It’s pretty safe to say that on the list of the most talked-about shows of the past two years, the Netflix-original Stranger Things ranks pretty near the top. On the off chance you haven’t seen it yet, this delightful supernatural mystery is a veritable love letter to 1970s and ‘80s pop culture. It’s a pastiche of Alien and E.T., Firestarter and The Goonies, Poltergeist and Stand By Me, with a heaping helping of Dungeons & Dragons and A Nightmare on Elm Street thrown in the mix for good measure. And it makes no apologies for any of the above. It has all the makings of a cheap rip-off, but avoids being such by wearing its influences proudly on its sleeve and using them as a hook rather than a crutch.
Indeed, during the course of Stranger Things 2—the latest run of nine episodes, which dropped just in time for Halloween this year—a new character being brought up on the events of the previous year flirts with the fourth wall just long enough to wink at the audience and let us know that, yes, we’re aware the story is derivative. But that’s kind of the point. In its music, its cinematography, its writing, its acting—every element of Stranger Things is an unabashed throwback to the childhood of Gen Xers, who, let’s face it, had the greatest childhood of all.
If that’s all it was, Stranger Things and Stranger Things 2 (seriously, don’t call it a second season—it’s a sequel) would be an absolute treat. Thankfully, it’s so much more. This brilliant series doesn’t just evoke those classic films listed above. And it doesn’t merely measure up to them. It somehow manages to live up to the nostalgia that my generation has for the genre films of our youth, which is a much taller order. In other words, it’s not merely as good as they are—it’s as good as we’ve built them up to be.
And Stranger Things 2 ups the ante with a bigger budget, better effects, and a beastlier baddie. But at the same time, it also manages to tell a more human story. It’s the rarest of all sequels, one that progresses the plot organically, raises the stakes intriguingly, and captures the spirit of what made the original so popular without rehashing it.
I won’t get any more specific than that, because every element of Stranger Things and its sequel deserves to be discovered in real time. But I do want to point out one thing some fans may have missed: Stranger Things 2 is one of the very few original streaming series to be accompanied by bonus features.
This, for me, is particularly huge because I’m a bonus-features junkie. It’s one of the main reasons I cling to my collection of five-inch discs, in outright defiance of our obvious streaming future. For me, a good making-of documentary is as essential to the home theater experience as popcorn and comfy seating. And while Beyond Stranger Things doesn’t quite count as a behind-the-scenes doc, it does adopt the sort of after-show format popularized by fan favorites like Talking Dead, and it does so quite well.
In its seven episodes, which range from 15 to 25 minutes in length, we get some pretty good insights into the making of the series and the thoughts that went into shaping it, and also get a peek at the bonds between its adorable adolescent cast members. Does it live up to the running audio commentary the series deserves? No. Would I still punch a baby for a full-length documentary about the making of Stranger Things 2? Indeed, I would.
But I’m really just thrilled to be getting any sort of bonus features at all for a series made exclusively for streaming. Aside from a 25-minute featurette for Sense8, I’m struggling to think of any other similar features. And that’s a shame. Because I’ve accepted the fact that discs are dying, but I just can’t come to terms with the fact that enriching behind-the-scenes materials could possibly die with them.
Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including
high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of
Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound
American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.