SPOILER ALERT: Do not listen or read if you have not watched the complete second season of “Stranger Things,” which debuted Friday on Netflix.
Welcome to “Remote Controlled,” a podcast from Variety featuring the best and brightest in television, both in front of and behind the camera.
In this week’s episode, Variety’s executive editor of TV Debra Birnbaum talks with executive producer Shawn Levy about the highly anticipated sophomore season of Netflix’s “Stranger Things.”
“We’ve been saying that [Season 2 is scarier] for many months, because it is,” Levy teases. “Without question, some of the touchstones for Season 2 were more horror than simply wonderment and suspense.”
One gratifying part of the new season, Levy says, was filming on a broader canvas. “It got bigger without abandoning its characters, and it feels far more cinematic.”
Levy says creators Matt and Ross Duffer stayed true to their core vision for the show, but a few major plot points were rewritten during production.
“The Duffers have been really good at seeing what the actors are giving them and changing course in order to exploit the specific strengths of our actors,” Levy explains.
A handful of new characters are introduced this season, and Levy says the creative team approached casting the same way they did for Season 1.
“We were looking for talent, of course, but maybe more importantly, we were looking for authenticity, because the magic of the show so resides in the naturalism of the kids,” he says. “You don’t feel like you’re watching kiddie actors doing their things.”
Season 2 also expands the dynamics of returning cast members. One of the biggest changes to the script during rewrites sees a friendship form between Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) with Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo).
“I remember the first time I read an outline that was an illusion to Dustin and Steve talking about hair product, I was like, ‘Well, that’s gold,'” Levy recalls.
Though certain stories were altered, they always planned on making episode 7 an aberration. Millie Bobby Brown’s Eleven is the only series regular in that particular episode as she explores her roots.
“We’re hopeful that even though it’s different, that fans embrace it for its difference,” he says.
In delving into Eleven’s background, Levy also teased future seasons with the potential for more psychokinetic children. “We know that Eight exists, and we know that Eleven is Eleven, so surely there is the real possibility of other numbers.”
He jokes, “Who is One? That’s what I want to know!”
Levy also discusses working with who he refers to as “two titans” — Brown and David Harbour, who plays chief of police Jim Hopper. In a later episode, the two fight, which culminates with Eleven throwing a psychic tantrum.
“We always knew Hopper and Eleven was going to be a massively powerful pairing,” he says. “It’s powerful upfront as they forge their bond, and it’s satisfying in the finale episode when we see this new family of a certain kind reconstitute and come back together stronger than ever.”
With Eleven’s triumphant return after her fate was left in question in the Season 1 finale, she continues to acclimate into a normal life, including expanding her vocabulary.
“I find it bittersweet that next season and in future seasons, we have to keep giving her more language because there is something about the largely wordless Eleven that makes it feel like she’s E.T.,” Levy says.
Levy praised Noah Schnapp, whose character Will Byers spent the majority of the first season stuck in the Upside Down and without much screen time.
“I jokingly tell Noah it’s the season of the Schnapp because he is the center of Season 2,” Levy shares. “His performance is unf—ing real.”
One episode features Will having a seizure connected to occurrences in the Upside Down. Levy hints, “He does things with his body and his voice that look inhuman. It looks like a visual effect and it’s not. It’s all real.”
“We knew he was going to be underutilized in Season 1,” Levy adds. “We finally let that Ferrari out of the garage in Season 2.”
Levy says he doesn’t know what caused “Stranger Things to become a sleeper hit, but he has some hunches.
“There’s something baked into this thing,” he shares. “The ’80s, the characters, the genre, the bingeability of it. It feels like it was show that was literally made for a streaming platform.”
You can listen to this week’s podcast here: