The third instalment of Stranger Things manages to tap into all of the things that made the first season such a cultural phenomenon and elevates some of its newer characters to hero status in the process.
This time around, the references to all things 80s are ramped up to their limits (think Back to the Future, Day of the Dead, and even the ill-fated New Coke) – as are the product placements – and the interpersonal relationships of the child leads are complicated by the fact that they’re all now teenagers.
Love is in the air. But with the same hormones that cause crushes come rebellion, and the writer-director duo of the Duffer Brothers deftly handle on-screen displays of both.
Watching Stranger Things’ youthful stars coming of age is a delight, and while the usual-suspects storylines are solid, it’s Gaten Matarazzo’s toothless Dustin and Priah Ferguson’s supremely sassy Erica Sinclair who shine brightest this season.
A close second place goes to Joe Kerry’s character Steve “The Hair” Harrington and newcomer Robin (played by Maya Hawke). Steve and Robin are working in the new Starcourt Mall – a location that plays so massive a role this season it’s basically a character unto itself – at an ice cream store called Scoops Ahoy.
In addition to providing some of the best dialogue of the show, Robin and Steve’s sailor outfits have got to be one of the strongest contenders for matching couples outfit options for Halloween 2019 (along with Hazel and Cha Cha from another of the year’s TV highlights, The Umbrella Academy).
Mall rats and other monsters
Starcourt Mall, meanwhile, lets the show’s creators run amok with product placements and references to the heady consumerism of mid-80s, late-Cold War, midwestern America.
Oh, that’s right, for reasons we won’t go into here, the Russian military has infiltrated Hawkins and something, well, strange is afoot.
The mall also makes for the expansion of various storylines, including the pesky Russians subplot, and Eleven’s discovery of the wonders of shopping. It’s undoubtedly the season’s inanimate object MVP (sorry Eggos, you had your time).
Oh, that’s right, for reasons we won’t go into here, the Russian military has infiltrated Hawkins and something, well, strange is afoot. There’s a Terminator-like giant spy, military uniforms, evil scientists and a bunch of other thinly veiled tropes that boil down to: communism = bad, capitalism = good.
Wholesome fare (and fair)
There are some other, subtler, political messages on offer, too, but none of them detract from Stranger Things’ charm. Somehow, despite the occasional grotesqueness of its monsters (and its villains), the show still manages to feel as wholesome as apple pie or fresh-squeezed lemonade.
It also manages to tackle its increasingly complex universe without any major stumbles or shark leaps. Well, no more than you’d expect from a nostalgia-steeped light horror show where children are the heroes and the wicked are pretty much guaranteed to get their comeuppance.
Aside from breaking various streaming records, arguably Stranger Things’ greatest achievement is its harnessing of the zeitgeist where nerds, geeks, dorks and the like are cool.
Of course, they’re cool now in a way they weren’t when the show is actually set. But that doesn’t matter if you’re selling the show to the same people who were those nerds back then… and the Duffer Brothers know it.
If you loved the first two seasons of Stranger Things, it’s pretty much a given you’re going to love the third one. Now if only we didn’t have to wait such a long time for the fourth one.