The first two episodes feel particularly bloated before the storytelling of the Duffer brothers and their company settles into their groove. Even then, there are detours and subplots that could easily be jettisoned or cut short, killing time as the show fleshes out the latest danger from the Upside Down and what could be done to stop it.
Of course, those completely in love with the show might decide there’s not too much of a good thing, and “Stranger Things” – now unfolded in 1986 – rewards them with a fresh selection of pop culture references and homages, from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” to “ET the Extraterrestrial” to “The Silence of the Lambs” (yes, the movie wasn’t released until 1991, but whatever). There are also some new faces with genre underpinnings, including Robert Englund aka Freddy Krueger.
Lavishly produced, season four also seemingly ups the ante when it comes to cruelty and bullying, capitalizing on the vulnerability of its nerdy characters. At the same time, the soap opera elements of the relationships feel a little played out, or perhaps just overshadowed by the terrible dangers facing the children, and indeed the world.
In a bid to spread the hype (and subscriber happiness) over a longer period of time, Netflix has announced it will hold back the two highlights until July, creating another cliffhanger before viewers learn everyone’s ultimate fate. As they are, those seven chapters total nearly nine hours, so anyone planning a weekend binge should budget accordingly.
Almost six years after its premiere, “Stranger Things” has secured a place in the pop culture firmament that has helped elevate Netflix, so it’s understandable, even logical, that the service and filmmakers are in no hurry to say goodbye.
However, it certainly wouldn’t have hurt to speed up “Things” a bit. Because while there’s a fine line between Hawkins and The Upside Down, the portal that separates epic and overkill can be just as fine from a narrative perspective.
“Stranger Things” premiered the first part of its fourth and final season on May 27 on Netflix.