Review roundup: For Stranger Things Season 2, bigger is mostly better

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Mar 26, 2021, 10:00 AM EDT (Updated)

Season 2 of Stranger Things premieres October 27 on Netflix, and the first reviews are out. Overall, the reviews are positive and fairly complimentary. But they also hold a word of warning. 

Given the overwhelming popularity the show gained in its first season, can Season 2 live up to the hype? Critics weigh in on whether bigger is better and whether Stranger Things has held onto the magic that made it a hit in the first place.

Variety's Mo Ryan notes that the second season takes a while to get going. 

"There are missteps in the second season, many of them revolving around thin or unfortunate writing for some of the new characters. But once you get past the clunky first few installments — which largely restate much of what occurred last season and set up plot points that were easily inferred from the trailers — the drama’s momentum picks up noticeably. As fine as the show’s justly lauded young cast is, the adult actors — especially Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton and Joe Keery — anchor every psychological nuance with subtle skill and ease."

According to Collider's Allison Keene, "The new threat is an effectively spooky one, with Will again at the center of things. There are genuinely tense moments and a systemic expansion of that dark force’s reach into our world (I’m staying vague to avoid potential spoilers), and there are some refreshing practical effects scattered in among the CG. It is, once again, a puzzle to unlock, and many of the most satisfying moments come when our heroes start to put those pieces together. Some of those collaborations lead to fantastic new pairings, like Dustin and Steve’s unexpected alliance (those two might actually be the MVPs of the season), and some decent material finally for Lucas. And of course Dungeons and Dragons again proves to be an important roadmap into understanding new creatures of darkness."

For NPR's Linda Holmes, the second season struggles from some sequelitis, but ultimately comes around. "Nevertheless, it continues to be a show with an unmistakable style, a deft hand with mood and setting and especially music, and very clever cinematography. As I did with the first run, I gobbled all nine episodes in a sitting, despite quite specifically planning not to. Much like the novel The Hunger Games, Stranger Things has a way of placing a punch at the end of every chapter that compels just one more push forward (call it potato-chip TV). For guys who are insistent on treating their series like a film, they're actually very gifted at episodic structure in that sense. It's not perfect, but I bet you watch the whole thing."

Over at TVLine, Matt Mitovitch finds some of the plot decisions questionable, but positive overall. "That said, the goings-on in Hawkins snowball during the second half of the season to deliver a rather breathless series of nailbiters, as a decision made in private by one of the boys comes back to haunt everyone, a brand-new visual puzzle manifests itself inside the Byers home and harrowing measures are taken to rid the small Indiana town of a creeping threat. I’d argue that the climactic finale is superior to Season 1’s, as it finds a way to involve every pod of characters in extremely meaningful ways. The 10-minute epilogue that closes out Season 2 is a magical thing that I won’t spoil one tiny bit further, other than to say you should wipe any tears from your eyes in time to clearly view its very final seconds.

Polygon's Julia Alexander came down much the same, noting "Again, like Stranger Things, Stranger Things 2 is almost impossible not to fall in love with. The ‘80s nostalgia is back in full force (the local arcade plays an important role in the season) and the remarkable innocence that existed in that era protects the delicate characters that make it precious. This is a time when kids could ride their bikes through all hours of the night and disappear for an entire day without people worrying about what had happened to them."

For IndieWire's Ben Travers, "All that bigness is somewhat fitting: After all, 'bigger is better' is a time-honored rule for movie sequels, and 'Stranger Things' Season 2 wants you to think of it as a movie — all the way down to its creators’ preferred title, 'Stranger Things 2' (not 'Stranger Things' Season 2). Whatever you call it, '2' is another lovingly crafted extended ode to ’80s movies, as creators Matt and Ross Duffer infuse homages to 'Ghostbusters,' 'Gremlins,' 'Aliens,' and so much more into the mix. Nostalgia is alive and well for what seems like everyone’s favorite decade, and more locations, more special effects, and more action, make the new episodes feel (at least) movie-adjacent, if still very much a TV show."

Ultimately, USA Today's Kelly Lawler says, "Despite these faults, Stranger Things isn't so tired that the repetitiveness overpowers other strong elements. Season 2 is still a mostly satisfying binge-watch that makes good use of a talented multi-generational cast and an intriguing mythology. 'Stranger' is right there in the series' title, and it would be stronger by branching into strangeness in more than just its monsters."

From the sound of it, Season 2 of Stranger Things leaned into the "bigger is better" theory of sequels, with mostly favorable results. If you're looking for a good time binge-watch or a trip back to Hawkins with some well-loved characters, it looks like you'll be pleased overall.