Show Review: Stranger Things 4

 

The latest season of Stranger Things introduces a new character, Eddie (Joseph Quinn), in a scene where he walks across a lunch table delivering a monologue to the whole high school cafeteria. People don’t do this. The scene is symptomatic of an ’80s nostalgia worse than the name-dropping variant this and other shows are infected with. It’s a nostalgia looking not just to reference ’80s teen movies but to replicate them down to their dumbest details. This is in the first episode.

Things boded no better when in another scene the popular girl, Angela (Elodie Grace Orkin), bullies El as she gives a class presentation. Yeah, this is set before nationwide anti-bullying campaigns and yes, mean girls like this exist, but nothing about this scene rings true. In the tradition of high school movie morality, El is the awkward new student and brunette while Angela is the popular girl and blonde. It’s the popular part I don’t get. Mocking a girl because her LEO father died in the line of duty is the type of behavior even jackassy teens find off-putting. I don’t disbelieve an Angela would have a loyal posse, I’m just skeptical that seemingly the entire student body would be at worst egging on and at best apathetic to the twerp’s sadism.

Despite the three-year gap since Season 3, the show picks up not long after that one’s events. Will, his brother Jonathan, his mother Joyce, and El have moved to California. Dustin, Mike, and Lucas remain in Hawkins. Lucas struggles to remain loyal to his old friends while making inroads with the other players on the basketball team. Nancy, Max, Murray, Steve, Robin, Erica, Suzie, really everyone from the previous season you can think of is present and accounted for and their paths will intersect. The conflict of the season kicks off when lead cheerleader Chrissy Cunningham (Grace Van Dien) goes to buy drugs from that guy Eddie. While in his trailer, she’s killed by this season’s monster, Vecna. Eddie goes into hiding knowing he’ll catch the blame.

Eddie is a headbanger and the leader of Dustin, Mike, and Lucas’ new Dungeons & Dragons group, the Hellfire Club. As phony as his monologue is, this detail is appreciated. A D&D fan is just as likely to be a long-haired weirdie as they are a bespectacled nerd. This leads into one of the obsessions of the season, the Satanic Panic. Eddie isn’t the lead suspect just because he was the last person seen with Chrissy, but because the town believes he’s a devil worshiper. Since this was the angle, they should’ve gone all the way. Instead of giving Eddie a Dio back patch and a W.A.S.P. pin, have him be a Venom and Mercyful Fate fan. If you think that’s far-fetched, both those bands were on the PMRC’s filthy fifteen list (so were W.A.S.P., but they didn’t have satanic lyrics). It’s more likely his character would listen to them than Mike would have a poster for The Thing in his basement in 1983.

Argyle (Eduardo Franco) Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton), El (Millie Bobby Brown), Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), and Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard)

Something else I liked in the first episode: there are two scenes of cross-cutting. The first cuts between Jonathan and Nancy reassuring someone that their relationship is strong despite the fact they won’t be meeting over spring break. The second cuts between a D&D session and a basketball game. Using this technique twice in one episode is bold, but since the scenes have a different energy and the cutting serves different purposes, it works. The cinematography and editing are top-notch throughout the season. There’s a long take leading us through an intense shootout. There are a lot of aerial shots, sometimes tilting the camera to interesting effect. A scene of psychic children competing against each other uses jump cuts expertly. The most impressive feat of the editing is the pacing. At any time there might be five or six plot lines and we jump between them with ease. It’s a juggling act to keep all of these going, and we don’t even notice it.

The special effects are another story. The CGI is dodgy. Vecna’s way of dispatching his victims—bending their limbs in ways they shouldn’t bend—looks laughable. Spiders scurrying out of a drain don’t look any more convincing. Then you have scenes where the effects are great, like in the surrealist nightmare of The Upside Down. It helps that it’s colored in red and shadows and the art design is inspired—floating grandfather clocks and jagged stalagmites. I assume there are instances of effects that are integrated so well it doesn’t cross your mind they’re made on a computer.

Vecna is the big bad this season.

The show is still a compulsive crowdpleaser. You can rely on each episode portioning out a bit of action, suspense, horror, and tear-jerking drama. Through everything, there’s humor. Not a conversation goes by without someone cracking a joke of one form or another. Their batting average is higher than in Season 3. Murray, the overconfident but not incompetent conspiracy theorist, remains a bright spot. He’s shown up by the newcomer Argyle (Eduardo Franco), a pizza deliverer and friend of Jonathan. His stoner obliviousness gets all the big laughs. The humor isn’t always on point. They could use an off button for the repartee. At moments it comes off like that guy—you’ve met one—who is always joking, who hasn’t caught on that your laughter is polite laughter.

The audience isn’t trusted to have the right emotions. The score always comes in to instruct us how to feel. A scene where Max reads a letter to her deceased brother Billy is touching on its own. She misses him despite him being a violent abuser, and her words convey that complexity better than the ham fists of sad, sad strings.

Filmmakers ought to get a memo explaining that battles between psychic characters are boring. They’re just two people grimacing and holding out their arms until one is thrown back. Guess she won because she was concentrating harder? Her powers are stronger? I’ll take your word for it, TV show.

The worst of the show’s offenses is some of the acting. This isn’t amateurish or incompetent acting. I place the blame on the script and the directing. Take the scene where Jason Carver (Mason Dye) is questioned by the police. Jason is captain of the basketball team and dating Chrissy. When it dawns on him that the murder victim in the news was his girlfriend, this realization should be devastating. We get overwrought dramatics instead, complete with him running into the forest to scream to the sky, in slo-mo no less. Jason’s character is handled poorly. His girlfriend has been mutilated and murdered, and unlike the audience, he has no reason to suspect anybody but Eddie is responsible. He should be sympathetic. Before he quests to find Eddie and exact revenge, he’s not shown to be particularly awful, except in the sense of lead jock = bad guy.

Robin Buckley (Maya Hawke) and Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) visit a psychiatric institute.

On the plus side, Kate Bush’s “Running Up that Hill” plays a reoccurring role in the story like how they used The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” in Season 1, except it’s, you know, good. To be fair, Kate Bush ripping a rhapsody of farts would be better than a Clash song.

As the season progressed, I found myself pulled in further. I wanted to see how the gang was going to get themselves out of this one. Stranger Things aims to entertain. I’ll be damned; I was entertained. That’s more than I can say for the previous season. There hasn’t been a huge change to the show (why start now?). Explaining this discrepancy would involve going through a list of nitpicks and grievances with episodes I haven’t seen in three years. Season 4 knows how to hook you. Once you realize none of the characters’ plans will go smoothly, you can guess the complications from miles away, but that’s part of the fun. I only started Stranger Things out of obligation (I have people who begged me to watch it) and have continued for the same reason. Series creators Matt and Ross Duffer will never recapture the simple magic of that first season. They have persisted with something satisfactory. Maybe I was in a good mood, but I once again found myself invested in the adventures of some scamps from Hawkins, Indiana.

Published in Entertainment
This post was promoted to the Main Feed by a Ricochet Editor at the recommendation of Ricochet members. Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Join Ricochet for Free.

There are 28 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. The Girlie Show Member
    The Girlie Show
    @CatIII

    When the final two episodes of Season 4 are released, I will review those too. I’m worried they won’t stick the landing, but we’ll see. Fingers crossed.

    • #1
  2. Ultra MAGA Mexican Jack Coolidge
    Ultra MAGA Mexican Jack
    @dnewlander

    Thought Episode 7 of this season was easily the worst one. Not only did it have an unsatisfying ending, but I thought the ending was predictable. I hope the final two episodes can redeem the season, because before that I was really enjoying it.

    No spoilers, but this season seems to be inspired by It a lot more than the others.

    • #2
  3. The Girlie Show Member
    The Girlie Show
    @CatIII

    Ultra MAGA Mexican Jack (View Comment):

    Thought Episode 7 of this season was easily the worst one. Not only did it have an unsatisfying ending, but I thought the ending was predictable. I hope the final two episodes can redeem the season, because before that I was really enjoying it.

    I agree. Not a fan of villains explaining their backstory in a monologue that ties everything together. The exception is Oldboy, but in that movie the protagonist had figured everything out, or at least he thought he did before the villain sets him straight.

