Stranger Things: Season 2 created by the Duffer Brothers (Netflix, 21 Laps Entertainment, Monkey Massacre)

Starring Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Cara Buono, Joe Keery, Noah Schnaap, Joe Chrest, Sadie Sink, Dacre Montgomery, Sean Astin, and Paul Reiser.

Social Commentary

One tried and true social cue, at least in my playbook is the “What-are-you-watching” question.

I️ pull such a question when I️ want to know more about someone new. Or, I️ even ask the question in deeply held relationships because I️ want some good recommendations for what to watch next.

Recently, during a current-viewing-habits discussion, Ozark came up. As I️ often mention at during Ozark discussions, I️ reference reviews from my favorite critics. For many, Ozark represents a Breaking Bad retread. Since I️ don’t have the time to watch every show on television, that review is enough to get me to pass on this show.

Ozark as Comfort Food

Having mentioned this reference to my Ozark-watching friend, she said she could never get through more than a couple Breaking Bad episodes. As I️ tried to figure out why someone would love the derivative show but hate the original, I️ realized the one stark contrast. Even though I’ve not watched Ozark, the trailer provides ample evidence regarding the show’s stylistic decisions. Ozark leverages green and blue hues, colors the exude a level of calm. Breaking Bad, on the other hand, feels urgent and immediate set in the fiery red desert of New Mexico.

When I️ mentioned these differences, the friend lit up. Her issues with Breaking Bad had nothing to do with a story; it had everything to do with the way the aesthetics made her feel.

In other words, I️ believe we can split our television content into two categories:

  1. Comfort Food and
  2. Thinking On The Edge Of Your Seat.

Showrunners use every tool in the toolbox to make you feel a specific way. Some shows require you to sit back and let the story wash over you. Others demand you become a detective to parse the story.

Thrilling Comfort Food

When it comes to Stranger Things 2, the Duffer Brothers do their best to exhibit a suspenseful thriller packaged as comfort food.

Let me unpack that.

Stranger Things 2 builds from the conclusion of its seminal season (spoiler alert for that season).

Having vanquished the evil monster, demogorgon, and rescued Will (Noah Schnapp) from the Upside Down, a shadowy alternate universe, life should be getting back to normal, aside from a government-mandated gag order forcing all of the stakeholders from Season 1 to stay hush-hush on the evil lurking in another dimension.

It’s a year later and all of the kids are back in school and living normal lives. Steve (Joe Keery) and Nancy (Natalia Dyer) are dating. Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), and Lucas (Lucas Sinclair) resume A.V.  Club. They even have a new friend in out-of-town newcomer Max (Sadie Sink).

But something is amiss, Will keeps plunging back into the Upside Down, and his doctor (Paul Reiser) keeps suggesting Joyce (Wynona Rider) to play along with these bouts of PTSD.

While Will faces these recurring immersions, Hopper (David Harbour) begins investigating a series of pumpkin patches dying simultaneously and starts piecing together potential problems with the band-aid the government placed on the Upside Down.

Referencing the Familiar

Even though all of this plot set up points to an action-packed thriller, and I️ should mention Stranger Things 2 delivers on the action and thrills, the Duffer Brothers design the season as comfort food.

The showrunners use greens and blues to balance tense moments, and even more, they call back a variety of classic films to establish the tropes by which the series paints.

Stranger Things pays homage to The Wizard of Oz, E.T., Jurassic Park, Dirty Dancing, Goonies, Teen Wolf, AlienGhostbusters, among many others.

These meticulously crafted references and a detailed precision for 80s-era fashion, technology, and small-town lifestyle make Stranger Things 2 feel familiar and safe, even as murderous monster lurk beneath the surface.

Verdict: 4 out of 5

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