July 4 is American Independence Day, but it also marks the arrival of Stranger Things season three — a release that might just be the most-anticipated in the history of Netflix.
In Hawkins, we are now up to 1985. The gang’s hormones are making themselves felt, as is the new big bad, about which reviewers have been encouraged not to say too much. I will limit myself to noting that a) the special effects are brilliant, though I still hope many, many rats were hurt in the making of this programme, and b) its mode of attack has lurked in the rank oubliette of my brain where I have been locking my darkest fears since about the year it is set. None of this is doing anything to ease my passage through the days, or indeed the series. It is scarier than triple neon eyeshadow and a spiral perm, and Godspeed to all who share the same visceral response to the accumulating army in a certain cellar by episode four.
Will periodically senses its presence, but his main cause of unhappiness is his friends’ rejection of their old world of dens in the woods and Dungeons and Dragons campaigns for the world of girlfriends. Lucas and Max are still together (though their relationship takes a backseat – possibly in response to the story of how the kiss was sprung rather unexpectedly on Sadie Sink by the directors), Mike and Eleven alternate between kissing and breaking up, and Dustin has – if we give him the benefit of the doubt – a girlfriend from science camp who lives in Utah. The friendship with Steve that was a highlight of last season continues, and is even improved by the addition of his co-worker at the ice-cream parlour, Robin (Maya Hawke). Together, they pursue the B-plot, involving Russians and mysterious boxes in a mysterious room in the new mall that is putting the high street out of business. Tentacular evil, you see, takes many forms and 80s capitalism may just be one of them. We’ll have to see how that turns out.
It’s a slicker, pacier operation than the slightly sprawling previous season, and far more fun. Perhaps the most obvious sign of the Duffers’ increased confidence in their talents and the cast is the fact that for the first time it is set in summer, denying itself the customary reliance on spooky greys and shadows to do the heavy lifting (though it does still call in the thunderstorms when necessary).
Adding to the general sense that time is a flat circle, the new characters include a corrupt mayor played by star of the 80s cult hit The Princess Bride, Cary Elwes, and a journalist intent on harassing Nancy at her summer job at the Hawkins Post (a local newspaper, children. Time to die) played with relish by Gary Busey’s lookalike son Jake.
It’s a real and joyful return to form for the show that has been taken fiercely to the hearts of people who weren’t there the first time round and, perhaps even more fiercely, by those who were. The brothers continue to play with, reference and occasionally lift all the things that made the Johns, Carpenter and Hughes, and the Steph(/v)ens, King and Spielberg, enduringly great and mash them into something equally fun, racy and frightening as hell for us all on the small screen. It’s almost like being young again.
Stranger Things first arrived on Netflix in July 2016, and quickly became one of the biggest shows on the streaming service. The '80s themed science-fiction series from the Duffer brothers features an ensemble cast of children (now young adults) including Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, and Gaten Matarazzo. Drawing on classic '80s movies for inspiration, including E.T., Back To The Future, as well as the work of Stephen King, Stranger Things has been met with commercial success and critical acclaim.
Stranger Things season 1 took viewers into the Upside Down, an alternate dimension which had been accidentally opened by paranormal investigators at the Hawkins Laboratory, Indiana. Will Byers, a young kid from Hawkins, was abducted by a creature at the same time as a young girl known only as Eleven (El), with psychokinetic powers, escaped the laboratory. She eventually helped Will's friends and family find him again. Season 2, released in October 2017, picked up a year later, with El now living with Sheriff Hopper. Will was trying to adjust to everyday life once more, but the Upside Down was still influencing him. New characters Billy (Dacre Montgomery) and Max (Sadie Sink) moved to Hawkins; Max integrated herself into Will's friendship circle, while Billy made himself known as a violent bully.
Stranger Things season 3 will pick up a few months after the events of season 2, in the summer of 1985. School is out, the pool is open, and Hawkins has a new mall. While all the cast regulars are back, there is also the addition of some new faces, including Maya Hawke as Robin, who works in the Scoops Ahoy ice cream store at the mall with Steve. The Stranger Things kids; El, Will, Mike, Lucas, Dustin and Max are growing up fast, trying to navigate the tricky teenage years while still fighting the evil darkness that is a constant threat to Hawki