“The Golden Age of TV” has become a cliché: It should almost go without saying that the TV we get in 2017 has a depth and breadth that previous eras just can’t match. And 2017 in particular could very well surpass recent history as well, given newcomers like The Handmaid’s Tale and Star Trek: Discovery joined our DVRs alongside new seasons of favorites like fargo and Twin Peaks.
In a strong year where a great spin-off of an all-time show show brings back its perfect villain and today’s most hyped show does amazing things with freakin’ dragons, it says something that’s the most fun I’ve had watching TV in 2017 happened in the middle three hours of Weird stuff season two.
The horror returns
Weird stuff has always been an unabashed descendant of two 80s Steves: Spielberg and King. Season one captured the zeitgeist in part because it balanced those two impulses so well. We might like to think of Mike and Eleven first meeting in a blanket fort, but the series started off with a scary 10-minute opening (involving a poor scientist in the Hawkins lab and Will’s first meeting) and had look-a-way scenes like bullies. threatening to stab Mike.
The opening trio of S2 episodes leans toward the lovable Spielberg adventures of yesteryear. The kids have to find out who knocked down Dustin’s Dig Dug to score; Jonathan cautiously ventures into high school social circles (presumably for a glimpse of Nancy). But when we last left our Hawkins heroes, Dustin had unleashed an alien, Eleven finally had enough of living in secret, and some sort of reverse force of darkness descended on Will. This mid season chunk brings comfort Weird stuff tonally back to the King-iverse.
It starts with Will’s predicament. Some sort of Upside Down parasitic creature has inhabited his body in ways that complicate his memory and ability to communicate. Each creature can essentially see what the other is doing and listen to thoughts, but only the inverted darkness monster seems to be able to manipulate the other. When Joyce tries to treat her son like he’s sick by giving him a warm bath, things get wonderfully creepy: “He likes cold,” says a voice that’s only in sound.
There are other great bits Weird stuff It remains strange here: Nancy and Jonathan call a meeting with Barb’s parents in a public park, seemingly knowing that the… Pleasantville-style lab employees posing as civilians would be ready to detain them. Dustin’s mom’s cat meets a fate that may have been popularized in the ’80s by alf, not Annie Wilkes or others in that lot. Hopper begins to parade around the Upside Down again. And Joyce Byers’ house is once again covered in cryptic clutter as she searches for the message her son is trying to convey. With a cliffhanger in episode six to accentuate it, Weird stuff’ returning to its terror roots just makes this the most compelling episodes yet.
Still the fun is
Of course, it can’t all be doom and gloom – again, tonal balance proved vital to S1. So in this middle part of S2, the writer’s room unleashes some old-fashioned (and effective) TV tricks to keep things light even as the darkness deepens.
Most notably, new characters in this universe respond to metacomments when they finally come face-to-face with the reality of S1. The boys have kept Max in the dark about the source of Will’s idiosyncrasy the whole time, so when Lucas decides he has to tell Max to enlist her help, she sees it as a desperate attempt to win her affection.
What do you think, Lucas asks. Max then speaks on behalf of her and the show’s critics, “I liked it, I just thought it was a little distracting in parts,” she says. “I wish it had more originality.”
The same technique is applied to eye-opening moments for Bob and ‘investigative journalist’ Murray (Brett Gelman). Bob the Brain has a penchant for puzzles and he’s able to distract Will’s drawings… forcing Joyce to introduce the family’s recent history earlier than she’d like. Soon, Bob helps her dig Hopper out of another dimension/ditch and is rushed to a top-secret hospital facility. “I thought things like this only happened in movies and comic books,” he says. “Not at Hawkins, and not to you.”
Murray’s turn lightens up a bit as he helps a desperate Nancy and Jonathan devise a plan to spread the word about Barb and Hawkins Lab, hopefully causing a stir that will take them out. The two eventually have to spend the night, but insist on separate beds. “Quarrel of lovers?” asks Murray. “You told me a lot of shockers today, but that, that’s the first lie – you’re young, attractive, you have chemistry and most of all, a shared trauma.”
The funniest sequence in these standout episodes comes from arguably the oldest trick in the TV playbook: getting your most popular, yet opposing characters together in some way. David Simon’s shows excelled at this (how on earth does McNulty get shopping with Omar?), as did You better call Saul (Mike and Jimmy dissect moments to make them special every time). So when Dustin can’t find reinforcements in his quest to track down and face Dart – Nancy and Jonathan left town, Lucas had to catch up to Max, Will and Mike are in the facilities of the Hawkins’ Lab – he stumbles upon a young man with a broken heart also knocked on the door of the Wheelers.
I would personally watch an entire 50 minute show from Dustin, uber-nerd tween, and high school heartthrob Steve, walk the train tracks and discuss life. For example, how do you know if a girl likes you?
Steve: “It’s like electricity before the storm…”
Dustin: “Oh, you mean an electromagnetic field…”
Steve: “No, no no, not like that.”
The two exchange hair secrets (“When it’s damp – not wet, damp – do the Farrah Fawcett spray four times”) as they drop chunks of raw meat to set the stage for the Pièce de Résistance series of this middle stage of The season .
Saddened after Nancy seemingly dropped him and still puzzling bad, Billy puts him in front of the varsity, Steve still has it in him. -institution.
The lighting and score work perfectly, and there’s a fog hanging over the junkyard just to add to the tension. Things seem unavoidable for a few moments as Dart appears to bring reinforcements forcing Steve to rely on every bit of acrobatics he has. But just as he and the kids manage to sneak into an increasingly vulnerable-looking bus, the Demogorgonians’ heads seem to come in from every opening, but the roar stops. Lucas breaks the silence.
“Steve scared them off,” Dustin insists.
“No, really not,” Steve says honestly. “They’re going somewhere.”
in one way or another, Stranger Things 2 has kept Eleven and Mike separated for more than half of the season, and it’s yet to unleash a scenario where all three facets of Hawkins heroes – the core kids, the Nancy-Jonathan-Steve age group, then Joyce and Hopper – work together toward something up. Big events just should on the horizon have been seen how episode six ends: Will’s “true sight” seemed to be used against humanity, Murray has dispatched the tapes that will topple Hawkins Labs (or at least bring unwanted attention) and that herd of baby- demogorgonen left the confrontation with Steve to go somewhere. It certainly doesn’t look like Joyce, Will, Mike, Hopper, and Bob want to stay in that lab for very long.
But almost no matter what comes or how good Stranger Things 2 may or may not hold the landing, this three-episode season two heart is making this go down as a sequel that falls squarely on the “success” half of the spectrum. Now, time to go back to episode seven, which, for some reason, strangely… a what everyone keeps asking about first.