STRANGER THINGS ’80S SPECIAL
Break out the value-pack Eggos and prepare to binge as the nostalgia-drenched Netflix fave returns. We chat with the kids and creators the Duffer Bros.
the ’80s-set show that came from nowhere to conquer the world, is back for a hotly anticipated second season. Richard Edwards gets the intel from the Upside Down
ou’re gonna fucking love season two!”
Stranger Things’s executive producer shawn levy assures SFX, speaking on the phone from his la office. “You can quote me on that if you want. trust me, i’m sitting here watching episodes, and i’m like, ‘oh shit, i think we did it!’”
if he’s right – and let’s admit it, he may be a little biased – millions of Stranger Things fans can breathe a collective sigh of relief. last July, the ’80s-set netflix series came from nowhere to become one of the most popular shows of the year, defying the seemingly set-in-stone law that to be successful, a movie or tv show must be based on an existing franchise or brand. as the show’s affectionate riffs on amblin movies, Dungeons & Dragons and stephen king novels tapped into a collective vein of nostalgia, the question wasn’t so much whether you’d watched it, as whether you’d binged it in one, two or three nights. within days of its launch, watercooler chat was dominated by talk of the upside Down, Demogorgons, and a little girl with cropped hair, psychic abilities and a susceptibility to nosebleeds. its child stars became regulars on red carpets. eggos, frozen waffles from america, suddenly became famous in the uk – where, as far as we’re aware, they’ve never even been available.
“i knew it was good, but we had no idea whether people would tune in,” recalls levy. “i remember as early as the day after launch, the volume of social media i started seeing was astonishing. within a week it felt like a wave, and within a month it felt like a tsunami. it feels like something that would only happen in the upside Down [the show’s scary parallel world], but it’s real life, and it’s thrilling!”
“we were just trying to tell a story that we knew we would want to watch,” says ross Duffer, who – along with his twin brother Matt – created the show. “we thought that it would appeal to people like us who were nostalgic for this type of storytelling, but i guess what surprised us the most was that it reached a much broader audience than that. for younger people who aren’t necessarily as nostalgic for this type of thing to embrace it like they have was a great surprise.” this being the 21st century, hits of Stranger
Things’ proportions traditionally require sequels. But how do you follow a once-in-adecade phenomenon like season one?
“as much as possible we’re trying to stay true to what we did in season one which was just tell stories that we think are cool,” admits Matt Duffer. “i guess the thing that we don’t have any more is the element of surprise. But the good news is this time we had a little bit more money from netflix to play with. we also know now that people respond to the show and there’s a relief in that.”
“any one of us who said it was nice but not daunting would be lying,” laughs levy. “it’s legitimately thrilling to work so hard on something that people like so much. it’s also intimidating as hell, because we want to satisfy the expectations and anticipation. But we don’t view this as season two. we view this as what we titled it: Stranger Things 2. it was always in
We're trying to stay true what we did in season one, which is just tell stories we think are cool
our minds as an eight-hour movie – this year it’s a nine-hour sequel.”
of course, some of the best sequels to ’80s classics – James cameron’s Aliens and
Terminator 2, we’re looking at you – took the “bigger is better” route to expanding their respective universes. and, given the sight of a giant spider-like creature in season two trailers and posters, the smart money would be on
Stranger Things following suit. “when there’s a sequel to a successful movie it tends to get bigger in scope and the stakes go up,” admits Matt, “so it was important to us that we up the ante a little bit with this season. James cameron is a master of the art of the sequel in that he doesn’t lose what made the first movie special, but he also pushes it in new directions and tries new things, so we kind of looked at his movies in terms of what to do. and then of course there’s lots of examples of what not to do in sequels!”
ross chips in, “we wanted to move away from that Home Alone 2 thing of, ‘everyone liked this and this and this, so let’s lean into that and just continue to sort of play those same notes over again.’”
even though a second season was by no means guaranteed when the first launched, the Duffers didn’t have to make everything up from scratch – indeed, chief Hopper leaving boxes of eleven’s beloved eggos in the woods, and young upside Down escapee will Byers coughing up a slug in the season one finale hinted things weren’t all tied up in a neat bow.
“we knew roughly where we wanted to go and we had some of the big ideas,” says ross, “but it was certainly a little vague coming into this. and once you start writing, it starts going in directions that you’re not expecting, because you can’t force certain characters to behave in a certain way. i think you can only prepare so much and the same goes for season three [the Duffers have since said they see the show as “a four-season thing and then out”]. we have big ideas of what we want to do [and] we know where we want to end up with it, but beyond that it’s going to take a lot of discussion.”
so what do we know about Stranger Things 2? as is the norm these days, secrets are wrapped up more securely than the uber-classified Hawkins national laboratory that was the source of most of the bother in season one. But we do know that it’s now one year later in Hawkins, indiana, with the retro clock wound forward to 1984.