    The final two episodes are supposed to be around 3.5-4 hours altogether. I worry those episodes are going to be horribly bloated, especially since it seems to be right up against a conclusion. I’d expect the next episode to be the final one if I didn’t know better. That extra time might be put toward exploring the characters more and resolving some of those character conflicts since past the first episode it’s mostly been action.

    • #3
  4. kylez Member
    kylez
    @kylez

    I saw the first two, and haven’t gone back.

    I have wondered about the cafeteria thing, which is very common in movies, and I assume the kids may all eat in one in small town schools. I grew up in a fairly large city, in suburban schools, and only inner-city kids ate in the cafeteria, many of whom, in elementary at least, had lunch tickets. The rest of us ate outside.

    The older boy had a Joy Division poster, a band whose albums were not even originally released in the U.S. I believe.

    • #4
  5. kylez Member
    kylez
    @kylez

    Did you ever see this really great parody? 

    • #5
  6. The Girlie Show Member
    The Girlie Show
    @CatIII

    kylez (View Comment):
    The older boy had a Joy Division poster, a band whose albums were not even originally released in the U.S. I believe.

    To be fair, if you were involved in the tape trading scene, you could get access to all kinds of music not easily available in the US. That would’ve been an interesting detail to have included. I think the Duffers just like Joy Division the same way they like The Evil Dead and The Thing.

    • #6
  7. The Girlie Show Member
    The Girlie Show
    @CatIII

    kylez (View Comment):

    Did you ever see this really great parody?

    Ha! I have not seen that. Love the demigorgon Snoopy.

    • #7
  8. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    SPOILER WARNING!

    When Hopper returned from the Upside Down in the TARDIS and slew the Mind Flayer by casting the Infinity Stones into the fires of Orodruin, I was moved to tears.

    • #8
  9. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Seriously, though, good post!

    • #9
  10. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    I was delighted by the first season, which nailed that 80s vibe – John Carpenter-inspired theme song, Stephen-King-Movie-style logo, Spielbergian “messy house” middle-class set decoration, free-range nerd kids on bikes. IIRC, the second season ended with my least favorite thing: someone with POWERS sticking their hands out and looking agonized as they did the Important Thing in the Battle. OTOH, it had Paul Reiser atoning for his actions in Alien. Or was that the first season?

    The third season . . . there were other things to watch? And whatever it was about, in the end, seemed irrelevant? I mean, the kids are going to confront Masssive Forces again and win?

    If I’d been in charge, I would have reset each season and set it in a different town.

    • #10
  11. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    I was delighted by the first season, which nailed that 80s vibe – John Carpenter-inspired theme song, Stephen-King-Movie-style logo, Spielbergian “messy house” middle-class set decoration, free-range nerd kids on bikes. IIRC, the second season ended with my least favorite thing: someone with POWERS sticking their hands out and looking agonized as they did the Important Thing in the Battle. OTOH, it had Paul Reiser atoning for his actions in Alien. Or was that the first season?

    Alien 2/Aliens.

     

    The third season . . . there were other things to watch? And whatever it was about, in the end, seemed irrelevant? I mean, the kids are going to confront Masssive Forces again and win?

    If I’d been in charge, I would have reset each season and set it in a different town.

    People get attached to the characters, resetting each season especially for a “broadcast” show sounds like a way to lose a lot of the audience each time.  Might not be so bad for a show like American Horror Story (although how did that end up working out for them?) but people probably like the kids better.

    • #11
  12. The Girlie Show Member
    The Girlie Show
    @CatIII

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    IIRC, the second season ended with my least favorite thing: someone with POWERS sticking their hands out and looking agonized as they did the Important Thing in the Battle.

    Quoting from my review:

    “Filmmakers ought to get a memo explaining that battles between psychic characters are boring. They’re just two people grimacing and holding out their arms until one is thrown back. Guess she won because she was concentrating harder? Her powers are stronger? I’ll take your word for it, TV show.”

    This would be an interesting idea:

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    If I’d been in charge, I would have reset each season and set it in a different town.

