A spoiler-free review.
I was late to the party with Stranger Things. The first season was released on Netflix in 2016, the second in 2017 and the third earlier this year. I’ve just binge-watched all three seasons in a month.
Here’s the thing though. When I asked what people who’d already seen it thought, there was little in the way of middle ground. They either loved it or hated it. Perhaps the most neutral comment I got was “I just didn’t get on with it”.
I can see why that might be. I don’t think there’s an instant addiction after the first episode of Season 1, at least there wasn’t for me, but there was enough in the way of interest and curiosity to make me watch the second and third episodes.
Then I sort of got what Stranger Things is. I don’t mean I suddenly understood the storyline or anything like that, I mean I discovered what the whole feel of the thing was about. By about episode 4 I was addicted and I knew I’d be watching all three seasons in quick succession.
Even though I’ve watched it all now, it’s still quite hard to summarise what it is for the uninitiated. I guess I’d describe it as an ‘adult, Goonies-style fantasy-horror’, although that doesn’t really do it justice.
It isn’t horror in the style of Stephen King, say. It’s unlikely to prey on your mind and give you nightmares, but it’s spooky in its own way. There’s a gang of kids, it’s set in the 1980s and there’s humour, which lends it the Goonies reference, but it’s darker, deeper and much more mature than Goonies. Furthermore, the adults in the cast play a bigger role than they did in Goonies.
Wynona Ryder and David Harbour head up that adults’ section of that cast and they both do a great job. All the kids are good and play their individual roles well, but my picks would be Charlie Heaton as Jonathon Byers, a sort of 17 year-old outcast (with great taste in music), and Millie Bobby Brown who is simply awesome as Eleven. I won’t say too much about Eleven as I don’t want to include any spoilers for those who haven’t watched it.
But the whole cast is good and it’s when you buy into the characters they play that Stranger Things becomes addictive.
Season 1 was excellent. I think Season 2 dipped a little but it was still good. For me, though, Season 3 was the best. The cast is split amongst four or five separate but complementary storylines and they all come together in the finale. Of course by Season 3 I’d bought into the stories, the characters and the whole ambience of the thing. I was well beyond the point of no return.
The kids in the cast age noticeably between the seasons — particularly between the first two seasons and the third — and I think that’s another reason the programme drags you in. You sort of age with them and become part of their journey through life, albeit a kind of horror-fantasy version of life.
I probably haven’t done a very good job of describing it here because it’s so hard to pin down exactly why it’s so entertaining and addictive — it’s a combination of a lot of things. I can see why some people might watch an episode or two and say it’s not for them, but my advice would be to stick with it a little longer. It’s a slow-cook at first but it eventually gets thoroughly under your skin and when it does there’s no going back.
Stranger Things is, without a doubt, one of the most enjoyable programmes I’ve seen in recent years. I believe there will be another series next year and I’m really looking forward to it. It’ll be hard to match Season 3, though.
If I was rating each season on its own I’d give 4.5/5 to Season 1, 4/5 to Season 2 and 5/5 to Season 3, so it’s 4.5 stars from me for Seasons 1-3 collectively.