New faces are a common phenomenon among the sophomore seasons of many genre television series. When a sci-fi or fantasy show enters its second year, it inherits the injunction to expand and change its world just enough to maintain the same momentum that carried fans through the first string of episodes, all without veering too far from the original course. This veritable tightrope act often entails the wrangling of new supporting characters—generally speaking, ones tethered to the central cast by a degree or two—as now proves to be the case with Stranger Things. As reported by Entertainment Weekly, the Netflix series has signed a couple of familiar faces to fill out season two.
Sean Astin joins the Stranger Things universe as a former schoolmate of Winona Ryder’s Joyce Byers and David Harbour’s Chief Jim Hopper; we catch up with Astin’s character, established nerd Bob Newby, as the manager of Hawkins’ local RadioShack. Also along for the ride is Paul Reiser, whom Netflix describes to EW as “a high-ranking member within the Department of Energy on a ‘clean-up’ assignment, tasked with containing the events of last year.” The final newly announced addition to the Stranger Things cast is the yet unknown Linnea Berthelsen, a Danish actor who’ll play Roman, a character who lives in the shadow of her own childhood trauma that seems to be linked to Hawkins Laboratory… as most things in these parts tend to be.
All at once, these casting reports from Stranger Things suggest that the series is taking its second season responsibilities seriously. While material devoted to the above characters (Roman in particular, I presume) will entail the distraction of screen time from Eleven, the boys, Nancy and Jonathan, et al, it’s evident from the kinds of new figures EW describes that Stranger Things is staying true to its priority character: the ’80s.
We see this especially in the case of Astin, and not only because his name is practically synonymous with 1980s cinema. The notion of a high school geek, albeit not exclusive to any era in American history, is one that took especially prominent form in ’80s pop culture; while heroes Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Will ring a bit too young to satisfy the Anthony Michael Hall, Jon Cryer, or Robert Carradine surrogates, the archetype could well find home in a suspended adolescent Astin. Owe this to the combination of the 45-year-old actor’s still boyish face evoking memories of “our time down here,” and the setting of RadioShack, whose most prominent moment of Hollywood spotlight to date has come in the climax of the very geeky and very ’80s Short Circuit 2.
The same decade-specific aura emanates from Reiser’s character description, which, though not explicitly detailed as villainous, seems almost necessarily so if we think back to any “high-ranking” authority figure depicted onscreen in the Reagan years. From judges and property owners in Caddyshack to EPA agents and lawyers in Ghostbusters to property developers in The Goonies to high school principals in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off—if you had a white collar job, the 1980s’ languid excuse for counterculture considered you bad news. Though Reiser himself couriers a different kind of ’80s flavor, the nice yuppie schlub we met in movies like Diner and My Two Dads, we can bet they’ll vie closer to his (retrospectively, somewhat anomalous) work in Aliens.
Without the kind of extratextual connotations afforded by Astin and Reiser’s standing film presence, we can’t ascertain quite as much about Berthelsen’s character Roman, though I reiterate that, based on her description, I believe she’ll play the most significant role of the three. Stranger Things will no doubt pair Berthelsen with one or more of its established heroes—perhaps Nancy and her gaggle of tagalongs, or the youngsters—so we shouldn’t worry too much about the second season straying from the things we loved about the first.
We’ll have to wait until 2017 to see how any of these additions pay off in Stranger Things, but on paper, things look optimistic. Let us know what you think in the comments below!
Images: Warner Bros., Netflix
Michael Arbeiter is the East Coast Editor of Nerdist. Find him on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter.
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