I attempted writing reviews for Stranger Things earlier, for whatever reason I lost interest. It’s TV comfort food. Critically beyond reproach, it’s a bonus that it does so many things well. A brief for the unconverted, it is a throwback to the child adventure era of Steven Spielberg’s 1980 Amblin-produced films (E.T., The Goonies, Gremlins, Back to the Future), as well as other fantasy-like Dungeons & Dragons and the works of Stephen King. It’s very much a rip-off but importantly one put together with a great amount of wit that crucially cares about its characters.
Bias: For once, I feel this is a Netflix show that would benefit from a traditional television model over the summer. Two of this season’s best plot points were spoiled for me by premature targetted clickbait articles of Entertainment Tonight Canada and overzealous fans who prefer to post pictures they didn’t take while refusing to use a spoiler tag on Social Media. I didn’t ask for or follow any of this.
Season Two of Stranger Things was the best thing the network has ever done, and looking at the writing/ directing credits this season I was skeptical the could top it. They don’t but what follows this season isn’t really a come down. It is a bit slower out of the gate and doesn’t feature unexpected character arcs like Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) or Bob Newbie (Sean Astin), nor is the direction as taut as the two episode arc Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, WALL-E) directed from Season 2. However I would say Stranger Things 3 is an appropriate follow up similar to Return of the King/Jedi. Unlike other zeitgeist shows it is aware of its strengths and weaknesses. Season 3 contains the series’ best finale to date, and thanks to good writing also has some great and often funny payoffs, highlighted by one funny musical interlude (Spoiler Alert).
If there’s a major downturn it stems from simply not being as fresh as prior seasons. Some characters have plot armor which tend toward briefly viewing the show on auto-pilot. Some characters are just not given new material to work with. Previously I was never able to quantify my dislike for Jonathan Byers when his character was an outsider/ underdog. Here he suffers in comparison to the character growth of his former rival Steve Harrington. Lets review: #1) He spies on Nancy Wheeler changing and she doesn’t think of him as a total creep (nor does the show really admit it but it would be very fascinating territory for that character to play). 1a) Despite his voyeuristic tendencies he failed to notice Barb’s abduction. This is in Season One. 2) Despite this being the third Strange thing to happen in Hawkins, Indiana he dismisses his girlfriend Nancy Wheeler out of hand when she’s onto what turns the main threat this season, DESPITE viewing evidence of it. Also the way he talks to animals kind of annoys me, and he seems like a shitty photographer. He doesn’t stand up up for his girlfriend when she’s berated at work and just complains when she walks in the red room. #3) He always looks disheveled. Get a comb Byers.
Other characters that suffer minor downturns are Mike Wheeler who I always have disliked and his disastrously long haircut or unfortunate fashion choice for this season do not help. All he does is worry about his girlfriend getting damaged which Max points out. Max gets some appropriate added depth as the plot has her interact with her brother Billy and gives her some much needed girl time and supplying character growth for Eleven. Will Byers doesn’t get much to do which is so weird considering how much of the series plot revolves around him. Don’t waste Noah Schnapp.
Three characters the show successfully develops are Steve’s co-worker Robin (Maya Hawke, looking like a young Charlize Theron). She’s a good sarcastic foil to one of last season’s favourite characters, and the results of a later interrogation scene provide a good dose of comedy. Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) continues his run as one of the series MVP’s. The least developed of the original clan Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) gets enough material acting as the grounding force within his group. His sister Erica is upgraded to a series regular and joins favourites Steve, Dustin and Robin in the season’s strongest plotline, the strongest of the five (Hopper/ Steve/ Nancy/ Billy/ Eleven) which later merges into three by the middle (Conspiracy/ Mysterious Illness/ Basement) and then finally into one centred around the Starcourt Mall at the end of the last two episodes. Although I’m leaving a few fun locations out. Over the seasons you can tell the writers have grown to favour Hopper and Eleven over The Byers, with the Wheelers in between.
Overall this is perfect summer viewing material. It has a few laughs, some top tier TV special effects, some nice characters, all put together in a nice package that doesn’t tax the brain cells. The writing isn’t always sharp, some of the production design is uncreative (at one point a character is thrown into a control panel that moves on wheels/ beyond a hidden door lies more concrete and metal hallways leading to endless sub-basements). But as far as Netflix productions go it is far and head one of the best out there.
Rating: B (good but not as strong as last season).