Something Strange Has Happened to ‘Stranger Things’


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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  • Tyler

    That’s too bad really, I love this show, and I’m halfway through season 2 (thanks for avoiding spoilers!). I did notice right away that it involved a lot more cursing. Still a great show, but I’m glad for the grounding of perspective this article offers. So far through episode four, there is still (in my opinion) a strong emphasis on the developing story, so it will be interesting with to watch the rest of the episodes with this in mind.

  • Zarm

    Ummm… are you sure? I’d hate to think I was getting desensitized enough to miss it; I don’t recall any uses of the F word. And I don’t recall any sexual content (at most, a passionate makeout, and another fairly-obvious-behind-closed-doors implication that we in no way see), vs. season one’s fairly explicit actual sex scene.

    Now, maybe it’s MY filters that need updating, but can anyone independently confirm the statistical claims?

    I also really don’t see the claim that it is ‘devolving into non-story,’ with a ‘postmodern disdain for metanarrative’. I found the overall plotting and narrative to be stronger this time around than in the first season.

    Certainly, I can see the change in violence (unfortunate, but understandable due to… SPOILER-related issues), and the uptick in language (I did notice that), and the unfortunate nature of both… but I don’t think that every claim in this article is a justified one.

    • Tyler

      yeah, I’m with you Zarm. I’m on episode 5, and have certainly noticed an uptick in the “S” word, but not much of the others. Side note about VidAngel: Whose job is it to watch this stuff “raw” so to speak, so that we who are so sensitive to it don’t have it? And honestly, if the content is the problem, why not dump the whole thing? Great example: I used to work in a Christian bookstore, and we sold a program like this (might have even been VidAngel). One of the movies in the collection was Wedding Crashers. A movie whose entire essence is destroyed by sanitizing it. This would be one that I would say Christians should just avoid. The very concept of it is completely immoral.

      • Zarm

        Well, same job as movie reviewers at places like PluggedIn; someone has to ‘take the hit,’ so to speak, for those of us that don’t want to immerse ourselves in such content to make an informed decision on whether it *should* be avoided, or can be saved by editing. I do not envy the ones that take on such a job; film reviewers all have to bear such a burden.

        In terms of VidAngel, it’s seeming pretty concrete that this was an outright fabrication of statistics. But no one seems interested in commenting on or following up on it, so I’m guessing they’re going to get away with it until some secular organization eventually calls us on dishonesty? This is a chance to police our own and demonstrate integrity, guys- and I really hope that someone, especially someone *at* Breakpoint that can have this conversation at a higher level, will take it up.

        • Tyler

          I’d be willing to rewatch Season 2 and count curse words to confirm data, what do you say Zarm? Season 2 party at my place? 🙂

          • Zarm

            Works for me! 🙂

  • The Bechtloff

    This article is sad. This site is supposed to be all about “analyzing worldviews from a Christian perspective” right? And yet the author of this article made no attempt to analyze the themes or philosophies in ST2. He didn’t even look at the quality of the acting, writing, or overall story telling. He just complained it was too naughty based on the rating of a company he admits has a financial interest in calling things naughty. This is how we Christians have a reputation as overly sensitive pearl clutchers.