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In Season Two, 'Stranger Things' Offers More Scares And The Same Quirky Quartet Of Nerds


Fans of the Netflix TV show "Stranger Things" have waited more than a year for new episodes. The series was one of summer 2016's surprise hits. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says the show's second season which debuts today sneaks up on viewers just like the last time.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: You'd think after defeating a vicious monster from an alternate dimension called the Upside Down, the middle school kids at the heart of Netflix's "Stranger Things" would be feeling pretty good. But as the second season opens, it's October 1984, about a year since the events of the first season. And the quirky quartet of nerds from fictional Hawkins, Ind., can't agree on anything, not even which Ghostbuster they're dressed as for Halloween.

Lucas, the group's only black kid, says he's dressed as Bill Murray's character, Peter Venkman. But Mike says Lucas should be Ernie Hudson's character, Winston.


FINN WOLFHARD: (As Mike) What's wrong with Winston?

CALEB MCLAUGHLIN: (As Lucas) What's wrong with Winston? He joined the team super late. He's not funny. And he's not even a scientist.

WOLFHARD: (As Mike) Yeah, but he's so cool.

MCLAUGHLIN: (As Lucas) If he's cool, then you be Winston.

WOLFHARD: (As Mike) I can't.

MCLAUGHLIN: (As Lucas) Why not?

WOLFHARD: (As Mike) Because...

MCLAUGHLIN: (As Lucas) Because you're not black?

WOLFHARD: (As Mike) I didn't say that.

MCLAUGHLIN: (As Lucas) You thought it.

DEGGANS: It's that kind of period-specific bickering that makes "Stranger Things" so much fun. Part sci-fi horror show and part coming-of-age story, it whips together a blend of '80s-style teen drama, Steven Spielberg's Americana and John Carpenter-influenced horror.

Last season, the boys teamed with a girl who had telekinetic powers named Eleven. She was raised in a facility called the Hawkins National Laboratory. She also helped rescue one of the boys, doe-eyed Will Byers, who'd been kidnapped by a monster from the Upside Down. As the new season begins, there's a problem. Will has begun having visions of a new monster from the Upside Down taking over our reality. And these visions can strike anytime, even when he's at an arcade with his buddies.


NOAH SCHNAPP: (As Will) Hey, hey, guys, do you see the...

DEGGANS: Will's mother, Joyce, played by Winona Ryder with a little less hysteria than last season, takes her son to the laboratory. New people are running the place now, including a charming Dr. Owens played by Paul Reiser. Dr. Owens has his own theory about Will's visions.


PAUL REISER: (As Dr. Owens) It's called the anniversary effect. The anniversary of an event brings back traumatic memories, sort of opens up the neurological floodgates, so to speak.

WINONA RYDER: (As Joyce) Well, what do we do when that happens?

REISER: (As Dr. Owens) Well, from what we know about post-traumatic stress, just treat him normally.

RYDER: (As Joyce) What you're saying is it's going to get worse and worse, and we're just supposed to pretend like it's not happening.

REISER: (As Dr. Owens) It sounds counterintuitive. I know. But I assure you that is really the best thing you can do for him.

DEGGANS: Anybody who's seen a horror movie knows how this is going to play out. I just loved how Dr. Owens seemed like a subtle homage to one of Reiser's early movie roles as a charismatic corporate weasel in the 1986 movie "Aliens." The show's second season starts slowly. Fans eager to jump back into the action won't really see things pick up until the fifth episode. But when it picks up, it becomes seriously entertaining.

We will learn Eleven's origin story. We will see a new threat from the Upside Down. And we will meet new characters, including "Lord Of The Rings" costar Sean Astin as Joyce's goofy new beau, RadioShack clerk Bob. As Will gets worse, Bob makes the kind of suggestion that every audience member's probably also thinking. Why not just leave Hawkins?


SEAN ASTIN: (As Bob) My parents are selling their house in Maine. There's a RadioShack nearby. I'm sure they'd take me on.

RYDER: (As Joyce) It's hard to explain. It's - this is not a normal family.

DEGGANS: Which is why I love "Stranger Things" so much. Even when it's scaring us and jolting us, it stops to take a poke at its own absurdity. I'm Eric Deggans.


Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.