Stranger Things 2: Where’s a Good Editor When You Need One?

Monday , 6, November 2017 10 Comments

Everybody loves Stranger Things 2. It’s garnered, apparently, a hillion bajillion views on Netflix, is the most talked about show in the country (no, really), and even people who hated the first season think this one was pretty good.

Which leaves me in the uncomfortable position of looking around at everyone else, wondering why no one else noticed a MASSIVE problem with the series. From my viewing experience, Stranger Things 2 was four exciting hours of television stuffed into a taut nine-hour series. It was slow, is what I’m saying. Meandering. It wasted too damn much time.

See, I’ve made the mistake of watching actual television dramas: 24, House, MD, Supernatural, Castle, Smallville, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When you get used to the number of events you can stuff into a single hour of television—Really, clock it sometime. The number of reverses, plot twists, and occurrences in one single hour of TV is STAGGERING.—a show where nearly nothing happens for the first FIVE EPISODES is aggravating. By the fifth episode of Smallville, Supernatural, and Buffy, the main characters had fought and defeated FIVE different monsters, gotten their asses kicked for half of each episode, if not more, fell in love and out of love, and generally TORE THE PLACE UP.

Those shows have PLOTS. Those shows have MOMENTUM. Those shows are NOT just marking time, waiting for the last three episodes before things really kick into gear.

You know what marking time is? It’s a marching band thing. You’re in your uniform, in the hot damn sun, waiting for the parade to begin so you can strut your stuff before applauding crowds. The drum majors want to get you all going as soon as it’s your turn, so they have you march in place. Your feet go up and down, but you go nowhere. No one moves. Not even an inch. THAT’S marking time.

For five episodes, Stranger Things 2 was basically marking time. Sure, SOME things happened, but you could have stuffed all the happenings into 20 minutes of one single episode. Raising / searching for the mysterious monster. Will’s visions. The punk rock robber crew. Eleven don’t like the place she’s living in. Mad Max’s entire dreary existence. Something happening in the pumpkin patches. Twenty minutes of TV, tops.

I blame the writers. They just threw in too much filler. Scenes that could have lasted a minute—For real, a minute is FOREVER in TV Land. Your favorite sitcom only has about 24 of them. Think of how much happens in one episode of The Drew Carey Show, Friends, or Third Rock from the Sun. 24 minutes each.—instead last for up to ten minutes, or longer.

Stranger Things is a THRILLER. That’s what the material WANTS to be. Kidnapped psychic kids, alternate dimensions, alien invasion, government conspiracies, secret government labs, kids fighting monsters—that’s all THRILLER material. That’s what it’s supposed to be.

Know what the chief and defining characteristic of a thriller is? It’s THRILLING. It moves fast. There’s momentum. Things happen. Rapidly. Sudden revelations, swift plot reversals, taut scenes of drama where everyone has an ulterior motive and are verbally sparring in the hopes of startling their opponent into revealing something he shouldn’t—DRAMA. Stranger Things 2 needed to be a Thriller, but was instead a bloated mess.

I’m not saying the show was BAD. It’s a well done show. I enjoyed watching it. It’s just that, every few minutes I found myself saying “Where is this going? And when’s it gonna start going there?”

Writers are not, by nature, parsimonious beasts. Like a gas, their wordcount always inflates to fill the available space. This is why God invented editors. Stranger Things 2 could have used a damn good editor.

Jasyn Jones, better known as Daddy Warpig, is a host on the Geek Gab podcast, a regular on the Superversive SF livestreams, and blogs at Daddy Warpig’s House of Geekery. Check him out on Twitter.

  • Anthony says:

    I mostly agree. It had a great ending, though. And “The Spy” was a brilliant episode.

    Episode 7 could go die in a fire. One of the worst episodes of television I’ve ever seen.

    • Dan Wolfgang says:

      “One of the worst episodes of television I’ve ever seen.”

      This is never, ever something I want to hear about any show with actual continuity. It’s one of the reasons why I don’t think Firefly is as great as everyone claims.

  • JD Cowan says:

    The first two episodes should have been heavily edited down into one. So little happens in them.

    Also, as Anthony said, episode 7 was entirely superfluous. As were the characters of Max and her brother. None of this added anything to the story.

    Overall it was well done, but there was too much filler.

  • Taarkoth says:

    It’s the same problem the Netflix Marvel shows have. Shows produced specifically for a streaming service, where binge watching is the norm, don’t feel any pressure to keep the momentum going, unlike a weekly, or even daily, show.

    Even as much as I dislike nuWho, its weekly format still forced the writers to actually make complete plots for each episode instead of just relying on the audience to just immediately start up the next episode to get some resolution to the meandering bits the just watched.

  • Tesh says:

    Isn’t this the point of “Pulp Speed” as well? As in, stories that hit the ground running and then careen wildly off of everything exciting under the sun(s) as they accelerate into new adventure? I think Taarkoth has it right; the binge-season writing has made writers lazy. I do think there’s often reason to take a bit of a breather, but if a show makes viewers bored, it is failing.

  • Andy says:

    I haven’t seen season 2 yet (hoping to catch up in a couple of weeks) but padding out the storytelling threatens all serialized stories. It’s an ongoing temptation for writers to seize on one single point and base an entire episode or two around that so they don’t have to wrap up the main storyline and burn through their ideas more quickly. For all the “Golden Age of Television” talk, I miss tightly written episodic TV.

    It’s interesting to me that you invoke Buffy because that was definitely a show that increasingly succumbed to padding over its run. After a first season packed with “monster of the week” shows (which many people whine about now), in season 2 the writers were already struggling to justify why Buffy didn’t stake Angel well before the season finale, especially since he was killing innocent people regularly. There was a growing feeling among fans throughout the show’s run that the major arcs weren’t substantial enough to fill out a 22 episode season. Of course, even now with shorter 9-13 episode seasons, the plots are still too sparse in most shows…

  • WOPR says:

    I think the episodes are meant to provide as much nostalgia as they do story/plot. I’ve enjoyed both seasons, but I can see your point about filler. As a 45-year old that grew up in the 70s & 80s, I am definitely susceptible. Seeing the clothes, decor–the freedom kids had back then–along with the music is almost as enjoyable to me as the actual story. Nostalgia has its place, but it will eventually wear thin, even for people that enjoy it. If the show is gong to run longer than one more season, they’re going to have to fill out the episodes with more action and rely less on one giant story arc.

  • I haven’t watched the last 2 episodes, but have to agree about Ep. 7. A complete waste of time. I’ve seen some very unconvincing posts about how it showed this or that and was important to character development, but they’re all nonsense. It waste just filler and a chance for a couple more Diversity actors to get a paycheck.

    I’ve also been disappointed by how many characters seem to acting out-of-character this season. I thought the main plot idea for season 2 was good way to bring it back, but they’ve wasted too much time on pointless side-lines that go nowhere.

  • Another Bill says:

    I have to disagree, I think you have gotten used to modern programs. If you go back and watch older movies and tv a majority of them were paced slowly by today’s standards. To me it was just like watching an old series in the 80’s that was made in the 70’s. For example take The Exorsist, the first 20 minuets were buildup and fluff.

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