Full disclosure time, people: I wear my “I Survived the 1980s” t-shirt proudly; I also am one of a dying breed that still possesses the power to make actual mix-tapes via the handy device us Generation X types (or are we referred to as “The Silent Generation” this month? I really can’t keep up with the vernacular…) call a tape recorder. Yes: I. Am. Old. I was born in the early 1970s and thus came of age truly in the 80s, that era of Bugle Boy, Milli Vanilli and Corey Haim movies. I walk this new and sleek earth that has been completely digitized and rendered in 4K – whatever that is – as a flag bearer of a time long gone and now a thing of nostalgicity in the ethos of pop culture. I’ve lived long enough to see my bountiful fashion faux pas turned into a celebration of ultimate kitsch; that Corey Feldman Dream a Little Dream look that I so gleefully yet so ill-advisedly attempted to rock in the tenth grade? Yeah, that’s considered cool now. This means that not only did I, the so-called meek, finally inherit the earth but apparently so too did Corey Feldman. Who says that life doesn’t have a sense of humor?
The above venting of my spleen is all just elaborate wordplay to state unequivocally that I wholeheartedly approve of season 3 of the Netflix paean Stranger Things. It passes the smell test from this old timer and it not only nails the period – 1985 by this point – it also captures the tonal spirit of great film and horror literature that spans the gamut from Ray Bradbury to Stephen King and then back around again to Jack Finney.
The season kicks off in the summer of 1985 and quickly catches us up with one of the best ensemble casts in television: Eleven and Mike (Millie Bobby Brown and Finn Wolfhard, two of the coolest sounding names in Hollywood since River Phoenix) are still very much a hot and heavy item attempting to navigate young hormones and a weary Sheriff Hopper (David Harbour at his wily best) who has now officially adopted our young ingénue and is very protective of her indeed. Meanwhile, Lucas and Maxine (Caleb McLaughlin and Sadie Sink) are rocking it as an item, too, and Dustin and Steve (Gaten John Matarazzo and Joseph Keery) – surely the best ad hoc duo since Peter DeLuise and Dustin Nguyen from 21 Jump Street days – find themselves embroiled in a new adventure straight out of David Lynch, very much leaving Will (Noah Schnapp) to fend for himself as he and his mother (Winona Ryder) try to pick up their shaken lives in the once quiet town of Hawkins. It’s not all Peyton Place, however: Something is stirring in the background of the candy lit background of the Starcourt Mall that has everything to do with the Upside Down and some very covert Russian baddies.
The wonderful thing about Stranger Things is that every episode is not only a payoff akin to busting open a gaudy pop culture piñata, but the writers and creators of the show – the exotically named Duffer Brothers – know how to deliver believable and fun characters that you want to reconnect and spend time with. If the above scorecard of actor and character names isn’t quite enough for you, don’t worry, just Super-Size your order to include the brilliant Natalia Dyer and Charlie Heaton as Nancy and Jonathan, the Hawkins made to order Joanie and Chachi. Want some Ace Merrill to wash down that can of Coke 2? You’ll find his illegitimate brother Billy Hargrove as cheesily and menacingly essayed by Darce Montgomery making life altogether treacherous for our band of unlikely heroes. You say you want more? Sigh. Alright: Maya Hawke (herself the brilliant offspring of two accomplished actors whose roots extend back into the 80s; Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman) delivers a resplendent turn as Steve Harrington’s food court Girl Friday with a heart of gold and an intellect to match.
The first three episodes of the eight episode season really is all set up and groundwork for the rollercoaster ride of a scary story to follow and introduces us to a seeming Russian plot to reopen the Upside Down that Eleven had closed at the end of season 2. Part of this is done by borrowing a page from literary mensch Jack Finney who devised pod people – aliens from beyond the stars wanting to colonize earth by taking over the bodies of humankind – for his seminal science fiction parable, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It’s an old trope that’s been used ad nauseam from the many Body Snatchers film adaptations all the way up to The X-Files. Perhaps it should be a little stale and tired by now, but in the hands of the Duffer Brothers and their remarkable cast it seems alive and vibrant in the most horrific of ways, forcing me to concede that sometimes leftovers can be really good no matter how often you’ve gorged on them.
So big surprise: The very old man/boy reviewer loves season 3 of Stranger Things. And while the copiously referenced Jack Finney might have at one time written that “there’s a time and place for everything, and while this may have been the place, it wasn’t the time,” I think he might have rescinded that thought if he had seen Stranger Things nailing time, place and story all in one beautiful red bow of a season three. His pod people would be proud, that’s for sure.
Risk taker, Michael E. Tennenbaum, and NY Times bestselling co-author, Donna Beech, put some serious …