“we couldn’t hide the time jump, because our kids unfortunately are ageing,” says Matt Duffer. “i mean, it’s good that they’re ageing – something would be very wrong if they weren’t! – but you have to take that into account in the narrative. it’s funny, though, that in the story they were normal kids in season one and then they go through this extraordinary thing that’s changed them. in a way that’s also happened in their real lives, because they were very real kids last year and they went through an extraordinary change when the show came out. now they’re these little celebrities.”
it’s also not a massive leap to say that eleven is back (not least because we’ve interviewed star Millie Bobby Brown), despite disappearing when she destroyed the Demogorgon at the end of season one, and that will’s extended stay in the upside Down has had lasting effects.
“we wanted to treat this as realistically as possible in terms of how these characters would respond to something as traumatic as the events in season one,” explains ross. “what we came to is that there would be this desperate desire for things to return to normal, but they wouldn’t necessarily be dealing with these events. will’s back but he’s not doing so well – these visions that he’s having in the trailer, are they real or are they in his head, are they flashbacks, and if they are real what do they mean? that is the jumping-off point for the season.”
Meanwhile, newcomers to Hawkins include a love interest for will’s mum Joyce (winona ryder) in the form of Bob (played, appropriately, by an actual real-life goonie, sean astin), Aliens slimeball Paul reiser as new Hawkins lab head Dr owens, and Max (sadie sink), a new girl who joins Mike, lucas, will and Dustin’s gang. the Duffers say a new perspective was essential.
“You lose a little bit of that ordinary-meetsthe-extraordinary because these kids have already seen the extraordinary,” explains ross. “that is one reason we’ve brought in new
characters. we wanted to introduce new people to this crazy world and see their eyes go wide. there’s something very satisfying in doing that.” the Duffers were born the same year
Stranger Things 2 is set, so their knowledge of the era was fuelled instead by being very loyal customers of their local video library. “for me the ’80s are a nostalgia trip, for them it’s a film nostalgia trip,” says the slightly older levy. “the Duffers are self-described film nerds, and the ’80s are the setting of all their favourite films.”
But for all its ’80s literacy and a tarantinolike pilfering of themes from John carpenter, steven spielberg and beyond, it’s not trying to be a reference-heavy spoof. “You can’t just link a bunch of movie references together and tell a story, it doesn’t work,” says Matt. “More than anything we’re trying to recapture the spirit of those movies and the feeling that we had when we watched them.”
“we didn’t want to make the period stuff too in your face,” adds ross. “of course, we wanted certain
The jumping-off point for this season is Will's vision - are they real or just in his head?
We don't want you to feel like this is some magical version of the '80s - this is what it really felt like
toys or whatnot featured that we knew would be nostalgic like the Millennium falcon, but we wanted you to feel like this isn’t some magical version of the ’80s – this is what it really felt like.” so don’t read too much into the fact that
Stranger Things has been for actors of a certain ’80s vintage as Game
Of Thrones has been for British thesps – having ryder and Matthew Modine in season one, and astin and reiser in season two isn’t just homage.
“even with winona it was always less about who was a star back in the ’80s,” says ross. “it’s more about what actor out there do i want to see more of? that’s how we cast winona – we grew up huge fans, and we just felt like she was being underutilised by the industry. with reiser, we were looking for someone to run the lab, we wanted him to have a very different feel than Modine did, almost as opposite as you could get. we said we needed someone charismatic, someone that puts you at ease, but also has some edge that maybe this guy is not a good guy. all these discussions led us back to reiser, so we just started talking about him as Dr reiser, and then eventually we were just like, ‘why don’t we just cast Paul reiser!’”
it’s perhaps ironic that Stranger Things, a show so steeped in ’80s culture, should have been consumed in such a 21st century way – having every episode drop in one bingeable go is totally alien to how Mike, lucas, Dustin and will would have dutifully tuned in every week for the next (non-serialised, of course) instalment of the A-Team or Knight Rider.
“i guess we wrote it and tried to structure it as much as possible like a big eight-hour movie,” explains Matt. “But the cool thing about netflix is you don’t have to do it [in one go]. You could spread it out and do one episode a week – though i think we try to make it as hard as possible
After his time in the Upside Down, is Will feeling okay?
Have you tried turning it off and on again? Hurry, everyone! Escape to Witch Mountain! The Duffers grew up on a steady diet of ’80s movies.
How’s Eleven been getting on in the Upside Down?
“Stop talking about Mean Girls! Have you never seen Heathers?” Jonathan Byers and Nancy Wheeler also return. Chief Hopper was distraught he’d run out of Eggos.