This is entertainment
‘Stranger Things‘ is undoubtedly the most important pop-culture property of its time. Many shows and movies deploy nostalgia music, but none of them could launch Kate Bush and Metallica back to the top of the charts. In an era where most of our big-budget entertainments rely on moldy retread intellectual property, Stranger Things, even though it leans heavily on pop-culture references, has created a unique universe all its own. It’s the most original and influential addition to the pop canon since the golden era of Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games.
What a shame, then, that the show is such a hacky, relentless, hammer to the face. Case in point: In the absurdly long half-hour coda to the absurdly long season 4 finale, after a final conflict with the big bad villain that felt both too long and too short given the lead-up, the Duffer Brothers deliver a loud, whooshing smash cut to a character….grabbing a broom. To sweep a floor.
The show does this constantly. Scenes can’t just begin and end. They need to begin and end with a jump-scare involving a door slamming, a trunk closing, a kitchen burner turning on. There was one moment in Season 4 where they gave dramatic emphasis to a guy plopping a can of Chef Boyardee into a pot, treating it like Lee Harvey Oswald firing a round from the book despository. There’s no sense of balance or proportion: Everything is loud, bombastic, weepy and unsubtle.
And yet there are often good one-liners and moments of quiet wit as well, which makes the show even more frustrating. It’s almost like they don’t know what they have. They will smash cut in the middle of an excellent monster fight to some sort of boring teen relationship conversation. Every scene REEEEEEES in your face like a protestor blocking the freeway when you’re just trying to get to work.
The performances are also incredibly inconsistent. Noah Schnapp’s horrific line deliveries don’t match up at all with Sadie Sink’s star-is-born magnetism. Millie Bobby Brown runs circles around Finn Wolfhard. Then you have your two actual movie stars, Winona Ryder and David Harbour, which Season 4 not only wastes on a ridiculous side quest in Russia, but also forces into endless scenes with the grating Brett Gelman, a comedic character actor who the show has inexplicably made an indispensable action hero.
Stranger Things took its time this season–boy, did it take its time–setting up one of the best big bads in pop-culture history, a villain to rival Darth Vader or Voldemort. And then in the final episode, he barely did anything at all other than stand around and say “this is the beginning of the end,” or “you have already lost”, lines that would have made Dr. Evil roll his eyes.
Stranger Things is junk. It’s bunk. And I watched the whole damn thing, which is just another frustrating aspect of the show. You know you shouldn’t eat that whole bucket of fries, and yet down the gullet it goes. Smash cut to a toilet lid popping open.