Three seasons in, the ‘Stranger Things’ formula still works

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Still from Season 3 of “Stranger Things” on Netflix | YouTube screenshot

These days, originality in TV and cinema is less about coming with something nobody has seen before and more about putting things we’ve seen before together in a way that feels more original than it actually is. The Netflix hit “Stranger Things” exemplifies this concept about as well as any other show or movie out there. By assembling bits and pieces of things they grew up loving, “Things” creators Matt and Ross Duffer formulated an addictive concoction that’s still, for the most part, clicking three seasons in.

Season 3 of “Things” opens with us getting reacquainted with our favorite characters. Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and El (Millie Bobby Brown) are spending a lot of time locking lips, much to the chagrin of Hopper (David Harbour). Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) is returning science camp, with a powerful, hand-built radio tower and a mysterious absentee girlfriend in tow. And all Will (Noah Schnapp) wants to do is play Dungeons & Dragons. You get the picture.

That’s not in the cards though, as the boys are growing and developing other interests. Oh, and remember The Mind-Flayer? It’s back and is possessing people like Billy (Dacre Montgomery) in an effort to get rid of El and take over the world. There are romantic subplots, a secret Russian science lab, slumber parties, and two intrepid wanna-be reporters trying to bust a story wide open.

“Things” doesn’t have an original bone in its body. It adds a portion of 80’s adolescent adventure movies like “Goonies” to a dollop of David Lynch-ian creep factor, then whisks in creatures and a synthesizer-driven straight out of a John Carpenter film. Throw in a heaping helping of nostalgia for the 1980s and you’ve got the “Stranger Things” formula.

Three seasons in, the formula is still working, with a few exceptions. The show is at it’s best when it’s focusing on the characters and their relationships. Most of this season’s come when the characters are dealing with their growing up and their changing lives. Will’s efforts to reconvene the boys’ D&D campaign as they leave the game behind for girls and other new interests is particularly poignant.

Another great relationship that drives the show is the relationship between Dustin and Steve “The Hair” Harrington (Joe Keery). They bonded last season, and now their friendship takes a fun new twist, with Dustin advising Steve about love. Adding in Steve’s sarcastic coworker, Robin, (Maya Hawke) gives this relationship a humorous new kick.

These two relationships, and every other character interaction in “Things,” benefit from a cast that doesn’t have a weak link. Standouts include Harbour, who really comes to life in his scenes with Joyce (Winona Ryder). The two have great chemistry and watching them grow closer is one of the great joys of this season.

Natalia Dyer, who plays Nancy Wheeler, also hits it out of the park, going from a put upon newspaper intern to a determined, battle-hardened reporter but not broken. Keery and Matarazzo are tremendous together. Montgomery does a great job of playing Billy, although I can’t get too detailed here without spoiling things.

The casting and rock-solid writing go a long way towards overcoming this season’s flaws, but issues are still there. Most glaring is the fact that most of the mystery and supernatural elements really aren’t that interesting. Instead of helping to flavor this stew, they distract from the stuff that is really worth watching.

It also seems like the show-runners are running out of ideas, as repetitious storytelling is creeping into the series. Also, if I’m being honest, at times the nostalgia is a bit too much. Again, I don’t want to spoil anything, but stopping the progress of the story to have a moment that screams “You guys remember this song?” is really not good storytelling.

Still, the writing is strong, the acting is great, and the big final battle is as visually impressive as anything you’d see in the movies. This all makes “Stranger Things” Season 3 absolutely worth watching. And if you haven’t started the show, it’s totally binge-worthy and you can get through the whole series so far in a weekend.

Thanks to Fat Cats in Rexburg for providing screenings for movie reviews on EastIdahoNews.com.

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