There's a reason creators The Duffer Brothers and distributors Netflix opted to brand the second season of Stranger Things as "Stranger Things 2," even though it's a continuation of a TV series and not a movie sequel. The Duffers, in keeping with their constant remixing of '80s motifs, built the next part of their story on many classic sequelization ideas. That means certain tropes recur but get even bigger. One of those, thanks to last season's breakout supporting character, was always going to be the Duffers trying to find a new Barb.
SPOILERS FOR ALL OF STRANGER THINGS 2 AHEAD
Barb, the straight-laced teen played by Shannon Purser, immediately captured the internet's collective imagination when she arrived in Season 1, thanks to her overall look and her sassy glare and the fact that she thought inviting a boy over to "study" meant actual studying. She's a riff on the '80s horror trope of the good kid who's unprepared for the monsters that are about to arrive, and as a result she became one of the Upside Down's first victims, though her specter still looms large over Season 2.
For Stranger Things 2, the Duffers obviously needed a new Barb, for storytelling purposes if not also for viral ones. This is a story about ordinary people caught in extraordinary situations, which means some of them are going to be very well prepared for what happens (Dustin) and others will be woefully ill-equipped.
Enter Bob, Joyce Byers' dorky boyfriend, played by '80s movie veteran Sean Astin.
Bob is never going to reach the viral Meme God levels that Barb did, in part because it's so easy to recognize Astin as an actor and in part because, well, nothing will ever truly beat Barb in that regard. In terms of the story of Stranger Things 2, though, he fills an intriguing and expanded version of the same role, which is in many ways encapsulated by this line from Chapter Six of the season:
“I always thought stuff like this happened in movies and comic books.”
When we first meet Bob, we aren't sure what to think, and we're not supposed to be sure. Joyce, who established herself throughout Hawkins last season as the weird poor lady who couldn't stop buying Christmas lights and had the "Zombie Boy" kid, suddenly has a boyfriend. How did she end up with a boyfriend? Where did he come from? Why didn't we meet him last season? Is he secretly a government agent just put there to keep an eye on Will? There's an element of honest paranoia in the first couple of episodes, because we, like Will, are suspicious of Bob.
Well, it turns out Bob is just a nice guy who's in way over his head.
Barb just wanted to be a good friend and look out for Nancy, and it ended up getting her killed. Bob just wants to be a good boyfriend and surrogate father to Will and Jonathan, and it sadly ends up getting him killed too. Barb's death was devastating in its own way, but in that classic sequel way, the Duffers created the same feeling with Bob and dialed it up to 11 (Get it? Because one of the key characters is named ... never mind ...).
Bob in the season's earliest episodes is a cipher, a character we're not sure we can trust. Then it becomes clear: He's crazy about Joyce and he loves driving Will around in his "Bobmobile" and he really just wants to be a good guy and eat balogna sandwiches with his lady friend. Then things start to happen around him, and he could either be bumbling and oblivious or get roped in. Barb never got to be roped in. Her first encounter with the weirdness in Hawkins, brought about by little more than a drop of blood, cost her. Bob, because he gets to be the Barb of the sequel, lasts for eight episodes.
He also gets to play an active role in Nancy's investigation, thanks to his proximity and his affinity for puzzles. Barb became the mystery in Season 1, but Bob gets to use his brain and his good-natured helpfulness to try and solve one. He ends up an indispensable part of the Hawkins Scooby Gang, if only for a little while, and as a result his death scene -- devoured by Demodogs as he fights to get the people he loves out of the lab -- is all the more potent.
You will not see as many memes about Bob as you did about Barb, in part because he's not as distinctive and in part because, in many ways, we know what to expect from Stranger Things now. In terms of 2's story, though, he did take over her place as the voice of innocence and reason in a world that just doesn't make sense, and he stole our hearts while doing it.