The phrase is “steal from the best and make it your own,” and that’s what the Duffer Brothers did with. Rather than remake classic films for their Netflix anthology, Matt and Ross took nods from the childhood camaraderie of The Goonies, the horror element of Stephen King, and the adventuring spirit of Steven Spielberg. The end result was a story set in the 1980s about a group of kids who stumble onto a terrifying mystery involving a secret government plot, a parallel world housing a child-eating monstrosity, and a special young girl named for the number 11 tattooed on her arm.
According to a recent report, Stranger Things performed incredibly well for the streaming service. It outshone Daredevil Season 2, Jessica Jones, House of Cards Season 4, and Making a Murderer, all while amassing its own diehard fan base driving the Internet chatter about theories and #JusticeForBarb. So it makes sense that Netflix would want to stoke this fire through Season 2—and it will. I’m just trying to figure out why I’m not yet on board with this idea.
The news that Stranger Things will live to fight the demogorgon another day should excite me, right? The child actors were great. The adult actors were solid. Fantasy, horror, mystery, and a Winona Ryder comeback? Plus, now I know we’ll find out what the ripple effects were in the town of Hawkins, how Barb’s family reacts to their missing daughter, what fate befell Police Chief Jim Hopper, and the new threat that came out of Will’s mouth and escaped down the drain.
The problem is that the very idea of a Season 2 as a continuation to Season 1 seems counterintuitive to everything Stranger Things stood for. It’s laid out in the Duffers’ TV diary published by EW:
We were pretty ordinary kids growing up in the suburbs of North Carolina, and when we watched these films and read these books, it made us feel like our rather normal lives had the potential for adventure. Maybe tomorrow we would find a treasure map in the attic, or maybe one of us would vanish into the television screen, or maybe there was a clown in that sewer grate down the street. The feeling was powerful and inspiring. There was nothing better. We wanted to capture that feeling again with Stranger Things.
It’s that sense of awe, horror, and adventure that prompted them to create their own cinematic homage (not remake) to these works. Season 2, which will use the same characters to expand the same story, is however an effort to remake the success of the first season. Perhaps that’s not what’s in the story’s best interest.
“People have forgotten how to tell a story. Stories don’t have a middle or an end anymore. They usually have a beginning that never stops beginning.” Do you know who said that? Spielberg, one of the filmmakers the Duffers tapped for their inspiration board. Stranger Things told a great story, even if there are those who wish that end would continue, but it was most successful in how well it contained that story while also igniting passionate theories from fans. Now that we’ll actually get those answers in Season 2, it makes that original sense of wonder no longer as wondrous.
For better or worse, the second season is already at a disadvantage because comparisons will of course be made to the first. True Detective and Mr. Robot are examples of what can happen to shows pre- and post-renewal. While their dip in quality cannot be ignored, creators do have a much longer timeframe in the beginning to perfect their stories in the pitching process than in between seasons. With renewals, the network is on the sidelines counting down to the first day of filming and the premiere as fans rabidly await news.
This was HBO’s defense for the lackluster second season of True Detective. Like Stranger Things, that too was pegged as a one-off that expanded after raking in the ratings. Programming president Michael Lombardo explained he essentially set up creator Nic Pizzolatto to fail: “To deliver, in a very short timeframe, something that became very challenging to deliver. That’s not what that show is.”
The need for a faster turnaround is connected to the fans and their expectations. Networks understandably want to capitalize on viewer interest, sometimes even if sooner means lesser quality. During his publicized rant, Pizzolatto made a good point: “I don’t think you can create effectively toward expectation. I’m not in the service business.” In a way, Mr. Robot, Stranger Things, and True Detective no longer belong to their creators, because fans bought up stock and use the Internet to lay out what they want from their investments–and often aren’t quiet about it.
That isn’t to say Stranger Things will falter in Season 2, but now the pressure to satisfy within the time constraints of production is on. The Duffers at least claim to have been thinking about some sort of continuation since the very beginning of the show, but they already promised to address the “justice for Barb” campaign, noting how people became “very frustrated” over the town’s lack of reaction to her disappearance.
Some fans have good intentions, but it’s a complicated thing to take on fan advice for a series. If you look at shows like Supernatural and The 100, both of which hit roadblocks with fans over poor LGBT representation, that call for diversity on TV should not be ignored. Then there are shows like Heroes, which illustrates the pitfalls of fan demands: NBC wouldn’t allow popular characters to be killed off, and nixed the creator’s anthology concept. That killed the vision, which is what first drew viewers in.
Stranger Things Season 1 will always be an anomaly. At a time of remakes, movie-to-TV adaptations, the “anthology as a mask for more seasons” trend (not to mention tyrannical fans), this story came along and both tapped into the nostalgia factor while creating something new and exciting in the process. As the Duffers hunker down and craft Season 2, we can only hope that they board themselves up in their own secret fort in the middle of the Upside Down, away from pressures that seek to break in, and stay true to what made this show so great.