Something Strange Has Happened to ‘Stranger Things’

THE HIT SHOW TAKES AN UNFORTUNATE TURN

I was a fan of season one of the Netflix show “Stranger Things.” The program focused on four kids who were old enough to get into adventurous trouble but young enough to retain a bit of innocence and sweetness. Set in the 1980s, it also had plenty of spot-on cultural references and inside jokes for those of us who were there.

To be sure, the program was not for little children. It’s hard to categorize the show, but it has elements of the horror genre, and contains moments of terror and violence. But given what is often in theaters, and even on network television, it was pretty tame. It was a show you could watch with your children, at least if they were of a certain age.

Not so season two.

Beginning with episode one, the profanity has amped up considerably. In general, I have a deep distaste for the practice of counting cuss words and ascribing moral superiority to shows with fewer such words. Still, to make the point that the show has changed considerably from Season 1 to Season 2, consider an analysis done by the filtering company VidAngel, which released a statement showing the following increases in “mature content”:

  • “43 percent more sexual content
  • 43 percent more alcohol and drug use
  • 40 percent more language (curse words, blasphemy, crude language)
  • 28 percent more violence and gore . . .
  • Five uses of the F-word, vs zero in Season 1”

It should be remembered that VidAngel has a vested interest in pointing these things out, as they’re trying to sell a service to filter them. Still, I think their figures are worth considering.

It’s not as if we weren’t warned. Most of the press regarding season two (which released Halloween week) mentioned that the program would be “darker” than season one. Still, it is disappointing, in part because many young people have already made the program a habit.

It’s also disappointing because the series deals with important issues: loss and trauma and the importance of family. Matt and Ross Duffer, professionally known as The Duffer Brothers, are the 33-year-old guiding forces behind the program. They studied at the nominally Christian college Chapman University, and were mentored by M. Night Shyamalan, who often blends horror with family and community dynamics (“The Village”) and sometimes wrestles admirably with religious themes, as in his 2002 film “Signs.”

But the opportunities to deal with such issues in satisfying ways are mostly squandered as “Stranger Things” devolves into non-story, the same sort of postmodern disdain for metanarrative that ultimately undid the initially promising “Lost.”

Netflix and the Duffer Brothers have already said there will be a season three and a season four. I won’t be watching.

Image copyright Netflix.

Warren Cole Smith is an investigative journalist and author as well as the Colson Center vice president for mission advancement.


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