This is an installment of a regular thisistheBronX film/TV review series by Bronx film reviewer and writer Adam McPartlan. Check back every Friday for Adam’s film reviews.
TV REVIEW – by Adam McPartlan
July 12, 2019
Well, it took a year and a half, but it finally got here. Stranger Things 3 hit Netflix on Independence Day, liberating me from months of anxious waiting. At the same time, the streaming service’s recent cancellations give cause for concern that somehow, this might be the end of the show. The end of their deal with Marvel aside, in the span of less than a year, Netflix willingly cancelled Travelers, Santa Clarita Diet, Everything Sucks!, Lucifer (after renewing it for one more season), and One Day at a Time (which was saved by another network) just to name a few. So it is not without basis that season three might be the end of the 80’s horror/sci-fi show. Still, after seeing what the Duffer Brothers cooked up for their fans, Netflix would be out of their minds not to renew this piece of art.
The show opens with the usual recap of last season’s events, followed by Russian scientists doing sneaky things, like trying to reopen the gate Eleven closed last season. Viewers are then given a quick update on how each of the kids’ lives has been going during the summer months. Eleven and Mike have become the stereotypical, inseparable couple, driving Hopper to the point of madness. Lucas and Max are more of a down to Earth couple, while Dustin has a girlfriend (?) in Utah that he can only contact by radio. As time goes on, the kids realize that the piece of the Mind Flayer that inhabited Will last season didn’t get back across the gate. While most of the kids figure out how to fight the monster, Joyce and Hopper find out about Russian studies in the town; Dustin and Steve translate Russian with the help of a new friend, Robin; and a government official holds power because of his relationship with Russians.
When it comes to sci/fi television, Stranger Things has always been an outlier in that it relies heavily on the acting and writing, rather than its technical and visual aspects. The best part of this season is how funny it is. David Harbour’s Hopper always provides comedic relief, but his maybe-maybe not relationship with Joyce is really played up this season and brings a whole new level of laughter. But Steve Harrington’s (Joe Keery) friendships with Robin (Maya Hawke) and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) are the keys to the funny. Whether it’s Robin making fun of Steve’s failure to get women, or Dustin and Steve having awkward bro moments, the Duffers knew how to expand on the comedic side of the show without forcing anything, and the actors all clearly enjoyed themselves. There’s also a great duet in the season that, once it started, I never wanted to end.
Of course, with a show like this, if there’s a lot of funny, there’s probably going to be an equal amount of drama and emotion. Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, and Noah Schnapp are all at the top of their game, and Brown is somehow even better than she was in seasons one and two. But just as Harbour’s comedic performance took a step up, so too did his dramatic work. Winona Ryder also gives the best performance of her time on the show, as well as possibly the best of her career. As Joyce Byers, she captures the desperation of a parent who is just sick and tired of the crazy things that happen near and to her son. Her frantic acting is a perfect foil to Hopper’s calmer, collected demeanor, and also adds to the tension between the two.
While the series revolves almost entirely around Brown’s performance, this season would not be possible without Harbour’s Jim Hopper. It’s hard to put into words just what he means to this season and how great his performance was. We see an extension of his no nonsense demeanor when he finds out Russians are in Hawkins without his knowledge. We also see an entirely new side of Hopper, one he was previously reluctant to show to the world out of fear, both with Joyce and Eleven. With Joyce, we see the romantic kind of caring that Hopper previously showed never, because his divorce drove him to shut down that side of his life. With Eleven, we see more the caring father side that we saw at the end of last season. With the work done in this season, Stranger Things 3 has given the television academy no choice but to award Emmys to, at the very least, Harbour and Brown, if not the entire show.
The writing and directing hit entirely new levels of wonderful. The Duffers know the story they want to tell from start to end before shooting an episode, and each episode shows how true that is. Without fail, no matter what craziness happens, nothing anyone does ever seems out of character. Even the new characters like Robin and Alexei aren’t there out of necessity to the plot; they’re there because they feel like they would exist in world the Duffers created. The creators are truly masters at their craft, and this season is the perfect example of how writing, when it isn’t rushed and forced, can develop characters properly and give a beautiful story fitting of the best show on television.
Adam McPartlan is a graduate student in the Sports Broadcasting Program at Sacred Heart University. He’s a life-long Bronxite with a deep love of film, television, and writing.