As a tangerine Shredded Wheat rules over the biggest superpower in the world, driven only by settling scores on Twitter, natural disasters dominate the news on a weekly basis, and a sense of dread, fear and confusion permeates the global mood, you’d be forgiven for thinking that we’re living in the “Upside Down”.

Sadly, we’re not. The somewhat desolate and sticky alternate reality that dominated Stranger Things last year sometimes looks more appealing than real life, making a mockery of our increasingly bleak daily run of world events.

Luckily, we can all escape there soon, as Stranger Things 2 gears up for its return this Friday, just in time for Halloween.

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Netflix has created a worthy list of original programmes over the past few years, but Stranger Things was the unlikely sci-fi number that outshone big names such as House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black. There was little hype around its premiere, but the quality of show proved irresistible to the modern audience who live to binge, capturing the imaginations of people for whom The Goonies will always elicit a nostalgic sigh.

The thrill of the first series derived from its expert referencing of pop culture. Viewers looked forward each week to the 1980s references the showrunner Duffer brothers - twin thirtysomethings Matt and Ross - would stir into each episode, proving that nostalgia is good and the world can never have enough ET references.

This season looks to be no different with the few teasers released so far managing to give very little away, while building mystery and hyping up fans across the globe on social media. The online buzz was kicked off by a short 30-second advert during the Superbowl which set Netflix back a cool $5 million.

The reincarnation of the 1980s movie poster followed. Twelve of the main characters appear on flyers that looked like they could have adorned the bedrooms of your average 1980s kid. Several Stranger Things T-shirts even appeared on the Louis Vuitton runway earlier this month, one emblazoned with "The Upside Down", showing a mirror drawing of a wood, above showing children in silhouette riding their bikes, and below depicting an alien-type monster chasing a child. Another typical 1980s-style version showed the four boys, Mike, Dustin, Lucas and Will with the trademark Stranger Things banner typed out in blood red underneath. T-shirts with the image of Millie Bobby Brown character Eleven, complete with skinhead proved a runway hit for Louis Vuitton too.

Fans replied enthusiastically to the official Twitter account which shared the images. One said: “I can’t wait, I’m driving five hours to watch the premier with my family”, while another tweeted: “Where can I buy all of these posters?” Several replies featured memes of the Stranger Things cast, from Eleven’s rare smile to Dustin’s gummy look of surprise. These days the success and relevance of a programme can be judged by how easily it translates to memes, and Stranger Things is proving a rich seam to mine for iconic images.

The innocent retro goodness of the programme has filtered down to all aspects of the show's inspired marketing too. The release of series one on DVD affectionately took the form of a VHS video, a near-relic compared to sophisticated modern technology - an alien concept to younger viewers and a feelgood shot in the arm for Gen Xers. The soundtrack was also cleverly released on vinyl, cassette and CD.

Netflix released a horde of Dustins on the streets of New York earlier this month during Comic Con. The 20-strong group frolicked through the streets on pedicabs to ferrying fans around the city. The channel also worked alongside Los Angeles-based agency Doner LA who decided that earnest, goofy Dustin was the most beloved by fans. Doner LA's chief commercial officer Jason Gaboria, said that he wanted to get people talking, whether they were fans of the show or just fans of the 1980s. “The kids and their bikes are huge part of Season 1, so using pedicabs was a natural fit. From there, we worked on creating something for the fans that they could interact with in a real way.”

Topshop releases its own Stranger Things range this week, capitalising on the fad for cheesy 1980s style logos, indie pop culture and Stranger Things typography. Fans of the show queued in the rain at London’s Oxford Circus flagship store to get a preview.

Showrunners the Duffer brothers were not kids in the 1980s, but actually born in 1984 and raised in North Carolina where they grew up on a diet of Steven Spielberg, Stephen King and Ridley Scott movies. Consequently the show has tipped its hat to ET, Stand By Me, Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones, Jaws, Star Wars, to name just a few as well as soundtracking the show with the music of the time.

The Duffers also enthusiastically tapped into 1980s “nerd culture” from early computer games to old-school bikes, hoodies bodywarmers and baseball caps.

Winona: the comeback

Nowhere is the sense of nostalgia captured better than the central character Joyce Byers, mother of the missing boy Will, played by 1980s movie icon Winona Ryder. The doe-eyed Ryder starred in numerous hits from Heathers and Beetlejuice to Edward Scissorhands and Mermaids, before her career took a massive nosedive amid tales of bad relationships, mental health issues and a highly publicised shoplifting trial.

