Scott Hardie | October 9, 2016
Great show, but I don't want to spoil anyone's enjoyment, so beware what will probably be TONS of spoilers below.

I'm glad that Kelly and I have finally been able to catch up and watch this show. It's as good as the buzz around it, and as good as the trailer promised. It shares with Lost a very compelling sense of mystery, of "what the hell is going on" that makes you want to keep watching episode after episode. Netflix producing only 8 episodes instead of the more typical 12-13 seems almost like an act of mercy for the audience bound to sit paralyzed on their couches, compelled into binge-watching by how good the series is.

And it is good. It doesn't work just because of its influences; it would be a solid show even without them. This article nails it: Revival shows like Fuller House and The X Files can feel like tired retreads because they bring little of their own to the table, relying on old magic working again. Stranger Things weaves entirely new magic out of some old elements.

The actors are all great, even if some of them don't get enough time to play off of each other, staying isolated in small groups or alone. (The two leads, Winona Ryder and David Harbour, spend much of their screen time alone or talking to no-name guest stars. I almost wonder if this was a production necessity, like the actors weren't available at the same times.) The kids are especially good, and they'd have to be or the series wouldn't work. The unfortunately named Millie Bobby Brown is a real find; you get the sense that she has a lot more interesting roles in her future. Cara Buono has been good in other productions and I kept waiting for Karen Wheeler to play a bigger part in the story, but alas; perhaps in the next season.

If I have any major criticism, it's that sometimes the plot depended on characters not saying what they were thinking or feeling. There were several occasions where Eleven could have said something to the boys, or Nancy to Steve, or Joyce to Jonathan, or the Wheeler kids to Karen, that would have cleared up a lot of confusion and resolved a lot of conflict, but they kept their mouths shut because the plot needed them to. Even with Eleven's trauma making her emotionally fragile, it still felt like the show was cheating.

Is it me or is this show kind of obsessed with bullying? There were five separate scenes of the boys being bullied, and I lost count of the times that Nancy or Barb (or eventually, Steve) got teased by the high-school jerks. I know the show is an homage to 80s movies, and kids movies of that era were obsessed with bullies, but these scenes were repetitive and meaningless and removed from the main story. Here's hoping for less of them later.

The show isn't really about bullying of course. It's about loss of innocence. Many (most?) movies and shows about adolescent kids are about loss of innocence, but this one in particular challenged all of its characters, even the adults, to break out of their cocoons and face hardship head on. The only world-weary character when it begins is Jim Hopper, who tries in vain to shield the others for as long as he can. (A case could be made that Eleven has had her innocence robbed of her by Dr. Brenner cruelly forcing her to do evil things, but as damaged as she is, she's still just a kid and still fragile for much of the series.)

For me, there were some big laughs in the series. My favorite must have been Hopper's face upon entering Joyce's house intending to check her light bulbs for listening devices and seeing how many Christmas lights she had hung.

What did you think of the series? Are you looking forward to a second season or was it perfect as just one? Is there enough ground left to cover in another season?

Scott Hardie | November 4, 2017
Revisiting this, I'm surprised that there were no follow-up comments, given what a hit the show was. Perhaps I was just too late to the party in asking?

Kelly and I didn't wait to watch season 2 when it came out, but we didn't have much choice: Spoilers came in from all directions, including the homepage of the Los Angeles Times spoiling a major plot event late in the season. (It may have been the only time I wished for more coverage of Trump instead.) We plowed through the second season, which was easy because we loved it.

I can write more about it, but I'm curious if anyone else here has watched it and has any thoughts to share.

Lori Lancaster | November 9, 2017
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Lori Lancaster | November 9, 2017
[hidden by author request]

Denise Sawicki | November 9, 2017
That is a cool video, Lori. I enjoy the show. Darrell mentioned he gets annoyed by how the boys are always kind of mean to each other even within their friend group, but I contend Mike always seemed to be a nice decent kid. Will too, I am sure, but he's always in trouble so his everyday personality isn't shown that much. The new girl, Max, also has an annoying mean streak in my opinion! The link doesn't seem to have pasted quite right. I'll see if I can get it to work any better. here

Scott Hardie | November 11, 2017
This whole discussion is flagged for spoilers, but here's warning of more spoilers ahead anyway.

Good points, Lori. I don't think it would have felt right to leave out bullying when the boys were clearly the nerds at their school. (Then again, they left out other things in season one, like Dustin and Lucas's home lives.) I haven't seen season one since I wrote the above, so my memory is fuzzy, but maybe I just got tired of the repetitiveness of the bullying scenes. They're kind of always the same in Hollywood productions, and Stranger Things wasn't much different. Or maybe I just don't like bullying scenes because they are unpleasant reminders of my own childhood. Either way, I was relieved that the bullies from season one were almost entirely gone from season two, reduced to very brief, blink-and-miss-them appearances. The new bully (Billy Hargrove) is obnoxious too, but he feels better integrated into the narrative. He feels like he's there in the story as a catalyst to force Max and Steve to realize things about themselves, rather than just being an arbitrary obstacle to be overcome.

