TV Binge Review: "Stranger Things" (Season 3, 2019)
Pardon the ripoff, but it’s a very strange thing that I didn’t review either of the previous 2 seasons of what is (arguably) Netflix’s biggest hit. They’ve both been huge hits with me (the first season admittedly more than the second), after all. Why the fuck didn’t I cover that? Well, consider that rectified with the Duffer Brothers third and best season of their groundbreaking show.
**I’m assuming I don’t need to recap the first 2 seasons for you**
The third season finds our group of kids rapidly growing up in the summer of 1985. Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) has just returned from a nerdy science camp in Utah with a homemade radio tower and tales of a mysterious new girlfriend named Suzie. Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) is dating Max (Sadie Sink). Mike (Finn Wolfhard; It) and Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown; Godzilla: King of the Monsters) are not just an item, they’re the item. Mike’s sister, Nancy (Natalia Dyer), and Will’s big brother, Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), are working at the Hawkins Post and hating their jobs (but loving each other). The only one who isn’t deep into the dating game is Will Byers (Noah Schnapp)- he’s still all about the Dungeons and Dragons and trying to forget all the horrible shit that befell him at the hands of the Demogorgon and the Mind Flayer (which is a supremely healthy coping mechanism, in my humble opinion). Will’s mom, Joyce (Winona Ryder; Beetlejuice) is still trying to come to grips with Bob’s death at the lab with the help of Sheriff Hopper (David Harbour; Hellboy). There’s also Steve “The Hair” Harrington (Joe Keery) and that fucking amazing head of hair, slinging ice cream at the brand new Starcourt Mall. The dangers of the past, however, aren’t dead and buried. The Russians are up to something in sleepy little Hawkins, Indiana that only our unlikely heroes and their families can stop. Also, the Mind Flayer isn’t totally dead…and now it’s aiming to take over the town Invasion of the Body Snatchers style with the aid of Max’s devilishly handsome brother, Billy (Dacre Montgomery; Power Rangers).
The beauty of a show like Stranger Things is that it’s a bit of an anomaly in that it shouldn’t work. Follow me here- it panders shamelessly to the nostalgia of the audience, it’s a mishmash of different genres/themes (horror, coming of age, comedy, drama, cheese), and it’s almost unbearably geeky. In any other period of time, this show would have probably had a hard time finding its footing. However, we live in a wonderful time where nerdy is the new cool and people love to be pandered to. Also, the ‘80s are insanely hot right now, if you hadn’t noticed.
It doesn’t hurt when you have such a talented cast, as well, covering a range of ages and experience levels. It’s borderline criminal to put together this good of an ensemble, nor does it hurt that they’re clearly enjoying the experience and bonding as much as they are. As with the previous seasons, there are new faces that steal the show- the legendary Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride, Saw) as Mayor Kline, Alec Utgoff as the lovable Russian Dr. Alexei, and especially Maya Hawke (the friggin’ daughter of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke!!) as Robin, Steve’s ice-cream slinging partner in crime. She’s so good here that it’s unfair to Steve, and that’s really saying something! I could rave about her all day, but I’ll spare you that. She’s a legit revelation from serious pedigree.
The nostalgia (always potent in Stranger Things) is turned up to 11 (see what I did there?) in the third season. That mall is a thing of Reagan-era beauty and instantly took me back to my childhood in a way that I could hear, taste, and smell. The clothes are appropriately cringe-inducing; even the damn cereal boxes are spot-on! If you weren’t fortunate enough to grow up in the ‘80s, you’ll get something of an idea of how retardedly awesome it was. Be jealous, kids- we were the last great generation.
The beauty of the third season that will stand the test of time is the story arcs, though. Character growth is essential to the emotional connection with an audience, and you’re given a masterclass in what that looks like. All of these kids are growing up, and that’s harder and more gut-wrenching than any Mind Flayer slave or Demodog could ever be. Friendships are tested…even the D&D suffers for it! The parents get their fair share of it, too. Mrs. Wheeler takes a potential trip to Cougartown. Joyce tries to heal while slowly coming around to how she feels about Hopper and vice versa. In a scenario that’s as wildly unbelievable as you could possibly ask for, it’s the reality of these connected relationships that grounds everything and makes you care deeply. It’s deeply nuanced writing that belies the surface superficiality you’re led to see with all of the nostalgic fun.
You’ll fall in love with so much here, honestly:
I bet Suzie isn’t even real…
Of course it’s the goddamn Russians!
Meet Lucas’ sister. She’s a damn pistol.
Is she eating fertilizer??
Billy’s cougar walk as lifeguard
Mrs. Wheeler’s family moment and decision
Dear God, the gore FX!! This is horror, folks!!
The Neverending Story
George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead in theaters
Back to the Future in theaters
Bathroom barf confessions
Steve and Robin drugged
The bonding of Eleven and Max and their mall trip
New Coke vs Old Coke
How much the kids have grown
Will’s mad DM skills
Social commentary so subtle that it’s a thing of beauty
Lucas teaching Mike about how women work
Max teaching Eleven about how boys work
That’s a short list of the subtle (and not-so-subtle) awesomeness of what you’re in store for. There’s far more, and I’m being vague about a lot…but I really don’t want to spoil anything. I belly laughed too many times to count and came out of my seat on more than one occasion. No bullshit.
Fair warning, though- be prepared with some tissue in the last episode. History will prove it to be one of the ten best episodes of TV ever produced. Even the most cynical and hard-hearted amongst you won’t be able to keep it together when Eleven gets hold of Hopper’s notes for The Talk. It’s one of the truest, most heartfelt things I’ve ever heard from a fictional character OR in real life. I have a 15-year-old daughter, you see, and the lessons and truths therein are so damn real. No shame in those tears. When my baby girl was still an infant, a wise man told me “Son, your baby girl will break your heart…not just one day but over and over again.”
He was so right. Whoever wrote that clearly knows a thing or two about that lesson. It’s simply beautiful.
The Duffer Brothers and company have created a transcendent work of television after a somewhat lackluster second season, a true bounce-back that is rightly being praised far and wide. Add me to the list of critics and fans singing their praises.
As for you? Sit down and give yourself roughly seven hours to binge it all at one time. Don’t fuck around. If you don’t plan ahead of time to watch it all in one sitting you’ll just end up missing work and skipping a previous engagement to do so anyways. You’ve been warned.