Hawkins, Indiana, is a town filled with people who do not subscribe to the idea of being "cool" (well, with the exception of Steve Harrington). But even in Hawkins, it's clear that Bob Newby is at the bottom of the social pecking order. He's a mid-level RadioShack employee who cracks corny jokes and can't stand scary movies; he's the ultimate "Mom's lame new boyfriend" type. So why did Stranger Things audiences fall in love with this affable nerd? What makes Bob so special to Stranger Things? Spoilers for Stranger Things Season 2 ahead.
When audiences first meet Bob, he's passionately kissing Joyce Byers in the back of the department store she works at. The kissing is clumsy at best, but it's incredibly endearing to see someone so in awe of Joyce that they "can't stop thinking about [her.]" It's clear from the beginning that Bob is nothing special, but in a town consumed by supernatural turmoil, that's exactly what makes him special. Part of the beauty of Bob is his innocence: he was untouched by the horrifying events of Season 1 and, if it weren't for Joyce, he probably never would have known that something weird was going on during Season 2. Despite this, he rises to the occasion time and time again as the well of emotional strength that the Byers family needs to stay afloat. The reason people love Bob is because he shows that even an unexceptional person can be a hero to somebody else.
In addition to radiating normalcy in abnormal circumstances, Bob also proves himself to be an incredibly kind and capable individual. He goes out of his way to connect with Will, and attempts to inject some stability into the most turbulent home in Hawkins. He openly acknowledges Joyce's trauma, and attempts to help her overcome it not through big actions, but repeated gestures of kindness. It's clear that Joyce, Will, and Jonathan needed someone to help them get back on their feet, and Bob seems to be fully committed to doing just that.
All these descriptions of Bob as a hapless but well-meaning friend draw inevitable comparisons to Barb in Season 1, and that's an accurate parallel to some extent. They're both people that seem less like a character in a science-fiction show and more like someone who would actually live in small-town Indiana. But Barb's defining quality proved to be how disposable she was. The audience only got to spend a little bit of time with her, and then cried for #JusticeForBarb when it was clear that she was dead for good by the end of the season.
While Bob also dies by the end of his season of Stranger Things, his death felt like a natural extension of Barb's purpose. It's almost as though the Duffer brothers and the rest of the Stranger Things creative team saw the fan response to Barb and realized that audiences craved more characters like her — after all, it's highly unlikely that "Bob" and "Barb" are such similar-sounding names by accident — and their connection is further emphasized when Bob delivers a monologue about his high school experience to Joyce in Season 2:
I was never really one to put up a fight. I struggled a lot like Will when I was a kid. With bullies. It’s the ones like us that don’t punch back that people really take advantage of, you know? They rub your nose in it, just a little bit more. I don’t know why they do that. Maybe it makes them feel powerful. I don’t know. But hey, look at me now. I get to date Joyce Byers.
Barb's grounded, relatable nature made her early loss that much more jarring, just as Bob's loss proves to be the most heartbreaking sequence of Season 2. But whereas viewers were gutted by the senselessness of Barb's death, Bob is far more instrumental to Stranger Things' plot, even if he meets a similar fate. He's able to break the survivors of the Demodog attack out of Hawkins lab because he's the only person who knows BASIC; without him, the whole town of Hawkins may have ended up at the mercy of the massive Shadow Monster that attempts to creep in from the Upside Down.
Bob Newby may be boring, but his arc on Stranger Things hints that maybe being boring isn't such a bad thing. In most other stories, Bob may simply have been no more than a quirky RadioShack employee or an annoying, nerdy new boyfriend. In Stranger Things, however, Bob gets to be a hero because of his normalcy. He's able to offer the Byers family an unexciting life after they've had a little too much excitement.
As the ultimate audience surrogate this season, Bob Newby was able to provide the kindness and love that audiences wished they could've given the Byers family after Season 1. It's a great tragedy, then, that Bob Newby's death has left yet another hole in the hearts of the Byers family. If Season 3 features another character in the tradition of Barb and Bob, they'll have mighty big shoes to fill.