FUN FRIDAY: Jake and Stuart argue about Stranger Things 2

Did you like season two of Stranger Things? On this Fun Friday, The Solid Signal blog team argues the pros and cons of Netflix’s biggest streaming hit this year, Stranger Things.

Jake Buckler:Let’s get one thing straight, Stuart Sweet and I don’t always see eye to eye. If he likes something, I usually find it a snooze. (His beloved Star Trek, for example.) For his part, Stuart tends to trivialize anything that I think is cool. (He abhors Ozark, which is a clear indication of his poor taste in TV.) It should come as no surprise that he and I have once again found ourselves at loggerheads over my favorite Netflix series, Stranger Things. We decided to go head to head in a he-said/he-said discussion over the second season of this amazing show. We encourage you to share your Stranger Things opinions in the comments section below.

Stuart Sweet: While I wasn’t the biggest fan of season one, at least it felt like something that hadn’t been done quite like this before. Instead of being a nostalgic look at the 80s, it looked like something that was actually done in the 80s, right down to the film grain. This made Gen Xers immediately comfortable with it. This time, though, it seemed like a retread of a retread.

Buckler:“Retread of a retread? What show were you watching? It definitely wasn’t Stranger Things, season two. Yes, this show recalled those carefree days of my youth during the Reagan Era, but it had more to offer than just nostalgia. A lot more. The plot, characters, and characterizations of everyone in Hawkins, new and old, are enough to allow this show to stand on its own merits. And how can you dismiss the constant sense of foreboding dread that loomed over the town, threatened to overshadow that halcyon 80s glow.”

Sweet: Wow I guess you haven’t gotten out much since those Reagan days. My biggest complaint about season one was that it so slavishly aped those 80s kid-suspense films that it suffered from the same flaws they did. So, it’s not incredibly surprising that season two suffers from the same flaw as most 80s sequels – it ignores the chemistry that the main characters had, choosing to separate them in order to bring in a bunch of supporting characters no one wants.

Buckler: Did you see that? It was me rolling my eyes at your usual nonsense. I don’t know where you were in the 1980s, but I spent much of it in movie theaters. I appreciate the Duffer brothers’ homages to the classics of my generation. But like I said earlier, the second season of Stranger Things was strong enough to set the series apart from being just another 80s tribute. In other words, it’s not The Wedding Singer, dude!

Sweet: At least The Wedding Singer had “Rapper’s Delight.” I’ll admit the stunt casting is fun, and Sean Astin is probably the best addition. On the other hand, I wish they’d cast an 80s kid instead of Brett Gelman (Murray, the town’s resident conspiracy theorist.) Mr. Gelman plays the same character in everything in which he appears and considering how thinly drawn his character is, he has nothing to offer. Corey Feldman would have been a much better choice.

Buckler: As much as it pains me to write this, yes, you do have a point. I, too, enjoyed the addition of Sean Astin’s character. Too bad his time in the fictional world of Hawkins, Indiana was cut short. (#JusticeforBob) I also agree that the Duffer brothers could have done a better job casting the role of Murray. (I truly hate it when you’re right.) Corey Feldman would’ve done a much better job with a performance similar to his Edgar Frog character from The Lost Boys. Or better yet, how about an older 80s icon playing a role similar to Donald Pleasence’s Loomis in Halloween?

Sweet: Wow you couldn’t be more off on Bob. The dude had to live in Hawkins his whole life where the coolest job in town was Radio Shack Manager. He died too late. But enough about him… the whole subplot in Chicago just made me angry. With only a handful of episodes total, they chose to introduce a whole group who didn’t deserve my time or investment, wasting an entire hour. Sure, it answered what happened to at least one of the other ten subjects but in the end, did we really care?”

Buckler: You might win the Dilettante of the Year award for that one! In a good movie, everything is there for a reason. Stranger Things is a great series. The brothers Duffer had a reason to introduce the Chicago subplot in season two. The show is scheduled for just four seasons. While season three will remain in Hawkins, the fourth and final season will take place outside of Hawkins. The Duffers likely primed us for what will happen once the danger unleashed in the lab threatens the world at large. Frankly, I would think that you’d be applauding series creators who are willing to take some risks with a cherished franchise.”

Sweet: I’ll be waiting for my Dilletante statuette, although you do get points for big word of the day. What about the climax? It had no tension at all for me once it became obvious that Eleven had morphed into a superheroine. Despite expending a level of effort she never had before, she barely had a nosebleed and seems to have no long term effects at all.”

