The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - TELEVISION & RADIO -

ONE of the great­est plea­sures of Stranger Things when it first ap­peared last year was its sheer sur­prise. Per­haps the most sur­pris­ing achieve­ment, though, was how its cre­ators, The Duf­fer Brothers, man­aged to make some­thing so oddly fresh by un­am­bigu­ously patch­ing to­gether a bunch of old stuff.

Fa­mously, set in a small Amer­i­can town in 1983, where a 12-year-old boy goes miss­ing, sucked into a sticky nether di­men­sion thanks to the ac­tiv­i­ties of a shady gov­ern­ment lab, Stranger Things mounted a ram raid on a gen­er­a­tion’s mem­ory of the Amer­i­can pop that mat­tered most back then, ex­plic­itly ref­er­enc­ing and re­play­ing Spiel­berg movies and Stephen King nov­els, while chuck­ing in ev­ery­thing from John Hughes to John Car­pen­ter via David Cro­nen­berg.

That col­lage aes­thetic is very now. Stranger Things is the ul­ti­mate TV ex­pres­sion of the same 21st-cen­tury fan spirit that im­pels in­ven­tive souls to spend hours slav­ing over Pho­to­shop de­sign­ing ma­ni­a­cally retro movie posters and fake VHS boxes, care­fully aged with dig­i­tal dirt to look like arte­facts from the ana­logue age. If it were sim­ply an ex­er­cise in nos­tal­gic style, how­ever, it would hardly be worth the ef­fort. But the Duf­fers didn’t just repli­cate the sur­face: they caught the soul of the pe­riod pieces they cher­ished – ex­cel­lent sto­ry­telling, a sense of ad­ven­ture and spooky fun, lay­ered with emo­tion about wounded char­ac­ters try­ing to fig­ure their lives out. This is what made it a fam­ily hit: par­ents re­mem­ber­ing watch­ing sto­ries like this as kids; chil­dren won­der­ing why they haven’t seen sto­ries like this on TV to­day. The sec­ond se­ries can never have that sur­prise. But Stranger Things 2 is a near-per­fect fol­low-up: it of­fers more of the same, but more, and plunges deeper, of­fer­ing new an­gles on what you thought you knew. Like all 1980s se­quels, it seeks to “go big­ger”, open­ing the story out, bring­ing in new char­ac­ters, not al­ways en­tirely con­vinc­ingly, or wel­come. But, more to the point, it can­nily sug­gests what some un­made se­quels might have been like. We never got to see ET II, or Close En­coun­ters Of The Fourth Kind, but those char­ac­ters would have been left changed, even trau­ma­tised, which is ex­actly how we find the gang here.

Par­tic­u­larly trou­bled is young Will (Noah Sch­napp), back from “The Up­side Down”, but haunted by it, see­ing it break­ing through into re­al­ity in Love­craftian apoc­a­lyp­tic vi­sions. The lost boy last year – es­sen­tially, a miss­ing cen­tre – this se­ries gives Sch­napp more to do, and he re­sponds with a touch­ing per­for­mance. Mean­while, as his mother, Joyce, Wi­nona Ry­der is even bet­ter, more Wi­nona than last time, form­ing a dou­ble whammy 1980s jolt with new boyfriend Bob, played by your ac­tual Goonie, Sean Astin. Around them, more movie echoes re­sound, in­clud­ing bits from Alien to The Shin­ing.

The story builds slowly, but is al­ways fun, and ad­dic­tive. The real peril will be when Stranger Things re­turns for a third se­ries, and those lit­tle kids be­gin to grow up. For now, as Dustin and the rest ride their bikes to the video ar­cade, and some­thing nasty in­fests the pump­kin patch, it’s just a delight to sink back into. Per­fect es­capism, and a charm for dark win­ter nights.

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