Sec­ond in­stal­ment even stranger for po­lice chief

Har­bour shares thoughts on his char­ac­ter’s heroic turn


Even the ti­tle is enig­matic. Stranger Things could mean so many things: the re­cent ex­treme weather; Wash­ing­ton pol­i­tics; fad recipes for kale.

Nearly ev­ery­one knows about Stranger Things. But who can ex­plain what this enig­matic scifi-hor­ror se­ries is re­ally about?

The sec­ond sea­son of Stranger Things — all nine episodes’ worth — will be re­leased by Net­flix on Friday, with much an­tic­i­pa­tion. And the many in­gre­di­ents that made the se­ries an in­stant sen­sa­tion with its de­but in July 2016 re­main in ev­i­dence: icky mon­sters and an al­ter­nate reality, tech­nol­ogy gone wild amid govern­ment mis­chief, child­hood in­no­cence and teenage pas­sions, the state of adult­hood with its pres­sures and pit­falls, and all of it viewed through the soft-fo­cus rear-view mir­ror of nos­tal­gia (the se­ries takes place in a small In­di­ana town in the 1980s). It’s a mas­ter­ful cre­ation by the some­what enig­mat­i­cally dubbed Duf­fer Broth­ers.

Stranger Things has been rightly saluted for its youth­ful sen­si­bil­ity. It “gets” kids like few other se­ries do. And it has got­ten ex­tra­or­di­nary young ac­tors to play them, both among the pre­teens, such as lisp­ing Dustin (played by Gaten Matarazzo) and psy­choki­net­i­cally en­abled Eleven (Mil­lie Bobby Brown), as well as among the teens, who in­clude high school love­birds Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Steve (Joe Keery).

As for the adults, Wi­nona Ry­der is im­pres­sive as sin­gle mother Joyce whose 12-year-old son, Will (Noah Sch­napp), van­ished in the se­ries pre­miere af­ter en­coun­ter­ing a monster from the Up­side Down other world.

It fell to Jim Hop­per, chief of the Hawkins Po­lice Depart­ment, to lead the of­fi­cial search for Will — a par­tic­u­larly fraught mis­sion for Hop­per af­ter hav­ing lost his own daugh­ter to can­cer some years ear­lier, a trauma that plunged him into al­co­holic de­spair.

As played by David Har­bour, Hop­per in the first sea­son was a testy, emo­tion­ally ab­sent fa­ther fig­ure for the whole community who nonethe­less rose to the oc­ca­sion — and, much to viewers’ sur­prise, be­came a fan favourite.

“Some­thing we tend to for­get in sto­ry­telling is that a char­ac­ter doesn’t have to be lik­able right from the get-go,” says Har­bour. “You don’t have to like him, you don’t have to feel af­fec­tion, but you do have to pay at­ten­tion to him. Hop­per gets your at­ten­tion, even with­out au­to­mat­i­cally get­ting your af­fec­tion.

“That makes for such a deeper re­la­tion­ship when you have mixed feel­ings about him.”

Har­bour says from the first script for Stranger Things he de­tected in Hop­per the by­gone flawed he­roes from films rang­ing from The French Con­nec­tion and The Con­ver­sa­tion to the In­di­ana Jones films and Jaws, with its be­lea­guered po­lice chief played by Roy Schei­der.

“He’s a cop who works at the beach, but he’s afraid of the water,” says Har­bour, “so you KNOW that he’s gonna have to go into that water. In the same way, Hop­per is a cop who can’t stand chil­dren af­ter los­ing his daugh­ter, so you know he’s gonna have to go save the kids — and it’s gonna be the tough­est thing he ever did.”

Har­bour thinks his char­ac­ter’s gruff edge serves the show not only on-cam­era but be­hind the scenes in con­nect­ing with his young cast mates.

“I main­tain a lit­tle bit of that dis­tance with th­ese kids be­cause I care about them so much,” he says. “I feel their tal­ent and in­tel­li­gence, and I’m very pro­tec­tive of them: ‘All right, I know ev­ery­body thinks you’re great, but let’s set­tle down and get to work.’ And in re­turn, they have a spon­tane­ity and joy that’s in­fec­tious.”

How­ever much he sa­vored the dra­matic pos­si­bil­i­ties for Hop­per when he signed up, Har­bour could have had no inkling of the cul­tural im­pact Stranger Things would have (“I was com­pletely shocked,” he says). He re­mains at a loss even now to ex­plain what for him, too, re­mains some­what of an enigma.

“It’s hard to put into words what specif­i­cally this show is,” he says, “or to char­ac­ter­ize what’s so good about it. At the end of the day, I think the Duf­fers are just re­ally good sto­ry­tellers.”

Our show is earnest where a lot of stuff nowa­days is kind of clever and jaded. david Har­bour


David Har­bour, left, and Wi­nona Ry­der in a scene from Stranger Things, pre­mier­ing its sec­ond sea­son on Friday.

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