Someone should tell Duffer Brothers that they are making a show for Netflix, not building iPhones -- slight tweaks, and an upgrade won't make their show new or improved. For a series like Stranger Things to engage viewers for three seasons, the makers should have come up with new content, maybe even found different monsters to terrorise Hawkins, introduced new characters to take forward an unfamiliar storyline.
But, here we are, with the third season of Stranger Things, which follows the same set of children -- now teenagers -- doing their same old gigs of fighting an ambiguous, gooey looking, grotesque monster, and saving the world from ending. The only new thing is smooching sessions of Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and El (Millie Bobby Brown), which is driving Hopper (David Harbour) up to the wall, and of course, yet another fabulous 80's soundtrack. Otherwise, this is a thoroughly predictable show, where we have seen the same storyline play out, not once, but twice before.
When the first season of Stranger Things dropped in 2016, it was a particularly interesting addition to the genre of monster films and shows. Before that, in the history of sci-fi horror films, we had hardly ever entered a realm of alternative reality, that co-existed with our own world, hanging upside down above it. Every good monster story needs a good setting, and this was it for Stranger Things. A tight script, along with that spooky setting guaranteed instant success of the show and catapulted it to a pop culture reference point for millennials, because of its many charming nods to the '80s.
But, by the time the second season rolled in, the upside down became familiar territory for the audiences. The makers tried to upgrade the villain, from the simplistic Demogorgon -- named after the villain of the board game Dungeons and Dragons -- to a menacing Shadow Monster (Mind Flayer), with an army of demon dogs. But, that had little impact. Anyhow, the portal to the other world was closed by the end of the second season, and that is perhaps the time the Duffer brothers should have said, 'goodbye, and good riddance,' to this already flaying storyline. But, as the third instalment of the show premiered on 4th of July, we realised much like Hollywood, Netflix also insists on doing the same thing several times over, until everyone hates it.
In the third season, the Russians have somehow infiltrated the fictitious American small town, Hawkins, and they are trying to open the portal, while a vicious monster -- our good old Mind Flayer -- is out on the loose, capturing human hosts and turning them into a gooey monster while himself residing inside the super hot Billy (Dacre Montgomery). Why? Because, even monsters crave gym bod.
While on one hand there is no freshness to this show, on the other, there is no logical validity to the story. There are many questions that pop into your head as you watch season 3 of Stranger Things unfold. For example, how is the Mind Flayer out and about, while Upside down remains in a lockdown mode? Why are people eating cleaning supplies? Why only a handful of people turn into gooey monster, as rest of Hawkins is making merry on 4 July? Why can't that monster use its tentacles to catch a moving car, or run as fast as the car itself? But, the only question that is worth answering is: Should you waste almost eight hours of your life watching a slightly modified version of Stranger Things season 1 and 2? If you want my advice, you shouldn't.
One of the most important ingredients of a monster movie is the suspense, the waiting for the attack of the unknown. But, Stranger Things 3 doesn't give you that satisfaction. You know the 'unknown creature' aka Mind Flayer (who likes to take cold baths, and infest human bodies) more than you know your Facebook buddies, and unfortunately, this Mind Flayer isn't creepy enough to scare you, but just annoys you with its general disposition, much like some of your Facebook friends.
Needless to say, as a monster show, and a sci-fi horror Stranger Things 3 fail miserably, but this show gives you a wonderful throwback to '80s high school friendships and teen romances. If the previous seasons referenced Spielberg’s E.T, The Goonies, and even Ridley Scott's Alien, this season pays tribute to iconic teen film, Fast Times At Ridgemont High.
From Dustin describing his girlfriend Suzie as Phoebe Cates, to the poolside scene of Billy walking in a slow-mo, as hot moms lounging on pool benches, check him out, to steve bumping into a life-size cut out of Cates at the video store, all these scenes take you back to the teen film which released in 1982.
If you take out the monster part of Stranger Things 3, it is, in a way, a poignant tribute to adolescence, female friendship, and loss of innocence. The show is at its liveliest, engaging best when we see teen relationships at the display, be it El and Max's (Sadie Sink) sleepover where they discuss Wonder Woman, and the star of the Karate Kid, or their mall trip which is brilliantly chronicled to the tune of 'Material Girl'.
El and Mike's endless smoochfest and their burst of first love as they struggle to find words to express their feelings are endearing to watch. It is wonderful to see Hopper obliquely hinting Joyce (Winona Rider) to go out with him several times and it breaks your heart to see Will (Noah Schnapp) dump his Dungeons and Dragons into the charity box because it simply but gut-wrenchingly conveys the end of childhood for all the four boys.
Nancy (Natalia Dyer)and Jonathan(Charlie Heaton) trying to salvage their relationship after Nancy face extreme sexism at their newspaper office and gets both of them fired for following up a lead, is an excellent reminder of how hard women have fought for their rights. As the season draws to a close, stories of these characters stay with you and make you want to know more about their lives' trajectories.
80's songs like Movin' In Stereo, She's got You, Cold As Ice, and last but definitely not the least Peter Gabriel's Heroes, definitely add to the nostalgia factor, and the many nods to the '80s -- pastel boombox, photo booths, old coke, and of course, Aerobics and Radio Shack -- makes you want to watch old 80's shows like Cheers, or The Wonder Years.
Perhaps, that is why the Duffer Brothers should try making 80s teen dramas, instead of a monster show like Stranger Things. They would do far better with that genre if season 3 of Stranger Things is any indication.
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