How Stranger Things Can Avoid the Sophomore Slump

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How <i>Stranger Things</i> Can Avoid the Sophomore Slump

The original Netflix series Stranger Things is one of the summer’s bonafide hits. Created by The Duffer Brothers (Matt and Ross), the show is a lovingly crafted homage to ‘80s sci-fi classics by Steven Spielberg, Stephen King and others. Painstaking details bring viewers back to the era of Dungeons & Dragons, rotary phones and feathered hair (on both men and women). Although Netflix didn’t officially announce a renewal at last week’s Television Critics Association presentation, Season Two is inevitable.

However, our exuberance for what happens next in the Upside Down is tempered by reality of television’s sophomore slump. Just look to shows like Sleepy Hollow, Heroes and numerous others that jumped out of the starting gate in their first season, only to fail to live up to expectations. With that in mind, we humbly offer The Duffer Brothers these suggestions, so that Stranger Things avoids stumbling into True Detective 2 territory. (A few spoilers follow, so turn back now if you haven’t seen the finale.)

1. Tread lightly into the John Hughes’ canon.


Hughes was the master of teen coming-of-age stories, adept at both rom-coms (Sixteen Candles) and dramedies (The Breakfast Club), but it’s not the high school romance that drew us (and zillions of other viewers) to Stranger Things. While we really, really love watching Steve’s (Joe Keery) hair evolve from episode to episode, let’s keep the little love triangle developing between BMOC Steve, Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and misfit Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) in the background.

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2. Don’t hide Eleven.


Despite being zapped into bits by the monster, El (Millie Bobbie Brown) is obviously still alive. In the finale, Chief Hopper (David Harbour) placed her favorite Eggos and other foods in a box in the middle of the woods. What else could that mean? Her character was such an interesting mystery—part science experiment and superhero—and Stranger Things left so many things unanswered about El’s background. It would be a travesty not to uncover it, so she must come back in some form or another—in the real world or in the Upside Down—but we hope that the show doesn’t drag out the “big reveal” longer than necessary.

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3. Don’t get mired in conspiracy theories.


Look to The X-Files for a great example of how not to do this. Both avid and casual viewers of FBI agents Mulder and Scully know that the show featured standalone “monsters of the week” episodes and mythology episodes that focused on conspiracy theories. The government (or The Syndicate, repped by the Cigarette Smoking Man) was consistently trying to hide extraterrestrial life from the public and keep Mulder and Scully at bay from finding out the truth about their own personal histories. The mythology became so unwieldy that we didn’t care whether the truth was out there or not. In Stranger Things, both Eleven’s background and the monster are related to nefarious experiments by the government or its surrogate, Hawkins Lab. The exploration of their backstories is essential to a second season, but shouldn’t be the only focus. The action, thrills and chills of a good old-fashioned horror story—things that go bump in the night—are often enough.

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4. Keep those throwback references in check.


Season One consistently found the sweet spot in surprising viewers with moments, scenes and props that transported them to the ‘70s and ‘80s without overkill. Aside from the obvious E.T. references, like BMX bike riding at night and El’s hiding in the closet, The Duffer Brothers often let the props and production design in the background speak volumes, from Evil Dead and The Thing posters hanging on walls, to Barb’s (Shannon Purser) choice of car. Nancy’s mom-jeans wearing gal pal drove a Pinto, which was a joke of a car unto itself. Now that we’re sure to be looking for them, it’ll do Stranger Things well to keep these from overwhelming the story in Season Two.

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5. Yes to the b-sides!


The music in Stranger Things was on point, but not just because of the hits, like The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” and kitschy classics like Toto’s “Africa,” or Corey Hart’s “I Wear My Sunglasses at Night.” The Duffer Brothers and their music team chose wisely and included b-sides and works by lesser-known artists, from “Nocturnal Me” by Echo and the Bunnymen to Brotherhood of Man’s version of “Tie a Yellow Ribbon.” The synth-dominated score was just as fantastic, with composers Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of the band S U R V I V E creating a moody, audio homage that would fit any John Carpenter horror flick. Netflix knew the show had a great soundtrack and released an official Spotify playlist, too. In this department, they need to change nothing.

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6. Keep the humor and heart.


Despite the spooky storyline, Stranger Things also won viewers over through levity. Lighter moments were sprinkled throughout the series to alleviate the tension, from scene-stealer Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) explaining to a pair of bullies why his teeth are still coming in (because of cleidocranial dysplasia), to calling his science teacher on a Saturday night for instructions on how to build a sensory deprivation tank “for fun.” There was also a burgeoning sweet crush between Eleven and Mike (Finn Wolfhard), and we’d enjoy watching the ‘tween awkwardness that might develop between the weirdo and the nerd in a second season.

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7. Don’t rush.


Guys, take your time and don’t let the suits set unrealistic deadlines. (Again, take a look at the True Detective Season Two case study.) We may complain, but in the end, we’d rather wait for quality over crap, anytime. If that means we’ll be wondering about what the hell is in Will’s throat until 2018, so be it.



Christine N. Ziemba is a Los Angeles-based freelance pop culture writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter.

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