‘Stranger Things 2’ avoids sophomore slump

Ryan Holt

The surprise, summer smash hit of 2016 was “Stranger Things.” Before social media helped spread the word that a coming of age tale involving middle schoolers and their quest to find their missing friend who was abducted by interdimensional beings, was worthy of a binge watch, the show was relatively unknown when it premiered.

“Stranger Things 2” debuted in the completely opposite fashion. There was no surprise this time, but there was one question surrounding its release last week: would the Duffer Brothers be able to recreate the formula that led to first season success or would they be crushed by the sophomore slump?

For the most part, “Stranger Things 2” succeeds in avoiding the slump, but that doesn’t mean it’s without fault.

There’s a particularly emotionless side-story involving Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) that does little to advance the plot and interrupts the flow of the second season, also, it’s an obvious knockoff from a scene in “X-Men First Class.”

And, there’s the introduction of bland new characters that never become fully fleshed out. The new kids in town, skater-girl and arcade wizard Maxine (Sadie Sink) and her chain-smoking, semi-racist brother Billy (Dacre Montgomery) leave much to be desired.

The new characters aren’t all bad though, Bob (Sean Astin), who’s as boring a loaf of white bread and Joyce’s (Winona Ryder) new boyfriend, is the perfect addition to an already loaded cast with his wholesome and surprisingly heroic displays of courage. Besides Bob, the good-bad Dr. Owens (Paul Resier) has his moments as well.

The show picks up nearly a year after the conclusion of season one. Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) is back from the Upside Down. The rest of the gang: Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) are all trying to live normal lives and put the incidents of season one behind them and live out their lives in small, nondescript Hawkins, Indiana.

The beloved kramugin Jim Hopper (David Barbour), the Hawkins chief of police, is still angry all the time as he tries his best to keep the citizens safe.

But peace can only last so long before the scientist at the Hawkins Lab cause another rift to the Upside Down and it falls to middle schoolers, a single mother, a middle-aged cop and some teenagers to save the town and perhaps the world from an almost indescribable threat.   

The pacing for season two feels off compared to season one. There’s no urgency at the start and it takes until midway through the fourth episode for the show to start rolling.

However, Season two does a better job at focusing on the other characters in the series that aren’t Eleven, Will, Lucas and Dustin. There’s more meaningful screen time for the adults, especially for Barbour and Joe Keery who plays Steve.  

Most aspects of “Stranger Things 2” work, but some don’t. The show retains its charm and, true to form, the ending leaves the viewer wanting more. The Duffer Brothers avoided catching sequelitis by a large margin. That said, season two is far from perfect, but still worth watching.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)