A Puzzling Misstep: A Review of “Stranger Things 2”

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Attributing any more praise to the excellent first season of Netflix’s Stranger Things is basically impossible for me. When I originally wrote about it late last summer — following a binge in which I devoured it in its entirety within a 24-hour period — I declared the show “the best television [I’d] watched all year.” Since, I’ve only grown to better appreciate and love that original season over re-watches and discussions, but even more so now in light of the very recent release of its lackluster follow-up. While the new, monstrously-anticipated sequel is dubbed Stranger Things 2, perhaps a more accurate title would be Stranger Things 1.5.

To be fair, I still managed to consume Stranger Things 1.5’s Stranger Things 2’s nine episodes within a day, and I was never disinterested in seeing it through to its underwhelming conclusion. Perhaps my increasing inclination to browse social media during the season’s second half is most succinctly indicative of my feelings on Stranger Things 2 as a whole. The first half is fine, good even, effectively unfolding a genuinely interesting narrative over its first few episodes with the same lovable cast as before, adding a number of potentially engaging side characters into the mix at the start.

The latter episodes, however, have nearly soured me on the entire experience. The original season was almost entirely derivative of fan-favorite 80s films to its own benefit. Being 80s kids themselves, The Duffer Brothers plucked out the best concepts and characters ranging from King’s horror novels to Carpenter’s sci-fi flicks to Hughes’ teen movies, all in order to construct their own story that’s nearly on par with the best the 80s had to offer. In comparison, Stranger Things 2 outright fails in this regard, barely becoming more than just a monotonous retread of its predecessor without building upon its countless inspirations.

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Between Rock and an Indie Place: “Special Moment” by Post Animal

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In light of season 2 of Stranger Things coming out this Friday, October 27th, I found it absolutely necessary to write a post about a new single from one of Chicago’s up-and-coming indie rock bands, Post Animal. For those of you who don’t know, a guitarist in the band, Joe Keery, stars as Steve Harrington in the enormously popular Netflix sci-fi drama. In a RedEye Chicago article, reporter Josh Terry characterizes the role as “one of the best characters on the show who could’ve fallen straight into the ‘80s douchebag, big-haired popular kid archetype, but manages by the end of the series to be one of the most likable figures.”

The thing that I admire about Post Animal is their ability to blend three distinct genres to create a sound so unique but totally awesome at the same time: heavy metal, psychedelic pop, and good ol’ fashion rock ‘n’ roll. This experimental type of music mirrors a similar level of creativity seen in other Chicago indie rock bands such as Whitney, The Walters (R.I.P), and Twin Peaks.

In addition, the fullness of their sound blew me away when I saw them open for The Walters this summer. From what I have experienced, having six or seven guys on stage at a time — at least three of them with electric guitars, mind you, all playing with their amps cranked past maximum — is generally rare in today’s indie rock scene.

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I Love The 80s: A Review of “Stranger Things”

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You’ve likely already noticed, but the 2010s have somewhat become a 2.0 update of the 1980s — at least in terms of our media. In video games, retro-style 8-and-16-bit graphics are commonplace. In film and television, our most cherished childhood properties are being rebooted seemingly every other week. Even many of today’s biggest pop stars have been modernizing the sounds of some of the biggest hits of the 80s in order to form their latest singles (looking at you Carly Rae Jepsen).

In Netflix’s latest phenomenon, Stranger Things, created by brothers Matt and Ross Duffer (credited as “The Duffer Brothers”), it’s The Duffer Brothers’ obvious obsession and adoration with 80s media that is the backbone to what is the best television I’ve watched all year.

Stranger Things is more or less an amalgamation of all the classic horror/sci-fi/family films of the early 80s. There’s a competent mix of genre tropes and direct allusions to the works of Stephen King, Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, and other visionaries of the time that the Duffer Brothers clearly grew up admiring. There’re components of films like Alien, E.T., Stand By Me, and countless others. And although there’s fairly little that’s truly unique here, the eight episodes jaunt along at a quick pace, making for an entirely enjoyable series that’s perfect for binge-watching over the course of a couple days (or less than 24 hours, which I did).

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