Stranger Things 2: spoiler-free review

Even the name shows we’re smack bang in the middle of the 80s: Stranger Things 2. Not, Stranger Things: series 2. It’s 2, a sequel, like Gremlins 2 or Beverly Hills Cop 2, and sure enough, Paul Reiser has joined the cast.

Reiser popped up in loads of those 80s blockbusters, most notably in Aliens where was he was a thoroughly untrustworthy company stooge. Here he is Sam Owens, the new head of Hawkins Laboratory, one of many neat twists on the first series. Whereby ‘Papa’ in series 1 was manifestly evil, Owens seems like a much nicer kind of guy, but knowing what kind of roles Reiser played in 80s movies makes us wonder just how far we can trust him.

Like a lot of those old-school sequels, Stranger Things 2 is a riff on the first incarnation, but there are still lots of tricksy features to keep us guessing as to what will happen next. The best thing about the show remains the characters, albeit with a subtle change. Like Happy Days quietly elbowing Richie Cunningham aside in favour of the Fonz, Dustin and Lucas have now come to the fore as the most interesting members of the middle school party.

Meanwhile, the love triangle between the high schoolers Nancy, Steve and Jonathan is one of the best in any teen drama. Each one of the three is nice and kind one minute, and then a complete screw-up the next. It’s never clear which one Nancy should stick with, least of all to her.

Unlike other retro series like Mad Men, we’re not encouraged to judge the world of the past, squirming in our seats at the political incorrectness of it all. Rather, Stranger Things wants to take us back there, to enjoy the liberty and fun of a simpler time. The blasé attitude of the parents to their kids’ whereabouts must blow modern teenagers away, whose lives are constantly controlled by mobile phones and panicky relatives.

Our kids don’t live here any more

One father laconically says after his son and daughter fail to come home for about 24 hours. It certainly doesn’t bother him all that much, despite living in a town where people do occasionally get sucked into the mysterious underworld of the Upside Down.

However, there is a shadow on the horizon and its not just the Demogorgon lurking in the series’ parallel world.

Stranger Things 2 takes place in 1984, just before personal computers started sending their eldritch tendrils into our homes. Today, people like Steve Jobs are spoken of in hushed tones as modern day saints. Whereas the truth is that he and his ilk ruined the world. These kids are soon going to have big, grey plastic boxes to stare at for the rest of their lives.

In the meantime, they can enjoy the freedom of an 80s childhood. I remember my life in small-town America being just like the ones of these kids, where the only computer games were the ones in the local arcade, which really were great in those days, and horribly addictive too. Just like Stranger Things.

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