Stranger Things, the popular 1980's-centric show from Netflix, launched its third season on July 4, taking viewers on a nostalgic mallrat and revenge laden tour of 1985.
The show's continued success has been due to how it resonates with fans. The fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana is full of likable, well-rounded characters that annually save the world, and monsters of all shapes and species that rate high on the "creepy" factor.
The real appeal, however, is for people of my generation who actually lived the era of riding bikes with friends, winning high scores in the arcade, and hanging out in the mall's food court. It's like a window looking back on childhood, and it hits the nostalgia sensors hard. The Duffer Brothers, who created the show, absolutely did their homework for the big hairstyles, bright colors, and keyboard-laden synth-pop music.
Each season draws inspiration from the pop culture and movies of their respective year. The third season of Stranger Things draws heavy influences from John Carpenter's The Thing, and The Terminator, with a few nods to Day of the Dead, Back to the Future, and The Blob for good measure.
The freshly-opened Starcourt Mall is the new centerpiece for the season, with its bright neon facade glossing over the sinister events that lie within.
There's not only the "Mind Flayer" and the sociopathic Billy (Dacre Montgomery) from last season to contend with, but a heavy Russian presence that has infiltrated Hawkins. Whether intentional or not, the irony of what was the decade's most enduring real-world enemy has still kept its resonating presence today.
If monsters and foreign invasions weren't enough, the kids have another new and unexpected challenge to contend with: Puberty. The kids are growing up, forming new bonds, and entering relationships.
It's a lot of plot threads to navigate this season, but the show's consistent writing holds everything together well.
There isn't a weird "one off" episode like last season. The kids and adults that are aware of the town's sinister happenings each have their own adventures that lead into the series' feature film-level ensemble confrontation. As a fan, it's immensely satisfying and a reminder how likable the hero characters are.
There are a few great new additions to the main cast. Erica Sinclair (Priah Ferguson), who plays Lucas' little sister Erica, becomes a regular cast member that doles out ideas and sarcasm equally. The adult characters, Hopper (David Harbour) and Joyce (Winona Ryder), add the cherry Slurpee-loving Russian scientist Dr. Alexei (Alec Utgoff) to their ranks. There is also ice-cream slinger Robin (Maya Hawke), who plays an excellent foil to the magnificently-haired Steve Harrington (Joe Keery). The Steve and Dustin adventures carry on in this season, and are still as fun.
If there's any real issue with this season, it's that not everyone gets the same level of screentime or things to do. It's part of expanding out an already sizable cast, but everyone plays their part well in the fun, scary, and tragic moments. There's a nod to The Neverending Story, which is equal parts showstopper and bizarre when juxtaposed against the on-screen action. It earned its nostalgic grin.
This third season of Stranger Things is equally on par with the first season, and perhaps the best of the three seasons offered. The Duffer Brothers have expressed interest in continuing with a fourth and possibly fifth season. As long as they keep the quality of writing up and give the cast their moments to shine, I look forward to seeing what 1986 will bring.