In spite of the little promotion it received, Stranger Things quickly became one of Netflix’s most popular offerings when it dropped on the streaming service back in 2016. Being one of the first shows to adopt the notion that telly can be just as cinematic as film, the series made for compelling viewing, what with its thrilling premise and superbly drawn characters — not to mention its glorious cinematography and ‘80s inspired score which proved a hit with just about everyone who went to the effort to stream it. This success was replicated the following year with Stranger Things 2 and, now — with two years having passed —Stranger Things 3 is here and ready to stream — but, as one of the most highly anticipated telly events of the year, does it live up to the hype?
Well, to be quite honest: it’s a tricky one. For the most part, I’d be inclined to say yes. It’s pretty much what it says on the tin, in that it’s exactly what you would’ve expected from the series — narratively, anyhow. The story is a strong one, as — set approximately a year or so after the events of the second season — El (Millie Bobby Brown), Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) Will (Noah Schnapp), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Max (Sadie Sink) make the most out of their summer. El and Mike are finally a couple — much to the dismay of Dustin and Will, both of whom feel isolated from their peers. Elsewhere, Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) and Nancy (Natalia Dyer) both have taken on summer jobs at The Hawkins Post, while Joyce (Winona Ryder) and Hopper (David Harbour) fight the evident chemistry between them. As I said, some interesting and — potentially compelling — narratives here, but the unfortunate thing is that little of them are given the opportunity to reach their true potential.
Don’t get me wrong, Stanger Things 3 is every bit the summer blockbuster that it promised to be. It’s big, it’s bold and it’s highly colourful. However, in fulfilling this promise, I feel like the writing suffered tremendously. For one, the show doesn’t take itself too seriously this time around — which wouldn’t have mattered so much had the serious tone not already been established in the first two seasons — and, as a result, humour is invoked during life-or-death situations, which ultimately dilutes the seriousness of said situation.
The cinematography is great — as is the CGI — and the last few episodes deliver great things in terms of everyone coming together to exterminate the threats. However, it’s the earlier episodes that prove problematic, as there’s very little character development accomplished this season at all. Jonathan, for example, appeared to have no goal whatsoever throughout the eight-episode run. I mean, if you really think about it, aside from playing a supporting role in Nancy’s arc, what purpose did his character actually serve?
Speaking of Nancy, there was some groundwork laid for her to have a really great story about overcoming obstacles and not letting the bullies — or in her case, misogynists — get the better of her. However, this arc was seemingly abandoned half-way through the season. Why did we not see her achieve her victory in the closing montage? Why did her conversation with mum Karen (Cara Buono) not amount to anything?
Not even central characters such as Joyce were exempt from these issues. The biggest problem with Joyce is that her goal for the season wasn’t established all that well, and as a result, we’re not really sure what it is that she’s trying to achieve. Sure, the magnets falling off the fridge could be indicative of dark forces at work and — given everything she’s been through in the past —it’s easy to see why she’d be quick to assume the worst, but given that she’s allegedly investigating all this to ensure Will’s safety, it’s rather lazy that she has next to no contact with either of her children during the first half of the season.
Isn’t their survival the driving force behind all of her actions? If so, then we need to see her conveying this every so often. On that note, the writers use of summer as a plot device to allow the kids to get up to all sorts — without having to worry about the parents — is contrived and forced. After all that Will’s been through over the last two years, we’re really expected to believe that Joyce would take off to Illinois without making contact first? For real?
Will’s neglect was the biggest issue of the season. Without a doubt one of the most — if not the most — compelling character, Will has quite literally been to the show’s own version of hell and back. There’s plenty of possible story avenues for this character that could’ve been explored — Has his time in the Upside Down, for example, or even his possession by The Mindflayer had a long-term effect on him? Instead of exploring possible storylines such as these, however, the writers literally put Will in the corner and gave him next to no material. I don’t know about Will The Wise… Will The Wasted sounds way more appropriate.
The primary saving grace of Stranger Things 3 is undoubtedly Steve (Joe Keery) and his blossoming friendship with newcomer Robin (Maya Hawke). The chemistry between the pair is electric, and although the interrogation sequences in which they feature are, again, unbelievably comic — it was this narrative the provided much of the fresh — and truly captivating — material. What’s more, Robin’s coming out — and Steve’s nonchalant reaction to it — was a truly sublime moment. If there’s a fourth season in store for us — and it’s more than likely that there will be — it’ll no doubt be better off because of these two.
Stranger Things 3 promised a lot, and for the most part, it delivers. However, it’s undoubtedly the weakest of the three seasons thus far — even though the last two episodes manage to restore some of the magic that was missing from the earlier instalments.
Stranger Things 3 is now streaming on Netflix.