ATLANTA: A year ago, a low-key Netflix original series about a young boy who mysteriously vanishes from a small Indiana town suddenly became one of the most talked-about shows on television. Fifteen months later, Stranger Things – the second season premieres on Oct 27 – is still one of the streaming giant’s biggest word-of-mouth success stories, a rarity in a media landscape littered with star-studded drama shows and bad reality programming.
The secret of its runaway success was in plain sight: The Duffer brothers’ thrilling sci-fi horror series was an explosion of 1980s nostalgia for anyone who lived through the decade. Stranger Things was the amalgamation of every favourite film that you grew up obsessing over – The Goonies, E.T., Close Encounters of the Third and any John Hughes teen romance – all rolled into one.
But rather than just getting by on familiarity, Stranger Things cleverly blends its recognisable pop culture elements with fresh, extremely likable young actors, famous but older faces as well as a great script to make its mysterious drama feel as natural and meaningful as it fits perfectly in its intertexuality.
On the shrouded-in-secrecy set of their highly anticipated second season, Stranger Things creators Matt and Ross Duffer (known professionally as the Duffer Brothers) told Channel NewsAsia that they didn’t expect the phenomenal success of their first season.
“I was optimistic but I didn’t think it will have this enormous fan base!” said Matt. “Netflix usually does a season two so I told myself that we were going to get at least one more and then they might cancel. But at least one more! I didn’t think that people would be that interested in it.”
The 33-year-old identical twin brothers are self-confessed fanboys of the 80s pop culture and it’s evident in their work. It is also a reason why they decided to start season two of Stranger Things right smack in the Halloween of 1984.
“(The year) 1984 was a great year for Hollywood summer blockbusters. Ghostbusters, Gremlins, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Karate Kid – these are films that I think are the most prevalent in this season,” said Ross. “You see references from those because it was just simply a great year.
“You know why I love Ghostbusters so much? Because it’s very funny,” said Matt. “But when you’re a kid, it didn’t play that much of a comedy. It was scary, very sincere, very earnest moments. It was not a joke every five seconds – it’s a great mix of everything and they took the supernatural very seriously. We always look to Ghostbusters (for Stranger Things inspiration)”
Just as they modelled season one after a movie, they see season two as a blockbuster’s sequel.
“I know movie sequels get a lot of s***, but the ones we look up to aspire to pivot and do something different,” explained Matt. “Look at James Cameron. I think one of the reasons his sequels are as successful as they are is that he makes them feel very different without losing what we loved about the original. We look to him and what he does and try to capture a little bit of the magic of his work.”
So what do the brothers think is the secret ingredient of their unexpected success?
“I think it’s just the kids. To me that was my big thing,” revealed Matt. “No one puts kids (on shows). They have those rules where they tell you never to work with kids and dogs.”
While Matt felt that there was nothing on television starring kids that wasn’t aimed at kids, Ross was intent to make their series “more than nostalgia for the 80s period”.
“It’s more about that type of storytelling for us, which is just ordinary characters who encounter the extraordinary,” said Ross. “For us, that was what drew us to it than anything else. More than trying to be too cute about the period.
“I’m sure nostalgia played a part but the great thing is that we also have a younger audience that is watching this as well, who are not necessarily nostalgic for that time frame so that’s exciting. We knew we could get a lot of fans from the people who grew up on these movies, but I’m also really excited that younger kids are finding this.”
So what can we expect from the new season?
“We cannot reveal anything! But what we can say is that it can get worse (for the characters),” said Ross. “But I do think it’s a little different from season one, especially with the characters of Mike and Will. And Nancy too. These are characters who have experienced tragic things and love lost.
“This season starts a little darker because it’s just these characters dealing with what happened. We kept trying to ask ‘How would you actually respond to an event like this?’ For sure, sooner or later, you would be very rattled and take a deeper look at what sort of person you are.”
Matt on the other hand was worried about losing big moments going into the second season.
“You lose that a little bit when everyone has had supernatural experiences (in the show), you know?” he said. “That’s why we introduced new characters who have not experienced the supernatural yet and then it’s all interesting to explore how do these people go about their normal lives after what happened.”