Executive Produced by The Duffer Brothers and Shawn Levy
Starring Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Millie Bobby Brown, and Noah Schnapp
All episodes now streaming on Netflix
Reber’s Rating – A+
**WARNING – SOME SPOILERS WITHIN**
Could anyone have imagined when Stranger Things debuted in the fall of 2016 that the show would become such a monster hit? At first, the waves of nostalgia flooded screens around the world with a tale of four teenagers facing abnormalities from an alternate dimension, a mish-mash of teenage angst and science fiction/horror mixed with perfection. As the show has grown, so have the characters and our ability to identify with their pubescence. Everyone loves Hopper, but we all know the growing pains of being a teenager. The trials and tribulations, emotional turmoil, the awkwardness of handling the opposite sex, moving on from what made us children and into adults. While the second season of Stranger Things focused more on the people instead of the plot, the exhaustive two-year wait for the next chapter was agonizing.
At least the third season of Stranger Things is the sharpest and most breathtaking installment yet. The show leans on many pop culture properties and tropes but creates a tense, thrilling, frightful, and comedic season that is miles above the previous season and more. The writer’s room has managed to craft a tight narrative that is Fred Dekker’s Night of the Creeps meets Richard Donner’s The Goonies, with a heavy dosage of George Romero and Stephen King for good measure. At season’s start, I was invested fully, chin on open hands and pulled into the story of Hawkins all over. By the season’s end, I was a ball of emotion, tears rolling down my cheeks and just wanting more of what’s to come for our characters. Hands down, from the creeps to the laughs, Stranger Things is the best blockbuster I have ever bear witness to on any screen. Period.
Stranger Things manages to do right where most of today’s serials go wrong. Rather than stretch the story out across 16-to-22 episodes, Netflix’s darling excels by making each episode a more cinematic experience. Viewers already know that Hawkins, Indiana is a special little place. Rather than dragging the story out, Stranger Things outrivals by getting right to the point without the fluff. Sure, supernatural woes once again rise in Hawkins and we could assume that Will Byers is again the target of The Mind Flayer, the Upside Down’s big-bad contained last season. And, of course, we’d be wrong. The story instead diverts into differing components rather than one larger tale, several smaller stories that, when combined, all factor into the larger whole – a notion I wish more shows could harmonize.
Our ever-increasing cast of characters is segregated into different bands in their various chronicles. Joyce Byers, questioning her ties to Hawkins, is palling around with the ornery Sheriff Hopper, trying to prove to Joyce that the Upside Down is no longer a threat. (And trying to take her out on a date. Still.) Eleven, who discovers her feminine side thanks to Max, stumbles upon the Mind Flayer’s resurgence and teams with Max, Lucas, Mike, and Will to track down its whereabouts. Jonathan and Nancy go amateur sleuthing whilst interning for The Hawkins Post. Will just wants to be a kid and play Dungeons and Dragons with his pals. Best of all Dustin finds himself teaming up with Steve, alongside Scoops Ahoy co-worker Robin and Lucas’ younger sister Erica, as they track down a Soviet communique that Dustin stumbles upon.
That’s right – the Soviets. The overall narrative circles around the sprawling shopping mall that has sent downtown Hawkins into economic decline, the Soviet Army’s attempts to reopen the gate to the Upside Down, and a greedy mayor trying to put on the most colossal Fourth of July carnival on record. Throw in The Mind Flayer and Billy Hargrove, you have the makings of an overstuffed season. Thankfully, The Duffer Brothers streamline the narrative to finely balance the plots, each part of the overall narrative spun with its own distinctive feel, all coming to a head by season’s end that leaves you feeling wholly satisfied. While the layers to our core cast do progress many scenes are stolen away by Priah Ferguson’s Erica, thinking she’s a diva but refusing to believe she’s a nerd, and the dynamic between Steve Harrington and squirrely Robin, one of the most natural-feeling pairings of the entire season.
Above all else, Stranger Things is a coming-of-age tale about the joys and fears of growing up. Sure, the horror and science fiction elements very much make up the center of the show’s core, but the characters have always been the true strength of the show. Though I was a teenager in the 1990s, I can readily recall when childhood began to erode as maturity began to settle in. Friendships whittle away. We’re awkward with friends and others based upon our unique interests and likes. We’re attracted to the opposite sex and discover dating. Common interests change from childlike facets into more acceptable appreciations. You can either align your feelings with Mike, starting to grasp the idea of loving Eleven, or Will, who isn’t ready to let his childhood slip away into the past. Change is inevitable and Stranger Things excels based upon its very real characters, every single one of them.
Though, what makes Stranger Things stand apart from its last two season is the full tilt to the horror genre. While the science fiction components are dialed back and the comedic pieces amplified within reason, The Duffer Brothers finally give fans what has been teased since the start. The Demogorgon and Mind Flayer draw heavy inspiration from the minds of H.R. Geiger and Stephen King, but the violence and scares were more muted in the first two seasons. This season, we dive straight into the chills without nary a warning. For all eight episodes, blood and guts and gore drip from every corner. Humans, rodents, even the Mind Flayer brought to life is absolutely gruesome and gnarly. Imagine James Gunn’s Slither meets Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers. When you think the show won’t get more macabre, you’ll find your nightmares eek back to life. While the scares may not be everyone’s cup of tea, the change is welcome to show the real dangers that lie in wait for our characters.
Really, by the time the credits roll, Stranger Things officially proves to be the biggest and best blockbuster of the summer – even over Avengers: Endgame. The care given to craft the characters with the troubles of adolescence trumps anything on a screen within the last couple of years. Stranger Things has only aired 25 episodes but has woven flesh and blood in these characters in a short amount of time. The horror elements may greatly add a weightier sense of despair and dread in each episode, but every great show or movie is born by our ability to connect with the characters. As this gang tries to ascertain their place in the world, I feel more associated now more than ever. The real demon is growing up. With the end just around the corner, I cannot wait to see just how the Duffer Brothers will conclude Stranger Things.