'Stranger Things' Is Imprisoned by the Nostalgia That Inspired It


#1

Some spoilers for season 2 of Stranger Things ahead.

You've experienced some version of the feeling I am about to describe: You are with your gaming group, and everyone is pretending to have a good time, but they aren't having a good time. Something about the game isn't working, but no one can admit they want to leave. After all, what would this group be without its cleric? What would happen if a player dropped from Pandemic Legacy? The group dynamic might change. The gaming group might split or splinter into different forms. The thing you have could turn into the thing you had. It's a terrible feeling.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/vb3zj8/stranger-things-season-2-imprisoned-by-nostalgia

#2

I’m an 80s kid, but I have no particular nostalgia for the media of that era (spoiler alert: a lot of it is terrible). It seems like most of the 80s nostalgia is being driven by people who were at most infants during the 80s.

I stayed away from Stranger Things S1 because the impression I got from the Twitterverse was that it was a Ready Player One-style reference fest, but it decidedly is not. I finally got around to watching it and it was great. Now I’m putting off watching S2 because it sounds like they did go down that path.

I don’t know if they wanted S1 to be more reference-y but pulled it back and now are able to do something closer to their original intention, or if they just got caught in the nostalgia buzz after S1 came out. I always feel bad for creators when it seems like they don’t understand what it is about their work that resonated with people. It can’t be a good feeling when you realize you misread the room.


#3

Stranger Things S2 definitely tries to make lightning strike twice, while doubling-down, in that way that ALL popular TV drama seems to do over and over until it overstays its welcome and you have to be reminded once every few months “That show’s STILL going? God just end already, no one cares.” But I still really enjoyed S2 for what it was!

S1 is a self-contained thing to me and the rest of this franchise can’t ever possibly be as good just from the fact that it has to keep telling the story for longer than it should. So I almost look at it like “extended canon” for any who want it. I’m in this for the characters and the performances and for my taste they’re all still stellar and I just love all their chemistry. However long Stranger Things goes on for it’s probably just gonna get worse from here, but this is sadly just how franchises work, so I’m gonna squeeze what enjoyment I can get out of it until it finally can’t excuse itself to me anymore.

Maybe that’s me making excuses, but like. I mean these shows that go on for too long all still have dedicated audiences so I think at the end of the day we all watch things for different reasons and sometimes as a show evolves it makes it priorities different. And that sucks. I’m sure there’s a hypothetical Stranger Things S2 out there that kept a better thematic through-line from the first story. But the one we got honestly met all MY expectations so maybe my bar’s just low when it comes to serializing things haha.

I just love that cast so much…


#4

Apparently it’s a Hot Take but I thought Stranger Things Season 2 was generally pretty good. It ain’t the Wire, but it ain’t bad.

I forget who said it, but “The difference between a pastiche and a homage is that you enjoy a homage but you dislike a pastiche.”


#5

While S1 was better than 2, I still thought it was really
great. I was born in 85 so I don’t have a lot of nostalgia for the 80s and I don’t catch most of the references, so maybe it’s more enjoyable that way.

I do like all the Durham Easter eggs though, as someone who lives Durham it’s fun to catch them.


#6

Can’t personally agree, I think it took on far more as the season progressed, especially the Jurassic Park vibes towards the end. The only part I disliked was the episode everyone else disliked too. Silent Hill’s influence on the first season is clear, but for me the excellent second season felt like its own evolution. The cinematography was also pretty striking, really big budget feature film quality throughout.


#7

I agree that season 2 kind of got away from itself, but I don’t agree that it’s buried under the weight of it’s 80’s nostalgia. I felt this season was actually less of a reference fest than season one with the only exception being all of the on the nose music cues.

The problem with season 2 for me was a huge increase in scope meant a huge loss of focus. In season one the group of kids felt like a group of kids, we saw them interact and solve problems together. It was a story of outcast kids in a world that didn’t seem to care about or notice them using the tools they were familiar with to tackle the unknown. In season 2, these kids are barely ever together and they almost never interact as a group for any reason other than to argue and split up. The upside down which used to feel like a unique place bleeding in through the seems suddenly becomes a whole different thing. Are those tunnels underground a different world? Are they real Hawkins or upside down Hawkins?

By expanding to telling all of these multiple stories, we never get enough time with any single thread for it to sink in or matter. Things just kind of happen and then that’s it. I wasn’t thrown off by an extended reference to 80’s arcades because that felt natural for these kids, I was thrown off by a lengthy detour into crazy conspiracy reporter guy that took way too long and just resolves itself neatly in a nice little bow for no logical reason.


#8

I thought S2 was almost as good as S1, while it lost the novelty factor, it amped up the production values and visual fx (although the rubbery monster from s1 had it’s charm imo), and even if those references hit me like a ton of nostalgic brics sometimes, at 45 I was the same age as those kids in the 80’s, the creators know the heart of the show remains the dynamic between the kids and the unpretentious sci fi horror shenanigans that ties stuff togheter. And that’s what hooked me.

That said, I’m afraid things will begin to feel repetitive next season as well, I loved that they showed more of Lucas and Dustin’s families (Lucas’ sister is evil incarnate, I loved her), they developed Steve in interesting ways, actually gave Barb a better closure, but a lot of the new elements introduced didn’t quite had the same strenght and I’m not sure if they can add much to the show. We’ll have to wait and see if they’ll grow in Stranger Things 3 or they’ll add to the third movie curse list that plagued many of those 80’s classics.


#9

There were a ton of references but to be honest the majority of them were so subtle that I only noticed after reading a BuzzFeed article.They handle those cleverly imo, they help ground it in the period and give some people a fun easter egg hunt, but I don’t think they steal the show.

The tunnels were like a new version of the forest from season one, the portal grew so big that it’s influence started spreading below the ground, I thought it was an interesting new take on the upside down “infecting” our world.

The conspiracy theory investigator was another one of the many cool but poorly handled new ideas, I wonder if developing any of those in S3 will improve or hurt the show. I’m sure Lucas and Dustin will love the guy though.