her talents are fully on display.

These four characters and the actors who play them made me realize how much I am enjoying Stranger Things for them and not the plot.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Netflix’s Stranger Things

I spent last weekend binge watching the latest must-see original series on Netflix, Stranger Things. One of the things that tipped me over into watching it was on my Spotify there was an official Stranger Things playlist. That playlist had a lot of my favorite songs from the 1980’s. Little did I know that Stranger Things would also have some of my favorite movies from the 1980’s within it as well.

Stranger Things is an eight-episode series by The Duffer Brothers. It takes place over the first week of November 1983 in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana. The story is propelled by the simultaneous disappearance of one child, Will Byers; and the appearance of another, the enigmatic Eleven. The search for Will consumes his three friends who find Eleven who they call “El”. The four kids work together while at the same time the town sheriff Hopper investigates in more traditional ways. Over the course of the series Will’s mother, Joyce, played by Winona Ryder finds out there is more going on than meets the eye. This all comes together in a mix of horror and comedy that works for the most part.

stranger things

While I was watching it I kept coming back to the question when is imitation not inspiration. The Duffer Brothers use so many things from 1980’s movies nearly verbatim there are times it felt like a manic fan video pulling scenes from E.T., The Goonies, Heathers, Stand By Me, Aliens, Flatliners, Explorers, etc. There was an overall feel that The Duffer Brothers wrote Stranger Things while tripping one Saturday night reminiscing about their favorite movies and pulling their favorite characters and scenes together. Which is to say I found almost nothing unique about anything I saw. Which doesn’t mean I wasn’t entertained because The Duffer Brothers did choose some of the best stuff from their inspirations.

The other issue I had was eight hours was too long for this. It would have been much better at half the length. There’s an awful lot of overheated adolescent angst and frantic adults in the first few hours which could have been shortened considerably.

I think the success of Stranger Things is down to it is a near-perfect video time capsule of the 1980’s. If you lived through the times you will laugh when you see one of the characters in a perfect Farrah Fawcett hairdo. There are movie posters and comic books to delight the geeks sprinkled throughout. Corded telephones, television with rabbit ears, and Ford Pintos all present.

It is a fun way to spend a weekend plowing through the series. Unlike most, even though there are a couple of unanswered questions, I don’t care if there is a second season. One weekend lost in the 1980’s is probably enough for me.

Mark Behnke