    I think it would work from an artistic standpoint, but it’s too big a risk from a financial one. What I’d love to see is a final season where it’s just the kids trying to lead normal lives. I think the characterization is strong enough you could make an interesting show from them trying to adjust after spending their adolescence fighting monsters. At best that will be the last hour of the final 11 hour season.

    What the show is now is entertaining. It’s popcorn TV that’s well executed. On that level it’s a success.

    • #12
  13. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    The Girlie Show (View Comment):

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    IIRC, the second season ended with my least favorite thing: someone with POWERS sticking their hands out and looking agonized as they did the Important Thing in the Battle.

    Quoting from my review:

    “Filmmakers ought to get a memo explaining that battles between psychic characters are boring. They’re just two people grimacing and holding out their arms until one is thrown back. Guess she won because she was concentrating harder? Her powers are stronger? I’ll take your word for it, TV show.”

    This would be an interesting idea:

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    If I’d been in charge, I would have reset each season and set it in a different town.

    I think it would work from an artistic standpoint, but it’s too big a risk from a financial one. What I’d love to see is a final season where it’s just the kids trying to lead normal lives. I think the characterization is strong enough you could make an interesting show from them trying to adjust after spending their adolescence fighting monsters. At best that will be the last hour of the final 11 hour season.

    What the show is now is entertaining. It’s popcorn TV that’s well executed. On that level it’s a success.

    I suppose it’s insufficiently “dark” for today’s oh-so-jaded audience, but I’d rather rewatch Charmed again.  (The original, of course.)

    Or, what the heck, Buffy The Vampire Slayer.  (Which was actually more “dark” than many people seem to remember.)

     

    • #13
  14. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    The Girlie Show:

    Filmmakers ought to get a memo explaining that battles between psychic characters are boring. They’re just two people grimacing and holding out their arms until one is thrown back. Guess she won because she was concentrating harder? Her powers are stronger? I’ll take your word for it, TV show.

    She won because she remembered her mother’s love. That’s the sort of thing that can defeat Satanic hatred. It’s not exactly the Gospel, but it is Harry Potter all over again, with at least a hint of the Virgin Mary.

    • #14
  15. Pagodan Member
    Pagodan
    @MatthewBaylot

    Whoa with The Clash shade. Unnecessary. Otherwise, another great review.

    • #15
  16. Al Sparks Thatcher
    Al Sparks
    @AlSparks

    So we’re up to Season four?

    I enjoyed season one, and I don’t remember if I actually finished season two or not.

    Season one, set in the 1980’s was about 10 years after I graduated from high school, and I saw much of the same culture I grew up with, where kids were still roaming free, and also were still commonly riding 3 speed bikes (or maybe just one speed).  Though banana bikes were losing popularity by then, I think that Things still showed kids riding them.

    I especially enjoyed one scene where one of the kids braked to a stop on his bike by skidding the back wheel before jumping off, throwing his bike to the ground (my dad would lecture me on mistreating my bike like that).

    • #16
  17. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    The Girlie Show: Despite the three-year gap since Season 3, the show picks up not long after that one’s events.

    Reminds me of this:

     

    • #17
  18. Ultra MAGA Mexican Jack Coolidge
    Ultra MAGA Mexican Jack
    @dnewlander

    kedavis (View Comment):

    The Girlie Show: Despite the three-year gap since Season 3, the show picks up not long after that one’s events.

    Reminds me of this:

     

    I once read a non-flattering description of Lindsey Lohan as “a life support system for a nice pair of [boobs]”.

    • #18
  19. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Ultra MAGA Mexican Jack (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    The Girlie Show: Despite the three-year gap since Season 3, the show picks up not long after that one’s events.

    Reminds me of this:

     

    I once read a non-flattering description of Lindsey Lohan as “a life support system for a nice pair of [boobs]”.

    But she’s funny too, and stuff.

    • #19
  20. Ultra MAGA Mexican Jack Coolidge
    Ultra MAGA Mexican Jack
    @dnewlander

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Ultra MAGA Mexican Jack (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    The Girlie Show: Despite the three-year gap since Season 3, the show picks up not long after that one’s events.

    Reminds me of this:

     

    I once read a non-flattering description of Lindsey Lohan as “a life support system for a nice pair of [boobs]”.

