Shows You Should Be Watching Now #1: 'Stranger Things'
Chances are, you've heard about the frightening yet feel-good series Stranger Things. And chances are, you've also thought, "Kids battling monsters? I'll watch a rerun of Big Bang Theory instead!" If that's the case, you're missing out on this show about adolescents fighting supernatural forces.
Yes, our heroes — including lovable nerds Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin) and telekinetic pal Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) — are young, but they have just as much courage as Law & Order: SVU's Lt. Olivia Benson or anyone on NCIS. After all, they're not just going toe-to-toe with creatures, they're coming of age.
As TV Guide Magazine's Matt Roush has noted about the phenomenon — reportedly one of the most popular streaming shows of all time — "[it's] as endearing as it is terrifying, imbued with an openhearted guilelessness in which asking a girl to dance can be as nerve-racking as descending into tunnels and cellars where demons…lurk."
Speaking of those demons, allow us to catch you up to speed: The Season 2 finale of the 1980s-set sci-fi hit saw the kids of Hawkins, Indiana, closing a gate to the Upside Down, the parallel world that psychic Eleven accidentally opened, which unleashed all manner of scary stuff, including a monster that possessed Will. (The kids exorcised him.)
The next summer, in 1985, all seems normal. Indeed, the friends' biggest problem is sneaking into movies at the mall. But the easy-breezy vibe won't last. Says Wolfhard, "There's always something bad that happens."
Make that bad somethings. Several menaces loom, including a machine-gun-toting killer (Andrey Ivchenko) who's "our version of the Terminator," says Ross Duffer, an executive producer and creator with his brother, Matt. "He's not a robot, but he's unrelenting and scary."
So is teen bully Billy Hargrove (Dacre Montgomery), the community pool lifeguard who terrorized the kids in the past and is even more evil this year, says Montgomery. "He's like Jack Nicholson in The Shining." Then there's the slimy beast viewers glimpsed in the Season 3 trailer. What it is and where it comes from remain a mystery until all eight episodes drop. And "the monster is just the tip of the iceberg," teases Matt Duffer.
The baddies aren't the only things that have changed on the series steeped in Reagan-era nostalgia (Back to the Future and throwback hits like Madonna's "Material Girl" pop up here). The kids' journey to young adulthood now takes center stage, allowing the series to do what it does best: mix humor with horror and highlight the growing pains of our formative years. This year, "the scares are more intense," says Natalia Dyer, who plays Mike's older sister, Nancy, "but there's still the heart and the [character-driven] stories."
Take Eleven, who spent her childhood as the subject of a lab experiment and has tried to acclimate to suburban life. She's now besties with Billy's stepsister, stylish transfer student Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink) — cue the shopping-spree montage! — and, to the chagrin of her adoptive dad, police chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour), she's dating Mike. But things are far from perfect. "Eleven doesn't know how to have a relationship with her papa or herself, let alone a boy," Brown says.
Her peers are no more mature. Mike and Lucas (who's dating Max) struggle to relate to their girlfriends, and their pal Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo) — home after science camp — tries to convince his pals he now has a long-distance love.
So it's up to the older teens — specifically, Nancy and Will's brother, Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), who are a couple — to notice that something's not right with the town. Again. While interning at The Hawkins Post, the newspaper newbies investigate a disturbing rat infestation.
Could that have something to do with the latest quirk bothering Will and Jonathan's mom, Joyce (Winona Ryder)? She's noticed that a bunch of magnets have lost their attraction, so she consults her old buddy Hopper.
"There's romantic tension, and joint commitment to protecting the teenagers they love," says exec producer Shawn Levy of their relationship. "It's rife with conflict and banter but also poignant."
In other words, get ready to cry. "Buy the Kleenex now," says Levy. "You'll need it."
Stranger Things, Season 3 Premiere, Thursday, July 4, Netflix
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The New Faces of Hawkins
The heart of Stranger Things lies with our bike-riding, Dungeons & Dragons–playing heroes: superpowered Eleven (Brown), fiercely loyal Mike (Wolfhard), tough Max (Sink), good-hearted Lucas (McLaughlin), innocent Will (Schnapp) and science buff Dustin (Matarazzo). This season, they're joined by new friends — and foes.
Mayor Larry Kline
"He's a sleazy politician who enjoys the limelight," Cary Elwes, star of the classic 1987 fantasy The Princess Bride, reveals about his character. "He likes to take credit for everything and take charge of a situation. He's not trustworthy."
Sarcastic and smart Robin (Maya Hawke, daughter of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke) serves scoops alongside former golden boy Steve (Joe Keery) at the mall's ice cream shop. She partners with him and Dustin to crack a coded message they're obsessed with deciphering.
Eleven and Max look for teen lifeguard Heather (Francesca Reale), who works at the community pool with the volatile Billy, when she suddenly disappears.
The Hawkins Post reporter (Jake Busey, son of famed actor Gary) "is degrading to people below him," says Dyer, whose character, Nancy, won't abide his chauvinistic ways.