Also mostly gone from season two: Mike. It's weird that all of the other characters got storylines, but the most central character of season one didn't really get a story or anything to do. His season-two arc concerned moping after Eleven and being annoyed with Max. For me, his ongoing mistreatment and ostracization of Max (still unresolved in the finale) made him one of the least likeable characters on the show. Denise, you and I have very different opinions of Max: Other than maybe being a little bit quick to take offense, she never once struck me as mean. All of her hostility was a direct response to other characters treating her badly. She kept trying to be nice and kept getting rebuffed, such as when she introduced herself to Eleven by offering a handshake and was deliberately ignored. She's one of the characters I feel most sympathetic toward, and I look forward to seeing what becomes of her in the future.

Speaking of sympathetic characters, poor Bob spent most of the season way out of his depth. The homepage of the Los Angeles Times spoiled his storyline for me -- arrgh! put spoilers behind a link, people! -- but I still really enjoyed Sean Astin's presence. I did feel like his character was created primarily to suffer that ending, and I wish the show could have changed things up by messing with expectations. Steve, having been dumped by Nancy and dethroned by Billy and otherwise having little more to do in the story, maybe should have been killed this season; certainly it would have had an even bigger effect on the audience.

I feel like I'm criticizing the show a little too much, considering how excellent I think it is, but if you'll forgive me one more gripe: I'm tired of love triangles, Nancy/Jonathan/Steve in particular. (Mike/Eleven/Max and Joyce/Bob/Hopper were also tiresome but those didn't get nearly as much screen time; Max/Dustin/Lucas was agreeable, I guess.) One of the things that I really, really liked about the first season was the surprise of seeing Nancy and Steve together at the end: It felt a little bit subversive towards audience expectations, because Nancy and Jonathan are the type of couple that usually winds up together at the end of eighties movies and shows like this. Nancy winding up with Steve was a reflection of both Steve's unexpected growth as a character and as a person in season one, and of Nancy's complexity as a character in her own right. To undo all of that and put her and Jonathan together felt like, I dunno, fanfic shipping. They work better as friends who have a bond despite their different high school castes than they do as lovers, but maybe that's just me. I hope that Nancy has a better storyline and more to do in season three than just choose between boys again. I guess I should give the show credit for never once, not even for a second, having Nancy and Billy feel any romantic tension?

I could say a lot more, but I don't want to ramble on all night. I just really, really love this show! It isn't a mere nostalgia machine; it uses its callbacks as inspiration to tell new stories, and it's much more concerned with the characters' emotional journeys than the MacGuffins of the eighties-movie plotline. I can't wait to see what the creators do with it next.

Denise Sawicki | November 12, 2017
I didn't like how Max immediately called them "creeps" for wanting to get to know her. I felt like Mike being mean to her was reacting to her calling them creeps but maybe I'm forgetting something. We are rewatching season 1 now and I feel like the show did go a little overboard with the bullying when everyone was sitting at the assembly for Will's death and the bullies were making fun of Will who had presumably died. That doesn't seem like normal behavior even for bullies. I would have thought even they would most likely be shocked by someone their own age dying and wouldn't tend to make fun...

Scott Hardie | November 13, 2017
Maybe that's fair, regarding "creeps." The boys were stalking her and ogling her, though. We in the audience know that they're innocent and good-natured, but she couldn't have known that yet.

Did I imagine romantic tension between Joyce and Hopper? It's subtle but I feel like the show touched on it in both seasons, with the two of them having dated as kids and sharing a bond ever since. Maybe I mistook their relationship for something it wasn't.

I don't know if anybody else watched the Beyond Stranger Things aftershow, but the Duffer Brothers are taking a lot of flak for something that came out of it, over forcing Sadie Sink to kiss Caleb McLaughlin because she freaked out over the idea. If you ask me, people are misinterpreting and overreacting: The Duffers are not sadists who like torturing these kids. The way I heard that conversation, they made a well-meaning joke about Sink having to kiss McLaughlin, she panicked and spent a day anguishing over it and working up the nerve to do it so she'd be ready, and after that they felt so bad about it that they felt like they had to go through with it for her sake. While skipping the kiss after all probably would have been the better choice, it's not like they're sick perverts or something; they made a legitimate choice to do what seemed like the right thing for Sink. People on Twitter need to calm down. (For what it's worth, my reaction is no doubt informed by acting classes that I took at age 14, in which it was taught to us that stage kissing was just acting and not something to get hung up about, and we were made to kiss other kids on the first day of class to prove it, just as we also did stage fighting and other physical interactions with each other. It was fine; the teachers were right.)

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