The second season of Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” the acclaimed, 1980s-themed series, offered the same lovable kids, a new monster to fear and a touch of home for Chicago viewers embodied by the new character Murray Bauman, a Chicago Sun-Times reporter-turned-wacky-private-investigator.
Murray is played by Brett Gelman, who grew up in Highland Park and whose past roles have included Mr. K opposite Matthew Perry on NBC’s “Go On” and Brett Mobley on Adult Swim’s “Eagleheart.”
In Season 2 of “Stranger Things,” released last month and now streaming, it’s up to middle-aged Murray to solve the death of teenager Barb Holland (Shannon Purser), whose mysterious disappearance from rural Hawkins, Indiana, was seemingly ignored in the first season. That led to a lasting social media joke, which Netflix embraced with the hashtag #JusticeForBarb.
It was coincidence that ex-Chicagoan Gelman, 41, got the role of a former Chicago reporter.
But when he lived in Chicago, he says he wasn’t a big reader of the newspaper: “I read it a little bit. I was always looking at the reviews.”
Gelman says the character might be the first Chicagoan he’s played. But it didn’t exactly bring forth a rush of nostalgia.
“I dig Chicago, but I don’t really have that relationship with it,” he says. “I didn’t really vibe with the place. When I left, I was ready to go. I don’t, like, identify as a Chicagoan.”
Gelman embraced the character, who became a fan-favorite.
Initially shut down by the Hawkins sheriff, Jim Hopper, Murray continues digging into Barb’s death, eventually leading him to a surprising partnership with Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathon Byers (Charlie Heaton).
The two teenagers were looking to expose the people responsible for the Season 1 death of Barb, Nancy’s best friend, and the disappearance of Jonathon’s brother Will. In their quest, they fed Murray sensitive information in hopes he could help their story gain traction.
They ultimately figured out a way to fabricate a watered-down version of the hard-to-believe narrative, then mailed evidence to the old Sun-Times office at 401 N. Wabash.
In the process, Murray sparked a love interest that Nancy and Jonathon had long ignored.
“I had paranoia trying to make them see they’re in love with each other,” Gelman says of egging on of the pair. “We immediately clicked and had a good time together. All three of us knew there was this parental vibe, this mentor-type vibe.”
The private investigator’s scenes with Nancy and Jonathon turned into a few of the season’s funniest moments, though Gelman says that wasn’t the intention.
“I didn’t see it as a comedic role,” he says. “The way in which I started my rapport with Charlie and Natalia … the dynamic between me and them, it ended up being funnier than any of us originally thought.”
Though he played a crazed former reporter, Gelman says: “I didn’t talk to any reporters. I read things that reporters have written. I watched some films … paranoid political thrillers of the ’70s such as ‘All the President’s Men.’
“I learned how hard it is for reporters, that sometimes they’re punished for reporting the truth,” Gelman says. “That’s a huge tragedy. Reporters have it really rough.”
Even though Murray was a Season 2 highlight of “Stranger Things,” Gelman says he doesn’t know whether the character will return for the show’s third season.
“I hope so,” he says. “I love the character.”