Sat. Sep 24th, 2022

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XcnHOQ-cHa0

The latest trailer for Stranger Things S3

When Netflix is Weird stuff initially hitting the scene in 2016, the surprise summer hit hit a national nerve. However, there was a small, repeated pushback: huhhaven’t we done this before?

The bikes. The supernatural. The kids save the world with Walkie Talkies in hand. And if nostalgic indulgence, based on King and Spielberg allusions and influences, initially turned some viewers off, season two may have turned the repellent into Eleven (ahem) by doing the sequel. The second series of the series had the same primary victim, a different D&D-inspired kind of evil lurking, and another piece of kids saving their friend after a science class.

Now two years and one thrones-an amount of anticipation later, the Strange Things 3 premiere arrives in just days (July 4). Netflix has already shared the season with a number of TV reviewers, along with an extensive list of 17 embargoed facts (which an editor graciously reads through so I could remain as ignorant as Hawkins adults as a dark plague creeps into their small town) . After a preview of the first two episodes this weekend, there’s at least one specific one that needs to be shared right now: any fear of an old sequel can be allayed. It’s a strange new world in Hawkins.

Hawkins: The Teen Years

First and foremost, Will Byers (played by Noah Schnapp) will soon be relinquishing his place in TV’s “Most Tortured Character” pantheon (have fun up front, Chernobyl-Mad Men-The Terror’s Jared Harris and everyone on The Handmaid’s Tale† As trailers have pointed out, Will finally seems to be avoiding the attention of the supernatural (at least initially) as the Upside Down powers ponder bigger ambitions. It may feel like a small thing, but such an adjustment can lead to drastic changes in scale. Compared to the relatively small tasks in S1 and S2 (“Save Will; make Elf close the portal”), new objectives could mean more danger, which could pose a problem (or problems) that a handful of kids really can’t solve on their own .

However, Schnapp doesn’t necessarily get a whole new set of characters to play with in S3. Without getting into spoiler territory about the plot, Will takes on the role of “teenage boy who isn’t ready to move on to teenage stuff” in the group, and constant yells of “Can we just play D&D now?” can feel a bit monotonous over time. At first, Eleven (Millie Bobbie Brown) also seems a bit stilted about her character’s past, as her attempts at living the teenage girl life (shopping time, disputes with parents, etc.) use English language after a childhood in the lab. But last season’s favorite combos like Hopper (David Harbour) and Joyce (Winona Ryder) or Steve (Joe Keery) and Dustin (Gaten Matazarro) still delight, and previously underutilized folks like the Wheeler parents (led by Cara Buono) or particularly jerky brother Billy (Dacre Montgomery) has more to do.

Beyond every singular character, Weird stuff regains a bit of its lead, that stab of darkness that ultimately puts it on TV-14 territory according to Netflix ratings. For two seasons, I’d argue that the scariest sequence the show has ever aired remains the opening of S1E1, when an unknown entity singled out anonymous lab workers in a dimly lit hallway. In the first two episodes of S3, Weird stuff offers bits of action that will make many cringe.

This probably stems from a natural evolution: The cast has aged (both on-screen and off), and the show has to keep up. On the light-hearted side, this means more nods to Good Ol’ Fashioned Suburban Youth™ (hanging out at the mall, time by the pool, messing around in romantic teen relationships, puberty). On the dark side, this means more real-world truths seeping into idyllic Hawkins like Demogorgons have done before. It’s not just bullying in the schoolyard this time. S3 features themes such as sexism, the economic downturn of a small town in America, and dissatisfaction with one’s place in life.

Thankfully, just because the show seems to be maturing doesn’t mean all youthful fun has been given up. Our heroes are hanging out in the mall, ham radios are ringing and Jim Croce is blaring. Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of SURVIVE keep the series’ signature sound, creating a few earwig-y variations on old themes. And the show’s talent for visual sequences (seen in things like Eleven’s pseudo-western showdown with Mike’s bullies in S1) seems intact; becoming arguably Netflix’s most important/popular series may have increased its VFX budget as well.

Perhaps best of all, Weird stuff seems a bit more kinetic this go-round. Yes, the first episode contains some necessary table settings, just like its S1 and S2 predecessors, but the events of S3 are set in motion fast. A somewhat condensed number of episodes overall (back to eight episodes after nine in S2) indicates that the action around Hawkins is getting fast-paced and furious this time around.

Based on the power of Weird stuff at the start of the season, all the subsequent novels and real carnival takeovers feel justified. The cutest show of 2017 threatens to do the same in 2019. Our heroes may have some growing pains ahead of them, but this series has matured smoothly.

Editor’s Note: Look for full reviews of Stranger Things 3 on Ars in the coming weeks.

Listing image by YouTube/Netflix

By akfire1

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