(Warning: Some light spoilers ahead for “Stranger Things 2”)
There’s an amusing bit in episode 5 of “Stranger Things 2” (“Dig Dug”) where a character says out loud what has been a chief criticism of the show’s first season: that its plot relied too heavily on the pieces of pop culture that inspired it.
The part in question comes about two-thirds of the way through the episode, after Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) finally spills the beans to Max (Sadie Sink), the new girl at school, about what happened to him and his friends the year before. She’d been unable to really integrate with the group because of that big secret, and since Lucas liked her (like, liked her liked her) and thought she’d be a great addition to the party, he finally came clean.
At the end of the story, Max was kind of stunned, though it becomes clear pretty quickly that she thought he was just telling a cool story that he’d made up. And because she thought of it in that light, she also threw out some light criticism.
“It’s crazy, but I really liked it,” Max said. “I mean I had a few issues. I just felt it was a little derivative in parts. I just wish it had a little more originality, that’s all. ”
It’s a funny bit because what Max says essentially mirrors the thoughts of so many viewers of “Stranger Things” in 2016: it’s fun and I really enjoyed but probably would have enjoyed it more had it felt less like an amalgamation of all the nerdy stuff the Duffer Brothers liked back in the ’80s. And, hey, it’s good to see what possibly amounts to an admission of guilt there — self-reflection is important! Of course, it’s hardly a harsh criticism to throw out, even if you’re throwing it at yourself.
I would say that it does feel as though they made an effort to avoid that particular issue this time around — I wrote in my review of “Stranger Things 2” that while I have big issues with some of its plotting, the main thrust of the new season is far more fresh and compelling than Season 1. You can read my review here.