Watch it, Nerd!
Yo, this be Reuben. The Duffer Brothers have come to exploit our bountiful fountains nostalgia juices once again, and we welcome them with open arms, the bastards. Still, we wouldn’t welcome them as we do if this show wasn’t as fLIPPIN’ good as it is. As I said before in my TV Diary article earlier this year, Stranger Things blew me away as a latecomer to the series with its fantastic ensemble cast and playful, authentic take on the sci-fi-horror genre, and while its sequel was less focused and a bit of a difficult second album in that way, it had the style, character and conclusion to more than make up for that.
After that breathtaking ending of Stranger Things 2, however, I had to wait half a year for the third installment, which, although far shorter than anyone’s wait who watched it at the time, felt like millennia. So, with anticipation and excitement levels through the roof, I was not ready to be let down by this follow-up: And, thankfully, I definitely wasn’t. Stranger Things 3 is a colourful, fun and slick third chapter with perhaps even more style than its predecessor, and, while the original series can’t be topped just yet it seems, it has enough substance and just enough magic to come pretty close, at least.
The main aspect that this third addition plays off of is its summer setting, coinciding its Independence Day release with that setting back in ’85, with the freedom of the summer holidays tying sweetly with the theme of the core characters’ teenage development, as well as adding a vibrant hint of colour and lending itself well to the neon lights of Starcourt Mall alongside a whole host of classic 80s fashion. With this setting, the Duffers are given free reign to give the series a more lively and entertaining mood, which feels like a natural progression of what they’d brought to the table in season two — just brighter, funnier, and bigger. Bigger indeed through the Independence Day setting too, as its patriotic themes lend themselves fittingly to the Soviet presence in Stranger Things 3, which, whilst increasing that sinister atmosphere the series is famous for, epitomises the larger scale that the Duffers were attempting to pull off here — effectively moving the plot onto an international scale, and thus making it feel that bit more pressing.
True too indeed is that key character development, which ties in with the summer setting so well, and sees our favourite bunch of littluns clumsily grow into maturity in a fittingly entertaining and light-hearted manner, but with sprinklings of seriousness wherever its needed for emotional effect – particularly powerful with Will’s development as he struggles to catch up with his friends and grow out of childhood after being stuck in the Upside Down for basically 2 years, what a dope.
The characters’ growth in age here is as well-realised, too, as their growth in likability as characters, with Dustin and Steve in particular seeing that bond they struck in season two come to the fore in a brilliantly fun way as they attempt to tackle the Soviets’ plans, whilst Robin is a fantastic new addition to the cast and Erica (Lucas’ younger sister) sees more screentime, for the pure benefit of the viewer, as one of the funniest characters in the entire season – whilst Billy, angry-mullet-boi himself, finally realises his role in the show here, after feeling pretty pointless beforehand. Eleven, too, finally sees reward for her clumsily written soul-finding journey in season two, as her character sees more and more depth, particularly through her friendship with Max, which sets both characters free in terms of finding individuality — as all members of the cast do well, whilst very much retaining the endearing togetherness forged in the earlier seasons. Of course, it goes without saying that all these guys are portrayed brilliantly by their respective actors; Stranger Things 3 shows a cast exceptionally comfortable in their roles and eager to explore them, to great effect — Finn Wolfhard proves further he is an absolute LAD, David Harbour is just as good as always as Hopper, Wynona Ryder puts in another bomb of a performance, the list could go on for a while.
In terms of the plot here, as I touched on a li’l bit, while bigger in scale and utilizing its sunny, firework-y themes well, follows a familiar structure with those separate but eventually interweaving plotlines we loved before. Dustin, Steve, Robin and Erica try to uncover Russian secrets underneath Starcourt, Hopper and Joyce follow suspicious leads at Hawkins Lab and so forth, Nancy and Jonathan pursue a mysterious newspaper case, and Eleven and Max try to uncover a troubling case of a missing lifeguard all while Will’s Upside Down-y senses are tingling. At the same time as all this, though, Mike and Lucas try and overcome girl troubles, providing a fun point for the mystery and sci-fi shenanigans to bounce off of in an engaging balance which mixes light-hearted comedy, Soviet enterprising and evil mind-flaying monsters in a fittingly exciting way.
Much like Stranger Things 1 and 2 both, it all culminates in a, for lack of a better word, amazing finale, and a wonderfully satisfying ending to boot, which, for me, could have worked as an ending to the entire show, if not for the intriguing tease post-credits. Still, assuming season four does happen and it does end the series as the Duffers have suggested it might, they’ll be hard-pressed to think up a more affective conclusion than they put forward this time.
Even so, for however much I enjoyed it, this third season has its negatives, too. Much like season two, the pacing here still isn’t perfect; whilst the first two or three episodes make great use of the sunny setting and set the scene very nicely and stylishly with fun character and script alike, it takes until episode four for things to properly get into their swing, and to get properly G-O-O-D. I feel like at first, the sinister stuff feels much more like a throwaway sub-plot than the brooding, building and terrifying focal point it had effectively been in the first season, particularly, as it takes a good while to properly find its feet with the scary stuff, which is what we watch it for really, at the end of the day. I also can’t help but feel that perhaps some of that magical mystery aspect of the original season is still missing, because while the grandeur builds and the explosions get bigger, that innocent mysterious aspect of Eleven’s character has faded, and with it the series’ as a whole.
Nonetheless, while Eleven’s development as an individual character is probably more rewarding as it is anyway, Netflix’s latest major offering conclusively and very definitively makes up for its slow start with the rest of its entirety, as even then it feels even more entertaining than season two did, and with more of a grounded focus, less punk gangs (really grateful for that one), and even more scary monsters, oh boi. Part of me still can’t help but pine for that awesome Halloween-centered tone of its predecessor, but Stranger Things 3 sees the series come further into its own and wears the fun-loving, freeing feel of the summer on its sleeve, bringing more than enough thrills, mystery and nostalgic bite that it’ll almost definitely stay the best TV event of the year; expertly produced and infinitely recommendable for anyone who wants to be entertained.
Bringing redundant opinions for scrollers everywhere,