There’s something about hearing the familiar synth tones and seeing the old-school lettering of Stranger Things that soothes the brain. It is the ultimate in comfort viewing, combining nostalgia, mystery, the supernatural and a healthy dose of gore in an extremely addictive way – and it’s back.
That’s right, we’re headed back to the Eighties, baby, and Hawkins, Indiana is back in trouble once more.
In the first half of season four (the second half will drop around July) – set around six months after the events of season three, which saw Russian secret agents set up shop underneath the brand new Starcourt Mall – a new threat from the Upside Down has come to threaten this not-so-sleepy town.
There is very much an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” vibe to the Stranger Things machine. After all, this is the fourth time that Hawkins has been terrorised by a supernatural force, only to (hopefully, as the second half of season four hasn’t yet been aired) be foiled by some plucky kids. You wonder why the locals haven’t given up and moved out yet.
However, the series manages to keep the formula fresh and intriguing despite it not changing all that much from the original premise.
Part of that is down to just how good the cast are, especially the children who form the heart of the show. Now almost adults, their priorities have changed. Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is struggling to adjust to her new life in California without her powers; Will (Noah Schnapp) is struggling for entirely different reasons (his heavily implied sexuality being one of them); Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) is trying to join the cool kids and Dustin and Mike (Gaten Matarazzo and Finn Wolfhard) want to play Dungeons and Dragons with crazy Brian May lookalike (and undoubted new fan favourite) Eddie.
They’re growing up and growing apart, and if the show takes it slow in the first couple of episodes to explore this, that’s all the better. After six years, we’re invested enough in their fates that we want to see Eleven and Mike fight about their relationship – or Steve (Joe Keery) wingman his best friend Robin (Maya Hawke) and moon after Nancy (Natalia Dyer).
Of course, when the stuff hits the fan, it really hits the fan. This season, the Big Bad terrorising Hawkins is a mysterious figure called Vecna, who seems to feed off the guilt of his victims before psychically stalking and killing them in about the grimmest and goriest way possible. To cap it off, part of the government want Eleven to help them fix it – while the other half want to kill her and her friends.
The show impressively manages to balance this plotline alongside several others, including Nancy’s detective work about Vecna’s true identity and the fate of Hopper, who has somehow managed to end up in a Russian gulag after almost meeting his end in the season three finale (it goes without saying that David Harbour and Winona Ryder are, as always, excellent in their roles).
If Stranger Things stumbles sometimes under the weight of all these story threads, that’s understandable – and to be honest, after a three-year break, some kind of recap of all the minor characters would also have been helpful, as there were some I definitely didn’t remember.
Though some parts drag, on the whole the finished product is cohesive and compelling, filling every second with nail-biting tension or chewy plot material. With such a well-loved and well-established cast, you really care for the characters, making every dangerous escapade feel as though it actually matters, and every ingenious solution deeply satisfying.
This is bingeable television at its finest: propulsive, nostalgic and addictive. Well worth a sunny Saturday spent on the sofa.