★★★★☆

Since the release of its first season in the summer of 2016, Netflix’s “Stranger Things” has received immense praise, winning five Emmy awards. In creating the show, filmmakers Matt and Ross Duffer, professionally known as the Duffer Brothers, wanted to pay homage to the pop culture of the 1980s; many describe the hit series as a cross between ’80s hits “The Goonies” and “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.” The much-anticipated second season, released Oct. 27, builds upon the horror and thrill of the first season, exceeding fans’ highest expectations.

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The second season of “Stranger Things” brings viewers back to Hawkins, Ind. in 1984, a little more than a year after the events of the first season. The effects of the Upside Down alternate dimension on the young Will Byers, played by Noah Schnapp, have not gone away, and his mother, Joyce, played by Winona Ryder, desperately attempts to help him return to normalcy.

The traumatic events of the first season also have lasting impacts on the other boys — Dustin, played by Gaten Matarazzo, Lucas, played by Caleb McLaughlin, and, in particular, Mike, played by rising young actor Finn Wolfhard. Mike was the closest to Eleven, played by Millie Bobby Brown, a mysterious girl with psychokinetic abilities, and her unexplained disappearance leaves him tormented.

Sudden crop failures and Will’s strange behavior make it apparent that the creatures from the Upside Down are still very much alive. What ensues is the ensemble, including Hopper, the chief of Hawkins’ police department, played by David Harbour, and the older kids — Nancy, played by Natalia Dyer, Jonathan, played by Charlie Heaton, and Steve, played by Joe Keery — working together to understand the new unknown evil in town that seems even stronger than the monster Demogorgon that terrorized Hawkins in the first season.

The two main storylines of the second season center on Will and Eleven. Will’s relationship to the creatures in the Upside Down is still not fully understood, and Eleven’s mysterious past has yet to be explained.

Although these storylines drive the plot, the other characters also have their moments to shine. In season one, the different groups of characters — the kids, Mike, Will, Dustin, Lucas and Eleven, the teenagers, Nancy, Jonathan and Steve, and the adults, Joyce and Hopper — rarely crossed paths.

However, in season two, these lines are broken down; each person, no matter what age, plays a necessary and equal role in the fight against evil.
The impressive ensemble expands this season, including four new characters: Kali, played by Linnea Berthelsen, Max, played by Sadie Sink, Billy, played by Dacre Montgomery, and Bob, played by Sean Astin.

Kali, the leader of a criminal gang in Illinois, is introduced in the opening scene of the first episode. Although she does not live in Hawkins, a tattoo on her wrist that reads “008” indicates a clear connection to Eleven and her past at Hawkins Laboratory. Max and Billy are stepsiblings with a rocky relationship who move to Hawkins and enroll in the school. Max catches the eyes of Dustin and Lucas, and the boys try to convince her to join their group of outcasts. Billy’s unpredictable behavior and his quest to become the new king of the school cause trouble with Steve.

Finally, Bob, Joyce’s new boyfriend, is a welcome addition, providing much of the comic relief in the series. He does not know the truth about Will, and his carefree attitude only further underscores the evil that the other characters cannot escape. Astin also played one of the children in “The Goonies,” a clear tribute to the ’80s blockbusters that inspired the show.

The Duffer Brothers have every detail down to a tee with the new season of their hit show. Every choice is spot-on, from the characters’ costumes to the Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale lawn signs that line the streets. This season takes place around the time of Halloween, so the costumes also reflect the times. With the release of “Ghostbusters” in early 1984, it makes perfect sense that the boys, being the science fiction lovers that they are, would recreate the uniforms and equipment.

The show’s ’80s-based musical soundtrack further grounds the audience in the past. Devo’s “Whip It,” the Scorpions’ “Rock You Like A Hurricane” and Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” are just a sampling of the hits. It would not be the ’80s without synthesizers, so much of the show’s original score, including its iconic theme by composers Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, makes extensive use of them.

“Stranger Things” has picked up such a large following because it takes what is familiar and flips it upside down. Many of the conventions that we see in ’80s movies — the oblivious parent, the hostile alien and the dangers of suburbia — are inverted. The show’s second season heightens the horror, and the threat of the unknown remains ever-present. Though the characters try to lead normal lives, it is only a matter of time before they realize that evil is still within Hawkins and they must reckon with the consequences.

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