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Josh Reviews Stranger Things Season Three

In Stranger Things season three, we rejoin the kids (and a few heroic adults) of Hawkins, IL in the summer of 1985.  The kids are enjoying summer and the brand new Starcourt Mall that’s been built in their town.  Mike and Eleven are a couple and are inseparable (to the frustration of El’s adopted father Hopper).  Steve is working at the mall’s ice cream shop.  Nancy and Jonathan are working as interns at the Hawkins Post, but Nancy’s desires to be involved in real news reporting are constantly thwarted by the condescending men who work there.  Dustin has just returned from a science camp, and detects a strange Russian transmission on the radio he sets up.  Will is frustrated that the gang seems to be drifting apart, and is alarmed when he begins to feel hints that the Mind Ripper has returned.

Season three of Stranger Things is, overall, a terrific new installment of this loving pastiche of the 1980’s films of Steven Spielberg and Amblin Entertainment, the stories of Stephen King, the films of John Carpenter, and more.  (Click here for my review of season one and here for my review of season two.)  These eight new episodes are fun and exciting.  The story moves along at a rapid clip.  (We don’t get any episode-long digressions in the manner of season two’s much-criticized Eleven adventure “The Lost Sister”.)  I’m pleased to see the story and the characters moving forward.

My main complaint is that I wanted more!  We had to wait over a year between seasons one and two (from July 2016 to October 2017) and almost two whole years between seasons two and three (October 2017 to July 2019).  After so long a wait, I watched these eight new episodes in about a week.  It’s all over and done far too soon to suit me!  I know this is the model these days… and I prefer eight tight episodes to a longer season that drags in the middle.  But it seems to me that, despite how ambitious this show is, they should be able to get us eight new episodes annually.  After waiting almost TWO years for this new batch, it wound up feeling a little anticlimactic to me after so much anticipation.  I hope the Duffer Brothers and Netflix are able to bring us season four on a shorter timetable.

I also have to point out that the show is running into trouble because the show’s narrative timeline is unfolding far more slowly than the production schedule of actually making the show.  Season one took place in November 1983, season two took place in October 1984, and season three is only 9 months later, in … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Stranger Things Season Two!

Like most everybody else, I quite enjoyed the first season of the Duffer Brothers’ Stranger Things last year.  (Click here for my review.)  But while I enjoyed that first eight-episode installment, by the end of it I wasn’t sure the show could sustain a multi-season run.  Would the show’s eighties-homage nature get old?  More problematically, while the final two episodes of season one were thrilling, I was disappointed by the number of narrative threads left hanging (read to the end of my review to see what I’m talking about); and if the show couldn’t be bothered to resolve these plot holes, it didn’t seem to me like a strong foundation for a lengthy run.

So color me pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed season two of Stranger Things.  While this second season doesn’t have the joy of discovery of this new and unexpected show that was part of what made watching season one so exciting, I actually think season two is a stronger piece of narrative story-telling, compelling from start to finish and with a more tightly plotted story.

I’ve read some complaints that the season starts too slowly, but I didn’t feel that way at all.  I enjoyed the way the show took the time to re-establish the characters and where they all were at, emotionally, a year after the events of the first season.  The obvious question was, why would any of these characters stay in Hawkins, but the show smartly answered that.  (Showing how Joyce Byers and Jim Hopper have become reliant on the scientists at the lab to monitor Will was a clever way to keep the characters tied to Hawkins.)

As always, all of the main kids are terrific, and the show smartly gave each of the main boys their own individual story-line here in season two.  We see that Mike has fallen into something of a depression at the disappearance of Eleven, while Dustin comes to care for a baby monster he nicknames Dart and Lucas begins to fall for the new-girl-in-town, Max.  Season one focused on the search for the missing Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), but that meant that Will wasn’t actually in the show very much.  Here in season two, Will steps to the forefront, and we discover that young Noah Schnapp is a fantastic actor, taking Will on quite a harrowing journey as he begins to succumb to the influence of what the boys nickname the “Mind Flayer” from the Upside Down.  There were more than a few scenes in which I was stunned by how great Mr. Schnapp’s performance was.

The older kids remain very interesting as well in season two.  Though Nancy ended season one in … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Stranger Things

Stranger Things, created by the Duffer Brothers, is an eight-episode Netflix mini-series.  Set in Indiana in 1983, the story begins with the disappearance of twelve-year-old boy, Will Byers, in mysterious and possibly supernatural circumstances.  Will’s three best friends Mike, Lucas, and Dustin set out to investigate what happened to their friend.  They soon meet a mysterious, near-mute girl who goes only by the name Eleven who seems to have telekinetic powers.  Does the government facility from which Eleven has apparently escaped have a connection to Will’s disappearance?  Will’s distraught mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) is also desperately searching for her son, and she becomes convinced that she has been able to be in contact with him somehow through the electronics in her house.  Although the town Sheriff, Hopper (David Harbour), who has a past with Joyce, is at first dubious of Joyce’s claims, he gradually becomes convinced that she might be on to something.  Mike’s sister Nancy is going through her own drama, entering a new relationship with Steve Harrington, one of the most popular boys at school.  But when she sees something terrible in the woods behind Steve’s house, she and Will’s weird, outsider brother Jonathan start doing their own looking-into the weird happenings in their small town.

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Stranger Things is a lot of fun, and I very quickly got sucked right into the story being told.  The series is a loving homage to a whole host of influences that many who were kids in the eighties (as I was!) likely have a wonderful warm nostalgic feelings for: Amblin Entertainment and the films of Steven Spielberg, particularly E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial; and also The Goonies, which was directed by Richard Donner and released by Amblin; and also the novels of Stephen King.  There are a lot of common narrative threads that run through those stories, which have been adapted here in Stranger Things: a story set in a small American town with supernatural elements, focuses on a group young kids who come together to go on the adventure.  The combination of a coming-of-age story with some sort of adventure/supernatural/sci-fi element proved a potent combination for so many of those great movies/novels/etc. in the eighties and the combination works every bit as well here in Stranger Things.  The show is filled with lots of little touches that are designed to strike that nostalgia chord in viewers, such as the very distinct font for the show and episode titles in the opening credits, as well as the sight of the boys riding around their small town on their bicycles.  These elements are fun, but luckily they don’t overwhelm the show to become nothing more than reminders of things we’ve seen in other things … [continued]