    But she’s funny too, and stuff.

    And “stuff”. Yes.

    • #20
  21. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    The Girlie Show:

    Filmmakers ought to get a memo explaining that battles between psychic characters are boring. They’re just two people grimacing and holding out their arms until one is thrown back. Guess she won because she was concentrating harder? Her powers are stronger? I’ll take your word for it, TV show.

    She won because she remembered her mother’s love. That’s the sort of thing that can defeat Satanic hatred. It’s not exactly the Gospel, but it is Harry Potter all over again, with at least a hint of the Virgin Mary.

    Speaking of which, how about 001 and his Satan/Morgoth act? 

    • #21
  22. The Girlie Show Member
    The Girlie Show
    @CatIII

    TBA (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    The Girlie Show:

    Filmmakers ought to get a memo explaining that battles between psychic characters are boring. They’re just two people grimacing and holding out their arms until one is thrown back. Guess she won because she was concentrating harder? Her powers are stronger? I’ll take your word for it, TV show.

    She won because she remembered her mother’s love. That’s the sort of thing that can defeat Satanic hatred. It’s not exactly the Gospel, but it is Harry Potter all over again, with at least a hint of the Virgin Mary.

    Speaking of which, how about 001 and his Satan/Morgoth act?

    I only know of one Morgoth:

    Unfortunately, I don’t think many will listen long enough to hear the solo.

    • #22
  23. The Girlie Show Member
    The Girlie Show
    @CatIII

    There’s also only one Satan, but you all knew that:

    Satan is a band Eddie should’ve listened to.

    • #23
  24. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    TBA (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    The Girlie Show:

    Filmmakers ought to get a memo explaining that battles between psychic characters are boring. They’re just two people grimacing and holding out their arms until one is thrown back. Guess she won because she was concentrating harder? Her powers are stronger? I’ll take your word for it, TV show.

    She won because she remembered her mother’s love. That’s the sort of thing that can defeat Satanic hatred. It’s not exactly the Gospel, but it is Harry Potter all over again, with at least a hint of the Virgin Mary.

    Speaking of which, how about 001 and his Satan/Morgoth act?

    Superb.

    • #24
  25. kylez Member
    kylez
    @kylez

    I skipped up to the solo. Why can’t it all be like that?

    • #25
  26. The Girlie Show Member
    The Girlie Show
    @CatIII

    kylez (View Comment):

    I skipped up to the solo. Why can’t it all be like that?

    A meal can’t be all dessert.

    • #26
  27. Taras Coolidge
    Taras
    @Taras

    The Girlie Show (View Comment):

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    IIRC, the second season ended with my least favorite thing: someone with POWERS sticking their hands out and looking agonized as they did the Important Thing in the Battle.

    Quoting from my review:

    “Filmmakers ought to get a memo explaining that battles between psychic characters are boring. They’re just two people grimacing and holding out their arms until one is thrown back. Guess she won because she was concentrating harder? Her powers are stronger? I’ll take your word for it, TV show.”

    This would be an interesting idea:

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    If I’d been in charge, I would have reset each season and set it in a different town.

    I think it would work from an artistic standpoint, but it’s too big a risk from a financial one. What I’d love to see is a final season where it’s just the kids trying to lead normal lives. I think the characterization is strong enough you could make an interesting show from them trying to adjust after spending their adolescence fighting monsters. At best that will be the last hour of the final 11 hour season.

    What the show is now is entertaining. It’s popcorn TV that’s well executed. On that level it’s a success.

    “After spending their adolescence fighting monsters”:  The kids’ experiences should have left them very mature for their ages, and uninterested in the usual teenage/high school/mean girl bulls**t.  They already know the answers to many questions kids have:  Am I brave or cowardly.  Will I stand up in a crisis.  Can I count on my friends.

    “Trying to lead normal lives”:  One of my favorite episodes of the original Roswell is when the alien kids are faced with their toughest challenge yet — finding dates for the prom!

    • #27
  28. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    The end of Season 4 approaches.

    I eagerly await the moment when Mal Reynolds beams down from the TARDIS and slays Number 1 / Lord Vecna with Paul Atreides’ lightsaber.

    • #28
Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.