It seems entirely fitting that in Stranger Things Ryder plays the fragile, oddball mother of a sweet and nerdy kid who simply disappears one day, pushing her towards mental collapse. In her heyday Ryder often played the stubborn quirky outsider who gave voice to girls who were the antithesis of popular blonde cheerleaders and wanted to do good in the world.

Her comeback in Stranger Things is the same girl grown up, a single parent, still awkward, still stubborn. She's a fierce but loving mother determined to find her missing boy. Playing Joyce as nervous, gaunt and at the end of her tether, few other actresses could have made the part as she has, freighted with that quintessential 1980s resonance.

Her performance is complemented by a relatively unknown gang of real-life cool kids, authentically playing a bunch of nerdy pre-teens with a sweet vulnerability and awkward innocence. The casting was a stroke of genius, and the young actors have largely generated this hit on the strength of their convincing performances, speaking to nostalgic forty and fiftysomethings of their own youth, and perfectly conveying a childhood before computers, mobile phones and social media, when kids had adventures outdoors unshackled from their parents.

The kids

Millie Bobby Brown who plays the mysterious Eleven shaved her head for the role. Speaking to W magazine she said: “Three days after the premiere I was famous and it was crazy. It was funny then to think back to all those times people stared at me in the street, like: 'Who is this weirdo with the shaved head?'” The awesomely named Finn Wolfhard who plays natural leader Mike, looks like a young Christopher Walken, all cheekbones and attitude. Curly-haired joker Dustin, played Gaten Matarazzo is fast becoming an icon with his mass of 1980s curls, lispy banter and prowess on a BMX bike. Lucas, played by Caleb McLaughlin is the serious brainbox of the gang and Will, their missing friend who is lost to the mysterious realm of the Upside Down, is sensitively played by Noah Schnapp who looks like he has been lifted straight out of Stand By Me.

The story so far...

To recap, the first series of the show revolves around the disappearance of Will, a youngster who lives with his mother Joyce and his older brother Jonathan in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana. Will spends his time riding his bike and playing Dungeons and Dragons in the basement with his three best friends, Mike, Dustin and Lucas. The youngster mysteriously disappears after a D&D session one evening. Desperate to find Will, the three friends run into a strange girl named Eleven who seems to be alone and take her under their wing.

She tells them that she's seen Will, and even communicates with him through a walkie talkie to prove it, showing off her telekinetic powers and showcasing some excellent girl power. With the help of Eleven and her supernatural powers, the boys come to the realisation that there is a parallel universe, the Upside Down, which is home to the Demogorgan, named after the monster in Dungeons and Dragons.

Shrouded in mystery, the off-limits Hawkins Lab is somehow home to the Upside Down and the kids' involvement with the top-secret site and the shady characters contained within makes for some of the the most thrilling moments of the series.

Will's mother Joyce is also desperately trying to find her son, at first doubted as crazy, then fully believed by the boozed-up sherrif Jim Hopper (played by the bear-like David Harbour) plagued by his own tormented past.

The end of the first series features a sacrifice from Eleven, a triumph for the boys' rescue efforts and the newly found Will coughing up mysterious black slug-like matter.

What's coming next...

No journalists were given a preview of the second series, but this is what we know so far. The official plot summary reads: “It’s 1984 and the citizens of Hawkins, Indiana, are still reeling from the horrors of the Demagorgon and the secrets of Hawkins Lab. Will Byers has been rescued from the Upside Down but a bigger, sinister entity still threatens those who survived.”

Netflix have released three trailers for the second series. The first shows the gang being mistaken for exterminators as they trick or treat in their Ghostbusters get-up, as well as the introduction of a new character, Sadie.

The second trailer features a voiceover saying: “November 6, 1983. A young boy goes missing in Hawkins Indiana. He’s pronounced dead but turns up alive days later. Local authorities provide no explanation, and so began a series of strange happenings across the globe. Beginning in 1984 with the Olympic Games: Russian boycott or interference from beyond? Somewhere in a secret lab Coke is becoming new Coke; plans are announced for armed satellites in space; radio stations are begging us to relax. Gremlins. Ghosts. Mermaids. Cyborgs. Not even a year after the boys disappearance and the world starts to turn upside down. Why?”

Last week Netlix revealed that it had added some five million new subscribers over the past three months as profits doubled, in a quarterly update that sent shares of the streaming video giant rocketing.

Stranger Things' runaway success has seen the second series awarded a budget hike to put it on par with the likes of Game of Thrones. This time around, the Duffer brothers have had $8 million to play with for each episode, and it shows. So settle in for the evening, get your Stranger Things hoodie on and have a cushion nearby to hide behind. Because this time around things are going to get seriously strange.