Buckler:Okay, I’m with you on this one, too. (You’re killing me here, Mr. Sweet.) When Eleven defeated the Demogorgon in season one, she was completely vaporized. Yet when she battles a monster 100 times the Demogorgon’s size, she barely gets a nosebleed? Something is not right here. I guess we’re supposed to believe that her Jedi training in Dagobah – errrrr, Chicago – left her better prepared to face such foes. Besides, the Duffers couldn’t have Eleven disappear after the climactic battle because that would mean missing the Snow Ball!

Sweet: I am not quite sure why they didn’t kill Paul Reiser’s character. Practically the only fun I had in this joyless season was trying to figure out what movie they were ripping off, and since Mr. Reiser had died in Aliens (a film that this season seems to idolize) I was sure he would be toast. The fact that he wasn’t didn’t seem like a twist as much as cowardice. After all, wouldn’t want people shouting #JusticeForDrOwens now, would we?

Buckler: Perhaps its time to have an optometrist check your eyeglasses. The Duffers were paying tribute to yet another 1980s teen movie trope – not all adults are bad. We learned this lesson when we watched E.T.

Sweet: I just got new eyeglasses. They’re not as rose-colored as yours. Look, I enjoyed David Harbour’s relentless impression of Indiana Jones throughout these two seasons, but having him and Eleven re-enact the argument scene from Temple of Doom seemed like a waste of time.

Buckler: That reference slipped right by me, probably because I was too busy enjoying the show instead of desperately grasping for flaws. Besides, I’m not a huge Indiana Jones fan. There were better movies from back in the day. (Yeah, I said it.)”

Sweet: OK, try to defend Will Byers. Here’s the problem with Will Byers. We didn’t get to know him in season one, and so we didn’t care about him in season two. Since the whole “party” was so rarely together in season 2, we didn’t get to see the investment that his friends have in him now that he’s back. The character is nothing but a 20-episode-long MacGuffin and an excuse for Winona Ryder to do her impression of JoBeth Williams in Poltergeist.

Buckler: Yeah, right! Except that if the Duffers spent more time developing the Will Byers character, you’d complain about that, too. I can just hear you now. ‘What do I care about Will Byers?’ you’d say. ‘He’s just some geeky little kid with a Prince Valiant haircut. Why not show more of his brother, Jonathan, and his budding romance with Nancy.’ Now I, for one, would like to see the Will Byers character develop beyond the Duffer brothers’ version of Kenny McCormick from South Park.

Sweet: On the other hand, I give genuine props to Dacre Montgomery who played Billy, the over-the-top jerk. Sure, this was a stereotypical 80s jerk, but he really did make it work. One the few actors, I’ll say, who does his best acting just standing there (and in his case, smoking.) But I didn’t need to see scenes with his father to know why he was the way he was, and this was nothing but a waste of time (as was largely everything involving any member of Billy’s family.)

Buckler: Here again, you get it all wrong. I went to school with more than 30 Billys. They were rude, brash, and possessed with unoriginal macho energy. What I never understood was why they were so driven to try to impose their will on others. The scene with Billy and his dad shed some light on the possible motivations of the many malevolent mullets I used to fight after school… and sometimes inside the school.

Sweet: Try living in the present and not the past old man. Having Lucas recount all of season one to Max and having her say it was boring and derivative was way too “meta” and way too on the nose. ‘Nuff said.

Buckler: ‘Nuff said? Try getting your nose out of those old Marvel comics! If only it were that easy! You should be thankful that the majority of Lucas’s info dump was done off camera so us viewers didn’t have to suffer through it.

Sweet: OK, here’s my parting shot: the last computer Sean Astin’s character ever touched was definitely NOT running BASIC. In fact it was not a computer but a terminal, so it didn’t run anything. It might have been capable of accepting commands in COBOL or FORTRAN but even then it wasn’t doing anything of the sort. But, I’m willing to believe that ‘Bob Newby’ (on the nose character naming much?) was just throwing technobabble out so that HE ended up being the one to go into the basement. Because, in an incredibly ‘meta’ moment, he must have known that in an 80s suspense film, no one survives going to the basement.

Buckler: Leave it to you, our resident tech geek, to get your nose bent out of shape over some minuscule detail. And as to Bob Newby’s death, I can’t help but wonder if you would’ve preferred he be wearing a red shirt when it happened.

Sweet: Yes I would.