Like all holidays, Halloween offers its own traditions — eating candy, wearing costumes and watching horror movie marathons. On Netflix, the Halloween viewing game has changed, and Season 2 of “Stranger Things” is here just in time. Released on Friday, the second chapter to summer 2016’s hit features nine new episodes, all available now for streaming.
The first season of “Stranger Things” was a huge popular success, drawing upon ’80s nostalgia with inspiration from Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter and Stephen King, but still feeling fresh and new. Somehow, it’s a stylistic throwback, an engaging mystery and a coming-of-age story all at once.
After watching the first three episodes, it’s clear to me that Season 2 will deliver. This season of “Stranger Things” begins nearly a year after the end of Season 1, and it shows the boys, Mike, Dustin and Lucas, back to their normal lives after the events of last year. However, their friend Will continues to be affected by his experiences, suffering through moments where he finds himself back in the Upside-down, an alternate universe, where a greater evil remains.
Season 2 brings back a lot of what people loved about the first season, which, first and foremost, is the cast. The kids of “Stranger Things” are the most memorable part of the show, and they all return again in full force this season, playing a relatable and likable group of friends molded by the ’80s culture they are growing up in. Finn Wolfhard, as Mike, and Millie Bobby Brown, as Eleven, are as good as you’d expect based on last season, but Will, played by Noah Schnapp, truly surprised me. Despite being the main focus of the plot last season, Will was rarely on screen. This season, however, he plays a more active role, and he is remarkably good at selling the struggles that he experiences after his time in the Upside-down. For at least the first three episodes, he unexpectedly serves as the most compelling character on the show.
There are a few new characters added to this season’s lineup as well. One character is Max (or MadMax, according to her arcade high-score moniker). She’s a new girl from California, and although she acts coldly toward the other kids at first, she quickly becomes friends with the group. At this point in the show, there’s been little to make the audience care for her, as the show often focuses on the main kids rather than Max. That being said, I look forward to seeing where the show takes the character in later episodes.
A new character that I’m less enthusiastic about is Bob, the new boyfriend of Will’s mother. Bob generally comes off as annoying and boring, and even though I’m sure he’s intentionally written that way, he’s easily my least favorite character, and is reminiscent of an off-brand Patton Oswalt. Maybe something is coming in the later episodes that will make me feel differently about Bob, but I doubt it.
Beyond the excellent cast, the production of the show remains as top-notch as last season, and in some areas, it even improves. All of the ’80s references that make the atmosphere of the show what it is remain, including a “Dragon’s Lair” arcade game, Reagan-Bush campaign signs, “The Terminator” movie trailer and the late RadioShack. The soundtrack and score are also as good as they were last season, evoking the ethereal and synthetic sounds reminiscent of ’80s sci-fi and horror.
The visual effects in Season 2 best those in the first season. Obviously, the show was given a greater budget for their sophomore season — and it shows. While Season 1’s demogorgon was impressive, it was rarely shown in full due to budget constraints. Season 2, in just the first three episodes, fully realizes the Upside-down world, and all the nightmarish creatures that come with it.