Season 1 of Stranger Things captured my imagination completely. As somebody who grew up watching The Goonies, Flight of the Navigator and similar 80’s adventure films, it truly grabbed me and transported me back in time. Season 2 not so much. While it had its moments, and Sean Aston proved to be an excellent addition to the cast, it just didn’t consume me like the first.
Season 3 manages to recapture the magic. Not completely – that would be a virtual impossibility, but enough that I am again catapulted back in time to childhood friendships, adventures with friends, and that time of our youth where some friendships fall by the wayside and others are cemented and become lifelong relationships.
It’s due mostly to the creators, The Duffer Brothers. You get the sense that they lived through the 80’s and therefore the nostalgia seems genuine. The set design and costumes also play a valuable role in the authenticity of the look of the show. Clothing, vehicles, hair styles, even advertising and logos all make it very clear when Stranger Things is set.
But most importantly, it’s the cast. They all do an immaculate job with their characters. Here we have a group of young actors, most of whom are coming of age in real life, echoing the situations of their on screen personas. And they are truly believable. We as viewers are excited with them, sad with them, and sometimes scared with them. For a group of youngsters to be so great at conveying emotion, it’s kinda special.
It’s not just the child actors though, the older siblings are completely entrenched in the story too – Dacre Montgomery is menacing, Natalie Dyer and Charlie Heaton add to the mystery while Maya Hawke and Joe Keery add light and humour, particularly when given some form of truth serum – plus they spend nearly the entire duration of the series in ridiculous sailor outfits.
Then there are Winona Ryder and David Harbour. Generally in stories like this, adults are either villainous, or just don’t understand kids. There is a little bit of that lack of understanding from Harbour’s character, but he means well. Both are a little secondary in terms of screen time, but each is good in their respective role, and ultimately the characters are necessary to the overall story.
Of course amid all of the emotion and human element, there is the supernatural, sci-fi aspects. Cool elements in themselves – visually on par with the look of 80’s effects driven movies. These elements provide the mystery, the thrills, and of course the demogorgons. These are the bait that lure us in, but for me at least, it was the very real human moments that set the hook.
When Dusty and his girlfriend Susie begin singing The NeverEnding Story by Limahl – well if that moment didn’t bring your childhood flooding back in torrents of nostalgia, you either have no heart, or you’re simply too young to get it.
So it’s not as good as the first season, but it has enough special moments and thrills to keep us interested – and after we think all is said and done, and the show could come to a pretty natural conclusion, they set us up for an inevitable fourth season.
In the current phase of binge watching a show on Netflix or some other streaming service, the best thing a series can do is forget that it’s a series – and to me, the Stranger Things seasons play out perfectly as if they were an eight hour (or longer) movie.
Review by Rick Trewin.