I realize there are much more important things to mediate on, but let’s talk about “Stranger Things 2.” In suggesting as much I realize that I’m sort of being a jerk simply by acknowledging that I had the power — literally — to do so while half a million of us could not due to this week’s storm. While I was reliving another era by way of pop nostalgia, many were reliving the Ice Storm of ‘98 by way of a nearly statewide power outage.
Spoilers aside, I reluctantly proclaim that I found “Stranger Things 2” confused, cluttered, and generally unlikeable. There are things I have enjoyed about it but overall, by the end, I found myself just wanting it to be over.
Much of the return felt forced and overstuffed and this all was disappointing for one of the many who couldn’t wait for the show to reunite is with our favorite characters and, most importantly, the chemistry we enjoy bearing witness to.
The first season of “Stranger Things” was a show that capitalized on taking pieces of ‘80s pop culture — movies, music and more — and used it as the backdrop for a handful of adorable Goonies-esque kids to adventure around in. It worked most largely with Millennials because in a way the show’s memory of the ‘80s is exactly that — it’s more memory and the feelings associated with nostalgia for the decade than the realities of the decade itself.
In this way, it triggers a warm and often false nostalgia in its viewers because most are very distantly connected to the decade it mimics. I imagine those who actually went through the decade would find much of its representation annoying in the places where it was exaggerated and off base, the same way we Mainers feel about most of not all fake Maine accents in movies.
This go-round is less in every way. The practical effects were traded in for more monsters, this time all feeling computer generated. The characters have all found separate lives — for most of them some sort of darkness — depriving of the show the chemistry we had come to enjoy. We are introduced to at least eight new characters, none of which have any payoff. And without all of this, we’re left with overcompensation by way of an over abundance of even blunter nods to the ‘80s.
This season packs in ‘80s references with the same cheap feverishness that Christian rock name drops Jesus and it becomes so sloppy that it supplants much of the logic of the show. A character revealed to be an amateur expert in reptiles feeds his new tiny slimy friend candy bars? That doesn’t make any sense, unless you account for the fact that it creates a dynamic pulled in equal parts from the “Goonies” and “ET.”
And maybe the references were just as dumb and blatant this first go-round though they were buttressed by enough endearing elements to make them entertaining or at least mute how obvious they were. I am still not sure.
But between the “Return of the Living Dead” style punks with no payoff to the Rob Lowe clone of a bully with no payoff, the viewer finds themselves embarrassed by the level of cultural pandering taking place throughout its nine episodes.
And I thought about this cheapening on and off through a realization I had when I first saw the promotional images for the then forthcoming season — the protagonists standing in Ghostbusters costume on a mid-’80s Halloween night.
I then thought about the fact that, at 90 million, there hasn’t been a generational cohort our size since the Boomers and, as such, we own the biggest pop cultural market share. This means “Stranger Things”-like properties — and stories and franchises that satisfy our various longings and fetishes — will be the norm for years to come and that will probably be super annoying for those older than us, and those younger than us, who don’t share the exact frames of reference by which our tastes are formed and dictated.
“Star Wars” never went away because the Boomers never stopped owning the majority of the means of production and consumption. Now that we millennials are taking over that market share, prepare yourself for living captive to another macro generation’s perspective and preference — forever.
We are in for a tedious couple of decades.
Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was a teenager. He’s an owner-partner of a Portland-based content production company and lives with his family, dogs and garden in Westbrook.