Stranger Things and more great series should be one and done.
In the ever-shrinking distinction between movies and television, series like Stranger Things can seem like a very long feature rather than an episodic show. Especially when they’re dumped all at once via Netflix, the individual parts add together to form a whole in our binge-watching minds. I have a favorite episode of Stranger Things – part three, “Holly, Jolly” – but it’s mostly just that because its climax was the point where I decided I had to keep going nonstop with my investment in the series. I recognize that it’s basically just the ending of the first act of a 400-minute movie, the point in the narrative where we’re meant to be fully drawn in.
If the eight-episode first season of Stranger Things is a singular work, like a feature film, then a second season would be like a movie sequel. And just like most satisfying feature films, this doesn’t need a follow-up. Sure, there’s a sequel set-up in the final moments of the last episode of the series, but this is no different than plenty of horror films that end with a jump scare surprise that hints the story isn’t over but not necessarily because the story is in fact unfinished. It’s more that the plot could keep going beyond the story at hand. Of course, many such horror films do wind up with sequels anyway, and most of them aren’t very good.
The same will probably be true for Stranger Things. Do we really need to know more about where the creature came from or get a better understanding of the “Upside Down” world, as co-creator Ross Duffer told Variety is the plan? Let’s consider the Duffer Brothers’ influences and keep in mind that we never needed an E.T. II that takes us to the alien’s planet and even with a Gremlins sequel we never actually minded not knowing where the monsters or their mogwai brethren originated. In fact, a lot of that Amblin brand we’re so nostalgic for is about the adventure, as well as relationships between people making that journey together, not answers.
Before I knew Stranger Things was definitely on track for a second season continuing with the same characters and premise of the first, I thought it could be a great start to yet another anthology series. Not just because its Stephen King meets Steven Spielberg meets John Carpenter pastiche is somewhat comparable to the Coen Brothers pastiche of Noah Hawley’s Fargo series, but because Stranger Things is also sort of like an episode of Amazing Stories that wound up being too long and non-network-friendly to be just a half hour (see *batteries not included for an example of a real instance of at least the former issue). It also was too long to be a theatrical release.
At least in America, anyway. But I think Stranger Things would actually play well in a “marathon” viewing at a movie theater, much like many foreign miniseries are. And like O.J.: Made in America, the five-part, 464-minute ESPN documentary that has screened in full at film festivals and has reportedly had an Oscar-qualifying theatrical run, which is rare for a “feature” of such length. While it’s not rare for some prestige auteur-driven miniseries to get sequels (see Lars von Trier’s The Kingdom and Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake, which has a second season in the works), it is rare that the extension is necessary.
In addition to believing Stranger Things wraps things up well enough in its first season to be complete, this week I also found peak frustration in the second season of UnReal. The first season, which already extended an idea originally executed in a 20-minute short film (Sequin Raze), made its point just fine and did enough with its characters to let it go at 10 episodes. The second season started off promising with a supposed new target of racism, added to the ongoing bullseye address of sexism, but it’s totally lost its focus. It’s not even really a show about the making of a reality series anymore. It’s too concerned with love triangles and other uninteresting dramas.
Plenty of TV series lose something after the first season, but a lot of them can still keep afloat because we care about the characters and/or mysteries enough to follow them through years of good and bad writing until the very end comes with a disappointing thud. Other shows, like UnReal, feel forced and unnecessary from the start of their sophomore run. Wishing a show was one and done isn’t new to the era of binge-worthy streaming shows, either. It has its defenders, but many fans think Twin Peaks never should have had a second season. We see petitions all the time for cancelled shows to be resurrected, but we need petitions for renewed shows that shouldn’t be.
If anyone starts one for Stranger Things, I’ll be the first to sign.