Has it lost its charm? That was my niggling concern after watching the first two ‘bloated’ Series Four episodes of one of the biggest TV series ever.
But boy was I pleased to be so, so wrong...
Those fears were very quickly allayed as Stranger Things 4 on Netflix turned into one of the most stellar streaming events in history – with production values that are literally ‘off the chart’ – with nearly all episodes clocking in just shy of ‘movie length’.
And quite literally after the truly epic, Chapter Four: Dear Billy – in which Max’s (Sadie Sink) life is put in grave danger in the ‘Upside Down’ – you’ll literally never listen to Kate Bush’s track Running up that Hill in the same way again. The finale to that episode is simply breathtaking, and alongside the ninety-eight minute final chapter – The Massacre at Hawkins Lab – of the first half of this series, were two of the greatest since the franchise began in 2016.
As aforementioned the first couple of episodes were a bit plodding, as the 1986-set series took a gruesomely darker, even more adult-orientated turn – with something more akin to ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ (Robert ‘Freddy Krueger’ Englund coincidentally cameos) – as the kids of Hawkins, Indiana, try to adjust to life after the devastating events of a year ago. Even though some look clearly three years older.
Now ‘super ability-free’ Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) has moved away to California with the Byers family – Joyce (Winona Ryder), Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) and Will (Noah Schnapp) – and soon gets joined by Mike (Finn Wolfhard) on a long overdue visit, despite trying to hide her school ‘bullying’ issues.
Joyce in the meantime gets a mysterious package from Russia indicating that Jim Hopper (David Harbour) didn’t perish at the end of Series Three – and with the aid of friend Murray (Brett Gelman) go on a potential wild goose chase to Alaska.
But while there are generally four major intertwining story arcs, the meatiest – and definitely most satisfying – is the emergence of a new threat in Hawkins when a young student is seemingly murdered by Dungeons and Dragons club leader Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn).
This leads to Nancy (Natalie Dyer) and co going on a sleuthing mission, and when they realise that Max could soon be killed by a new otherworldly threat in the form of the monstrous Vecna, the rest of the gang – Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Steve (Joe Keery), Robin (Maya Hawke) and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) – all come together to try and save her, and attempt to unlock the key to a new mysterious curse plaguing the town.
In the midst of this Eleven gets taken back to a secret facility by Owens (Paul Reiser) to try and regain her powers via her old doctor mentor Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine) – and Mike and friends go to track her down.
And to top it off, Hopper has to fight a Demogorgon... which is literally just the tip of the iceberg.
But while there is a lot to ‘unpack’ here, by the end of a truly epic, more than nine-hour run-time, the good news is this is just the first volume and there’s a second to mouth-wateringly arrive on July 1 – which will then emphatically close out the fourth season before the fifth and final one. So, you can take a deep breath then.
Granted, it may have lost a little of its Steven Spielberg-inspired ‘Goonies-esque’ nostalgia along the way – but that is soon forgotten as Stranger Things will turn your TV viewing pleasure gleefully ‘upside down’.
If you’re a fan then you’ll have already watched. If you’re not, then what the hell are you waiting for? Simple as that.
It would be ‘stranger’ not too...
ESP Rating: 4.5/5
Season 4 Part 1 – Episodes 1-7, Out Now
Cast: Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Sadie Sink, Joe Keery, Natalia Dyer, Maya Hawke, Caleb Mclaughlin, Finn Wolfhard, Charlie Heaton, Noah Schnapp, Brett Gelman, Joseph Quinn, Jamie Campbell Bower, Matthew Modine & Paul Reiser
Running Time: Approx. 1 Hr 18 Mins Per Episode