Why Stranger Things should be an anthology series
Why Netflix's breakout hit should reboot each season with a new story instead of continuing to torment the kids in Hawkins
The first season of Netflix’s breakout Stranger Things was everything viewers could want in an ’80s-inspired PG-rated Spielberg-ian creepshow. For season 2, creators the Duffer Brothers will return to the Indiana town of Hawkins to continue the tale of Chief Hopper, Eleven, the kids and the world of the Upside Down. But never before has a serialized show seemed perhaps better suited to doing exactly not that.
What if instead, Stranger Things tossed everything out and just started anew?
Hear us out. Season 1 told a perfectly self contained and wholly satisfying tale, an eight-hour edition of one of the classic sci-fi films its creators so clearly adore. There were just two scenes near the end of the finale that felt, if anything, tacked on mainly set up another year — the somewhat disappointing reversal on Eleven’s sacrifice that hinted she’s still alive and the suggestion that poor Will is not out of the woods yet (so to speak). Are there other questions beyond that? Sure. We barely know anything about the monster or the Upside Down world, for instance. But those are mysteries that felt like they added to show, not detracted. As an audience, we don’t need to know everything, and season 1 answered just enough.
Now let’s look at the alternative: Stranger Things as anthology series — a Fargo, an American Horror Story, a True Detective … well, maybe not a True Detective. Let’s stick with Fargo. Imagine Stranger Things as an entirely different sci-fi period drama every season, launching a new story with new characters mining different tropes from that bevy of unofficial Carpenter-Spielberg-King-Barker-Bradbury source material lionized in the first season.
Even the show’s title seems perfect for an anthology rather than an ongoing story; its Things plurality suggesting a creepy variety pack rather than a singular tale. As a title, “Stranger Things” is just one draft away from being “Amazing Stories.” Its awesome credits sequence is a black-and-red box of ambiguous mystery; there’s nothing about it that’s tied to this particular story.
Part of this urge to move on is very much due to the success of how well the Duffers executed the debut season. After the conclusion of Fargo season 1, showrunner Noah Hawley explained that part of the reason he didn’t want to use the same characters in season 2, despite their popularity, is because he liked them so much (and put them through so much trauma) that he wanted to leave them alone. Hawley thought it was best to let his characters go about their “lives” unseen rather than revisiting some new murderous rampage upon them in season 2, scarring them deeper and trimming their numbers.
That’s precisely the feeling you get at the end of Stranger Things — these are awfully nice people, we care about them, let’s leave them alone now, they’ve earned their peace. We wouldn’t want to see any of the survivors killed off, yet also couldn’t respect the show’s storytelling if they all made it through another round. And even if they did continue to survive, how are they not increasingly damaged and traumatized with each passing season? Stranger Things should go somewhere else where nobody is expecting anything supernatural to happen, and scare the hell out of them instead (and us) using some fresh inventive terror.
Who knows? Stranger Things might return just as terrific in season 2 and 3 and 4… or perhaps, somewhere along the line, the show will reboot into an entirely new tale. Maybe in an alternate universe somewhere, it already has.