Stranger Things hysteria hit critical mass on Friday morning.
Fifteen months after the 1980s-set show became a sleeper hit in the summer of 2016, the second series of the show dropped at 8am (UK time) on the dot. Hundreds of people around the world gathered at pop-up screenings to binge-race it (watch the entire season in less than 24 hours) immediately, fobbing off work, sleep and if you’re to believe dissenters, their own health, to do so.
Londoner binge-racers could count themselves lucky: while their day began at an ungodly hour for TV (7:30am) and lasted longer than the average work day, they were in a better position than Los Angelinos, who were in for an all-nighter – release time coincided with midnight in LA.
Still, wherever you are, sitting in one place for nine hours is a strong show of dedication.
I checked in on the binge-ers – admittedly, a little bit after the binge began – and, despite feeling entirely averse to such a mammoth Netflix session, felt a little bit jealous of the experience. I had recently smashed through the entire series on a laptop in a couple of days, and felt I had lost out by not doing so in style.
Netflix had gone all out to create an immersive environment that the Duffer brothers would have been proud of, Eggo waffles and all. The screening room was decked out like the Byers’ living room with sickly beige wallpaper and some haggard-looking old sofas. At the back of the room stood a large shrine to Barb, adorned with condolence cards, candles and a large, Jesus-like portrait of the actress formerly known as Shannon Purser, who was in attendance, too.
Elsewhere in the building there was a makeshift arcade split between two sides: regular Hawkins, in which fans could play retro arcade games like Pac-Man and Dragon’s Lair, and Upside Down Hawkins, which was the same set-up in grim parallel universe mode – shrouded in darkness, run-down and soundtracked by the gurgle of a nearby Demogorgon.
I spent some time with the fans at the early stages of the screening and afterwards, as they all trod weary, yet elated, towards the great outdoors.
Here is everything I learned along the way:
*Spoilers for Stranger Things 2 to follow*
Arcade machines are due a comeback
We’ve had the vinyl revolution, but when is it going to be normal again to rock down to the Arcade with your mates and a sack full of coins to hit up the Pac-Man machine? If anyone can bring about a renaissance, it’s the Stranger Things kids.
— Topshop (@Topshop) October 28, 2017
Steve was surprisingly popular even before the season got going
To me, Steve Harrington was the villain of season one. Though he managed to redeem himself in the finale, I thought the Duffer brothers were clearly steering us to get behind Jonathan and Nancy, leaving Steve out in the cold. While I had expected fans to fall for the increasingly heroic Steve more and more as season two wore on, I was surprised to find that many of them were in his corner from the beginning.
“[Nancy, Steve and Jonathan] need to sort themselves out,” Cristina, a 20-year-old student, told me in the interval between episodes two and three. “I want Nancy and Steve to stay together. Is that controversial?” Apparently not.
“Steve tries so hard,” said Denny, 19, student.
“I love Steve; he has great hair”, her friend Emily added. “At the middle of season one I wanted Nancy and Jonathan to happen, and then when Nancy and Steve were together I was like yes, that’s better. It kind of changed quite a lot.”
— ?carla? (@iblamecarla) October 29, 2017
Eggo waffles aren’t all they’re cracked up to be
Note to self: never take food recommendations from a 12-year-old who has spent their youth in a laboratory.
In a sentence: soggy and disappointing; glorified freezer food.
The fans still really, really love Barb
In Stranger Things circles, Barb really is as highly revered as she appears online. Almost all the fans I spoke to said they were hoping to see Barb return in some form or another.
“I really want there to be a weird Barb moment, where like she comes back as not alive – I want it to be like one of the monsters takes on Barb’s face ’cause I feel like that would be funny to watch,” said Denny, a 20-year-old student who had won her place at the screening in a radio competition.
“I think if she doesn’t, there’ll be an uproar, so they probably should bring her back,” said Roly, a 27-year-old LGBT YouTuber. “Justice for Barb!”
Barb is a Doctor Who fan
During the binge, I had a Facebook Live chat with Shannon Purser AKA Barb Holland, whose admission that she is a massive Doctor Who fan will surely only add to the Barb hysteria. Check the video out below:
We are LIVE with Shannon Purser, AKA Barb from Stranger Things
Posted by Radio Times on Friday, October 27, 2017
“I’m a big fangirl and a nerd, so I would probably like, get David Tennant’s face tattooed on me. I’m a big Doctor Who fan”, she said.
Stranger Things 2 is much scarier in a cinematic environment
The screening room was as good as your average cinema – a massive screen in a dark room with the speakers cranked up to 11 (naturally) – and it was a totally different experience to watching the show on the small screen. Every little jump scare, which had initially passed me by when I viewed the series on my laptop, landed with a thud here. Netflix: please consider widespread cinema screenings for season three!
People saw Bob’s death coming – and now they want #JusticeforBob
Max was the most popular new character by a long way, but a special place was reserved for the late Bob Newby, Joyce’s love interest. While many of the binge attendees felt he wasn’t destined to last, they were still rather upset to see him go.
“I feel like it was inevitable. I felt like he was a write-off character,” Chloe, a 23-year-old who works in media (who had taken the day off to attend the binge) told me after all was said and done. “I felt like he was a write-off character, but I did like him.”
Callum, a 27-year-old LGBT YouTuber had already fallen for Bob after episode two: “I feel like we’re not supposed to like him, he’s supposed to be a bit of a loser kind of character, but he kind of reminds me of me, kind of dorky, dopey, yeah.”
Needless to say, Callum was rather upset as the credits rolled on the series: “We need justice for Bob next,” he said.
His friend Roly did not agree, though: “I think he deserved it. I get so angry when people close doors and shit, and when he was down there looking at the thing hitting them. Run! What are you stopping for? He deserved it”.
The Duffer brothers gave fans pretty much everything they wanted
While some fans were deprived of the Barb return they had craved, justice for her death was served, along with pretty much everything else the fans had wanted to see.
Early on in the binge, fans had told me they were most looking forward to Eleven’s reunion with Mike, and to finding out a bit more about her “sister”, number eight. Of course, both these boxes were ticked in the latter half of the season.
Everyone I spoke to said that it had lived up to the hype after chugging through the entire season in one go.
“I feel like my time wasn’t wasted,” Chloe said, as the dust settled on the binge. “I think it did [live up to the hype], because obviously with having the cult status with the first series, it can always let you down. But I really liked the story and really liked how the characters came together.”
Stranger Things 2 is available on Netflix now