In 2016 Netflix released an Amblin-esque TV series about a group of ‘80s kids stumbling into and trying to solve the mystery of a missing boy that had supernatural elements, genuine scares and great humour along with nods to it’s obvious influences of the era. It instantly made stars of its excellent young cast, especially Millie Bobby Brown and Finn Wolfhard, gave Winona Ryder a much needed career resurgence, established character actor David Harbour as a leading man and brilliantly utilised established actors such as Matthew Modine as the bad guy. It introduced us to a young girl called Eleven. We now know what Demogorgons are. We fell head over heels into the Upside Down world of Stranger Things.
Written and directed by The Duffer Brothers (along with some established film and TV directors including Shawn Levy (Real Steel, Night at the Museum), Andrew Stanton (Wall-E, Finding Nemo), Uta Briesewitz (Westworld, The Deuce, numerous Marvel Netflix shows) and Rebecca Thomas. The show managed to capture the atmosphere and feel of the small town adventures that only younger American teens would find themselves in during that era in films like The Goonies, E.T., and Flight of the Navigator, while having the snark and wit of John Hughes in the writing. It also helps that the cast have such natural chemistry and relatable traits that the show succeeded as much as it did.
Season Two came in 2017 and continued following our heroes in the aftermath of the events of the previous year while introducing new characters like Max (Sadie Sink), her older brother Billy (Dacre Montgomery), Bob (Sean Astin – perhaps the show’s biggest nod to the era – as the love interest for Joyce) and boo-hiss Paul Reiser as the (New) shadowy boss. It was enjoyable but wasn’t as surprising as the original, had plot strands that didn’t really work as well when the story moved from Hawkins, but was again a huge hit around the world.
Season Three now arrives with enough space between seasons to allow the characters and actors to grow naturally with its focus on teen emotions, physical change and raging hormones.
Eleven (Brown) and Mike (Wolfhard) literally cannot keep their hands off each other, Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin)and Max (Sink) act like they’ve been together forever, Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) returns from summer camp with tales of his beau Suzie while Will (Noah Schnapp – still looking haunted) pines to hang out with his friends to play Dungeons and Dragons. Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) and Nancy (Natalia Dyer) both work at the alpha-heavy Hawkins Post were Nancy endures ridicule (she’s even called Nancy Drew by Jake Busey as a small time hack). Steve (Joe Kerry) is no longer the most handsome guy in school and now works in an ice cream parlour dressed as a sailor. His attempts at flattery and flirtation with the opposite sex are being recorded and mocked by his co-worker and wise in her ways Robin (Maya Hawke). Joyce (Ryder) is still working in a downtown store in Hawkins where the town’s business has been battered by the shiny new metropolis of the mall and the everything that it offers under one roof. Hopper (Harbour) struggles with having a teenage daughter and it’s associated issues while still being Chief of Police in Hawkins and appearing to emulate a popular TV P.I.. Billy (Montgomery), now a lifeguard at the local pool and an object of lust to the mothers sunbathing including Mike and Nancy’s mother Mrs Wheeler (Cara Buono), runs into something whilst en-route to an illicit liaison that triggers season three’s adventures.
The show’s previous success has allowed for a bigger budget, more elaborate set pieces and the special effects have evolved (in some instances, very gorily with an actual discussion about a film it pays homage too) and again the music of the era is used to propel the story on. ‘Cold as Ice’ by Foreigner isn’t exactly used subtly in one scene, but it works well and you’ll never listen to a particularly perfectly placed synth-pop ballad in the same way again having heard it in the context it’s played here, it was cause for one of the funniest moments of the season. The production design is also spot on (keep an eye out for the films showing in the local cinema) and the clothing of the times with some truly eye watering colours on display and the excess of accessories.
It’s also the funniest season yet, with some of the best lines given to Lucas’ sister Erica (Priah Ferguson) particularly the line, “You can’t spell America without Erica!”.
This third season makes the choice to separate the narrative into multiple strands for the majority of the episodes meaning that characters are apart for some considerable time. It doesn’t slow things down nor does it complicate proceedings (if anything it works like The Two Towers albeit it has a proper start and a definite end) and they do meet at crucial moments. One thing that stands out is the alarming lack of parenting that is directly addressed at one moment, perhaps highlighting the freedom kids were given years ago and the trust parents had compared with today’s generation where everyone knows where their offspring are (or at least try to).
There’s enough going on to please the rabid established fan base and it’s very much an improvement on season two. It’s also rather emotional, especially the last episode, and there’s going to be changes when season four inevitably appears. There’s also a mid credit sequence that may hint as to what may be planned for the show’s future.
Season Three of Stranger Things (the show’s marketing referring to it as Stranger Things 3) is a clear improvement on the second season, which tended to lack direction. It’s definitely a show that’s back on track, the overwhelming sense of neon-soaked ‘80s nostalgia being milked to great effect, and moreover its a damn fine slice of entertainment and therefore one that gets a strong recommendation from this particular child of the ‘80s.
Film ‘89 Verdict – 8.5/10
Stranger Things 3 is currently available on Netflix.